EUbusiness (press release), UK
Dec 31 2008

EU warns Azerbaijan over its BBC, Voice of America ban

31 December 2008, 11:44 CET

(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission warned Azerbaijan Wednesday that
its planned ban of local-language broadcasts by the BBC, Voice of
America and Radio Liberty could hit plans for deeper ties.

"The decision by the Azerbaijani National TV and Radio Council not to
renew the broadcasting licences of several foreign broadcasters,
including the BBC, Radio Liberty and the Voice of America, is a matter
of serious concern," EU Commissioner for External relations Benita
Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.

"If implemented, this decision would deprive a great number of
listeners of valuable and independent sources of information as of 1
January 2009," she added.

Azerbaijan has come under fire from international rights groups and
Western governments for limiting media freedom and jailing local

Critics say foreign-funded news broadcasts are among the only sources
of independent information in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation.

Nushirvan Magerramli, chairman of the country's State Council for
Television and Radio Broadcasting assured on Tuesday that the decision
not to renew the media licences "has nothing to do with
politics. Nobody raised concerns when we stopped Russian, Turkish and
French television and radio broadcasts in Azerbaijan."

The banned broadcasters will only be able to broadcast into Azerbaijan
via cable networks.

The EU's Ferrero-Waldner warned that the decision ran counter to plans
for boost EU-Azerbaijan ties, which is part of the European Union's
new 'Eastern Partnership' scheme.

The proposals to "strengthen the overall relationship between the EU
and the Republic of Azerbaijan" was made "on the basis of the common
values of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms," she stressed.

"Respect for freedom of expression and of the media are essential
elements in this regard... I urge the Azerbaijani authorities to
reconsider their decision, so that the broadcasters concerned can
continue their transmissions unimpeded."

The Eastern Partnership scheme involves Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus,
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.