VIENNA, 30 December 2008 - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, criticized Azerbaijan's decision today to bar foreign broadcasters from FM radio frequencies as a serious step backwards for democracy, and urged Baku to reconsider.
Azerbaijan's National Council on Television and Radio announced today that as of 1 January it would not renew FM licences for broadcasters including the BBC, Radio Liberty and Voice of America. The Council has said the broadcasters should instead use the Internet, satellite radio or shortwave transmissions.
"Opening borders to a free flow of information is one of the oldest Helsinki commitments regarding human rights, pledged by the participating States more than 30 years ago," said Haraszti. "Closing down FM news radio broadcasts that were among the few remaining sources of varied, public-service quality information is a serious step backwards for an OSCE democracy."
He said the alternatives to FM radio frequencies suggested by the Council's Chairman, Nushiravan Maharramli, were unacceptable.
"Internet usage in Azerbaijan is low, the expansion of satellite radio is unrealistic and shortwave radio is unable to provide modern-day reception quality," Haraszti said. "I hope the Azerbaijani authorities will soon review their decision in favour of audience access to information."
Haraszti noted he had written on 5 November to Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov to express concern and to urge the authorities to renew the foreign broadcasters' licences.