Jamming in Azerbaijan: Foreign news outlets unable to broadcast
Three broadcasters appear to have been targeted for transmitting alternative news coverage into Azerbaijan.
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2013 11:50
Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, has been clamping down on independent media outlets [AFP/Getty]
As Azerbaijan's October presidential election
approaches, the authorities seem more determined than ever to restrict
citizens' access to information through controlling the country's media, taking steps to limit Internet freedom, and making harsh examples
of journalists who express critical opinions in order to keep the
broader media community in line. Now, it appears that Azerbaijanis are
also facing restrictions in accessing broadcast programmes from outside
of the country. Several foreign outlets have noted
deliberate broadcast interferences, known as jamming, and is a practice
that violates both international telecommunications regulations and human rights law.
The state has long dominated the broadcast media in Azerbaijan. Of the country's nine national television stations, three are directly owned by the state, and the six private stations are heavily influenced through the state's control over advertising revenues. The 12 national radio stations also fail to provide a plurality of programming.
Since January 2009, foreign broadcasters have been banned from accessing national frequencies in Azerbaijan, a move that took the Azerbaijani services of the BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Voice of America off the air, effectively eliminating the only international sources of broadcast news in the country.
As a result, many Azerbaijanis are exposed only to the state's version of events, which prioritises coverage of President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva's activities, idolizes the late former President - and father of the current President - Heydar Aliyev, and heavily skews or completely omits reporting on significant events with political implications, such as anti-government protests or trials of political prisoners.
In the absence of independent broadcasting within the country, satellite broadcasts from outside the country have become increasingly important, providing citizens with valuable access to independent information and a rare glimpse of political views that differ from those of the ruling party.
Reports of interference
Since losing the ability to broadcast on national frequencies, RFE/RL has continued to disseminate Azerbaijani-language content online, and in a weekly news magazine programme broadcast into the country via satellite. But now this content is also under threat. On June 20, 2013, RFE/RL reported several instances of jamming with its satellite broadcast into Azerbaijan since Aprli 2013.
In its press release on the disruption, RFE/RL stated, "the current interference has many of the characteristics of deliberate interference. It only occurs during programs in the Azerbaijani language. The interfering signal carries no content, indicating its sole purpose is to disrupt other programming. When the RFE/RL program moves to other channels and satellites, the interfering signal follows".
After RFE/RL experienced disruption again during its broadcasts on June 29 and 30, RFE/RL's Deputy Director of Communications and External Relations, Joanna Levison, commented further on the matter.
"We have experienced targeted interference with our satellite news programming to Azerbaijan that, now after 10 weeks, we have to conclude is deliberate. We have experienced numerous other kinds of attacks on our operations in Azerbaijan, including smear campaigns aimed at discrediting our reporters, to threats, physical attacks, and a government ban barring us from FM broadcasts in 2009. Jamming is a violation of international broadcast treaties, and it's a flagrant violation of international norms and standards governing media freedom. This interference with Azeri citizens' fundamental right to information must be stopped".RFE/RL is not the only entity to report recent interference with its broadcasting into Azerbaijan; both Meydan TV and Azerbaycan Saati ("Azerbaijan hour") have reported similar disruption. All three broadcasters appear to have been targeted for transmitting alternative news coverage into Azerbaijan.
According to Emin Milli, Director of Meydan TV, the station has only been able to broadcast via satellite once, for the project's inaugural programme on May 15, 2013. Since that time, all subsequent attempts to broadcast have been unsuccessful due to technical difficulties that Milli attributes to jamming. Milli believes that the Azerbaijani authorities view Meydan TV's programming as a threat to their power.
"The current situation in the country is so unstable, the authorities fear that even one hour per week of independent reporting could jeopardise their power", he said.
Violations of international commitments
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), of which Azerbaijan is a member, prohibits jamming, as stipulated in Article 45 of the ITU's Constitution and Article 15 of the ITU's Radio Regulations. The US-backed Broadcasting Board of Governors, along with a number of prominent international broadcasters, recently issued a statement that expressed concern over growing global reports of satellite jamming and emphasised that "Media freedom has not faced such a concerted campaign of disruption since the end of the Cold War".
Jamming is also considered as a violation of the right to freedom of expression, which Azerbaijan has committed to respect and protect through its ratification of major international and regional treaties including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. As ARTICLE 19 points out, deliberate jamming "interferes with both the rights of individuals and broadcasters to receive and impart information".
In addition to violations of ITU regulations and international human rights law, disruptions of satellite broadcasts of independent news coverage in Azerbaijan negatively impacts the chances of October's presidential election being conducted in accordance with international democratic standards. If citizens have no access to information about the true state of affairs in their country and are not exposed to a plurality of political opinions, the electoral process cannot be considered free and fair.
The international response
So far, the international community has remained largely silent on the issue, although the US State Department acknowledged the reports, stating: "We have seen reports that RFE/RL and other outlets have encountered difficulties broadcasting satellite programming into Azerbaijan…the United States strongly supports media freedom and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan".
Indeed, RFE/RL - along with Meydan TV and Azerbaycan Saati - provides valuable reporting on current events in Azerbaijan, filling significant gaps in the news coverage available from national broadcasters. The reported disruption to their broadcasting is a serious negative development that should be urgently addressed by international organisations and democratic countries with relations with Azerbaijan, starting by pressing the ITU to investigate the reported interference and take action to address any violations.
But perhaps the possibility that the Azerbaijani government is once again defying its international obligations and using new tactics to silence its critics is simply one more inconvenient truth, another in a long list of issues that will be wilfully ignored to avoid disrupting energy and security relations with an increasingly repressive regime.
Rebecca Vincent is an American-British human rights activist currently based in London. She is a former US diplomat and has worked with a wide range of international and Azerbaijani human rights and freedom of expression organisations.
Follow her on Twitter: @rebecca_vincent
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
DX LISTENING DIGEST 13-25, June 20, 2013 Incorporating REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING edited by Glenn Hauser, http://www.worldofradio.com
** CHINA. 13970, CNR-1, June 12, 1030. Very solid with noted //s on 17080, 16920, 16360, 16100 (Rick Barton, Arizona, Hammarlund HQ-200, Drake R8; Random Wire and Slinky, ABDX via DXLD) Firedrake June 13: 13795, poor at 1223 with CCI, and still at 1311 CNR1 jamming, June 13: 15540, poor at 1308, het on hi side 15550, poor at 1353 // 11785, het on lo side 15610, poor under WEWN, but // 11785 15800, good at 1221 (Glenn Hauser, OK, DX LISTENING DIGEST) 13740, CNR-1, June 14, 1030. Firedrake music crashing and banging over background on CNR-1 programming in Chinese. VG. Heard // CNR transmissions, but sans Firedrake music, on: 16920, 16100, 13850, 13820. 13740, Firedrake Music, June 15, 1045. Crash-boom-bang. No //s heard. Noted CNR-1 on Firedrake frequency 16100 (Rick Barton, Arizona, Hammarlund HQ-200, Drake R8; Random Wire and Slinky, ABDX via DXLD) Firedrake jamming, June 15: 12100, fair at 1234 vs CODAR. New frequency! Nothing at all in Aoki to account for this, not even a 100-watt SOH listing 13795, fair at 1242 and // 12100 CNR1 jammers instead of Firedrake, June 15: 11500, poor at 1237; not synchronized with 11785, 11825; none in 12s 13970, good at 1241 14700, good at 1244 with hets, local? 15800, good at 1244, also 1300 timesignal and modulation stops but carrier on until 1301:15* or so 16920, poor at 1245; none in the 17s (Glenn Hauser, OK, DX LISTENING DIGEST) 15100, Firedrake Music Jammer. June 15, 1530. Strong with banging and booming. No //s heard, nor any unusual CNR stations on typical Firedrake frequencies. Also heard on recheck at 1710 with VG signals. Surprised to hear it so soon after the hour (Rick Barton, Arizona, Hammarlund HQ-200, Drake R8; Random Wire and Slinky, ABDX via DXLD) 15100, 15/Jun 1715, Firedrake with weak signal in my QTH, but good in SDR Twente (Jorge Freitas, Feira de Santana, Bahia, 12 14ｴS 38 58ｴW - Brasil, dxldyg via DX LISTENING DIGEST) Against Voice of America in Uzbek: 1500-1530 on 15100 KWT 250 kW / 046 deg to CeAs Tue/Sat Chinese technicians may already be sleeping (Ivo Ivanov, ibid.) Firedrake June 16: 13795, fair at 1245 and still at 1331 Non-Firedrake CNR1 jamming June 16: 14700, very good at 1246 but none in the 12s, 13s or 15s. Off at 1331 16920, fair at 1251 17080, very poor at 1253 with flutter, // 14700 17450, very poor at 1253 with flutter; none in the 18s Firedrake June 17: 13795, poor at 1234 CNR1 jamming instead of Firedrake June 17: 13920, fair at 1234; none in the 12s 14700, fair at 1234 with flutter; none in the 15s, 16s or 17s Firedrake June 18: 13795, poor at 1240, and very poor at 1321; only one audible, all the rest being CNR1 jammers instead: After 1230 June 18: None in the 17s, 16s, 15s or 14s at 1238 12500, very poor at 1241 12670, fair at 1241 12800, very poor at 1241 13530, fair at 1241 Before 1330 June 18: 12500, JBA at 1322 13530, poor at 1321 vs CODAR 13920, poor at 1320 14700, poor at 1320 14800, fair at 1320 15800, poor at 1318; none in the 16s 15970, poor at 1318 17250, fair at 1320 (Glenn Hauser, OK, DX LISTENING DIGST) [and non]. BBC & VOA English to Africa === The Aoki file posted today, June 18, includes many changes showing BBC and VOA English to Africa jammed by CNR1 and Firedrake (Dan Ferguson, 1546 UT June 18, NASWA yg via DXLD) Checking 13 & 16m only so far in Aoki, following as*erisks, these are shown as jammed, all English (and sometimes skipping other languages): VOA: 17895 1500-1830 17530 1400-1500 BBC: 17830 0700-0800, 1600-1800 17795 1700-2000 17640 0600-0800, 1600-1700 Please check today, still jammed? These are in addition to numerous broadcasts from VOA and BBC to Asia. Also AIR English: 17895 & 17510 at 1000-1100 are marked as jammed (Glenn Hauser, OK, June 19, DX LISTENING DIGEST)