The Press Council of Azerbaijan is a self-regulatory body of Azerbaijani press. The Council was created during the First Conference of Azerbaijani journalists, in which 180 media organizations were present, on 15 March 2003. The Council’s aims include conducting of public control so as to ensure that journalists act in line with the requirements of relevant pieces of legislation and professional principles, improving government-media and public-media relations, and contributing to the freedom of speech. In order to fulfill the objectives stated above, the Council considers the possibilities of pre-judicial solutions of conflicts arising from newspaper articles, examines complaints about the conduct of correspondents of various media outlets and makes decisions about complaints.
The supreme organ of the Press Council is the Conference. Conferences are organised in line with the relevant article of the Charter of the PC. The Council is run by the Chairman (See the Charter). There are two deputies of the Chair. One does represent journalists, whilst another does represent members of the public. Deputy Chairs are leading the Complaint Commissions on the principle of rotation. Decisions are made on a collegial basis at meetings of the Board, which has 23 main members and 6 additional members. 11 main members represent journalists and 7 of them do represent public, 5 of internet portal. Out of additional members, media, public and internet portal are represented by 2 persons respectively. Board meetings take place monthly, whereas meetings of the Complaint Commission twice a month. The administrative work of the Council is managed by the Secretariat, which amongst its main other functions, is responsible for reviewing complaints in line with the procedural rules laid out in the Charter. The Secretariat is also responsible for supervising monitoring group which conduct regular reviews of Mass Media, ascertains main tendencies and problems associated with media, and reports to the General Secretary.
II. The main mission of the Press Council is to examine complaints which are considered in stages:
1. Examination of complaints
All complaints are first received by the Secretariat led by the General Secretary who establishes whether a complaint is made in accordance with the “Press Council’s Complaint Handling Guidelines’, ensures that procedural rules are followed and he also advises complainants on what should be done next. Since it is the GS’s priority to establish whether it is possible to achieve a certain understanding between a complainant and complainee, he may invite both sides to the Council and offer them compromise models upon which a consensus could be achieved. If there is an agreement at this stage, the Council considers the case to be closed and informs the Board. If there is no consensus between the conflicting sides, the case must be referred to the Complaints Commission. The Secretariat is to set the date and agenda of the meeting of the Complaints Commission, as well as inform its members.
b/ The Complaints Commission
A complainant and complainee are invited to the Complaints Commission. At this stage, the conflicting sides’ positions are further clarified and some questions are being put by the Commission members. Decisions are reached subsequent to as a series of consultations between the Commission members, and conveyed to a complainant and complainee via the Secretariat. The Complaints Commission is entitled to issue an opinion with regard to any specific case and at the final stage its opinions are used by the Board to make a final decision. If the facts and circumstances of the case demand so, the Complaints Commission may refer the case to the ‘Commission dealing with Racketeering-media” (otherwise referred to as “Anti-racketeering Commission”. It effectively means that the Complaints Commission is authorised to submit its opinion as to naming a media outlet as a ’racketeering’ media and inclusion of it in the ‘Black List’.
c/ The “Commission on Racketeering media” was established according to the resolution of the 5th Conference of Azerbaijani journalists in 2008. The Complaints Commission, in the view of the nature of a complaint and its motive, recommends the Commission on Racketeering media to consider it. The latter upon the careful and extensive examination of the relevant materials and facts pertaining to them ,decides if there are sufficient grounds for the inclusion of the media outlet complained about within the Black List and submits its conclusion to the Board of the PC.
The Board is the ultimate instance of decision-making in which opinions issued by the Complaints Commission are reviewed. The Board is to determine whether all conciliatory measures to the effect of achieving a consensus between the conflicting sides are exhausted. In addition to the opinions of the Complaints Commission, the Board may rely on the report of the ‘Anti-racketeering Commission’. The Board’s decisions may differ from those of the Commissions. The Board does also establish the confines of the Council’s area of activity, agrees on action plans and issues relevant instruction as to their fulfillment.
2. Decision and opinions
Opinion - is issued by the Complaints Commission. It does explicitly reflect on the motive of a complain as well as the arguments put forward by a complainant and complainee. An opinion issued by the CC does also entail a specific action mechanism that the Board may follow whilst making an ultimate decision.
Decision - are issued, mainly on the grounds of the opinions of the Complaints Commission, in relation to a specific appeal about a specific alleged irregularity committed by a media outlet. Decisions, as stated above, are mostly based on previously issued relevant opinions, yet they may differ from them.
Decisions and opinions of the Press Council are of recommendatory character and do not include administrative measures. Decisions and opinions may require a complainee to publish the other side’s view, issue a proper apology and retract the original article. The harshest and most severe decision that the PC may come to is to include a media outlet within the ‘Black list’, this is quite often a necessary measures while dealing with culprits who have deliberately damaged the public and business reputation of a complainant and cast an aspersion on heir honour and dignity. A decision on an inclusion of a media outlet in the ‘Black List’ is done in accordance with the ‘Guidelines on Racketeering Media’. The ‘Black ‘list’ is regularly renewed and published via Mass Media.
III. Other Commissions
There are 7 other commissions that function within the Council. They include the following:
Law Commission: holds regular meetings, examines the legal aspects of complaints, as well as practical circumstances that emerge within the scope of the Council’s general area of activity. If necessary, the Commission may report to the Board.
Social Commission: operates in line with its own Charter. It conducts a series of extensive research into social life of journalists, their social wellbeing, works on the way of alleviating the economic hardship that some journalists may face and reports to the Board.
Economic Commission: conducts a monitoring of the economic state of media, identifies specific concerns of pecuniary nature and regularly submits to the Board. The Commission in question is also responsible for organising thematic events dedicated to the economic development of Azerbaijani Mass Media.
Language Commission: conducts a monitoring on the form and principles of the use of the Azerbaijani language in media, prepares reports on its findings, organises ‘round tables’ dedicated to the subject and submits its reports to the Board.
Commission on regional media: conducts regular monitoring as to the quantity and quality of regional media and submit opinions based on their findings to the Board. The Commission is also responsible for identifying best regional media development projects.
Permanent Commission dealing with the relations between media and governmental bodies: operates in accordance with its charter. This structural body of the Council, in addition to the members of the Board of the PC, includes officials from the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. The Permanent Commission’s primary focus is to quickly sort out any immediate problems that journalists may face while fulfilling their professional duties. It does consult relevant government bodies, monitors journalistic activities during mass protests. The Commission reports to the Board.
International Relations Commission: deals with the organisational matters pertaining to the participation of the Chairman and members of the Board at international conferences, makes reports on the international priorities of the Council.
Note: The Commissions are led by the Board members, chairs are elected during Board meetings by means of open vote. Save for the Complaints Commissions, those who are not members of the Board may be involved in the meetings of any Commission of the Council.
IV. Projects and Events
The Council, in accordance with its founding document, carries out a series of activities to improve the professional level of journalists and provide training opportunities for them. These projects are done both individually and through the cooperation with other public bodies and organisations. The Council has so far successfully managed to put into practice projects to enhance the professional ties of journalists with tax-collecting, health authorities and courts. The Council’s projects do also deal with the areas such as obtaining information from the initial source, media coverage under extremely dangerous conditions, politicisation in media, economic dependency and many other spheres. The Council does organise various thematic events, conferences and ‘round tables’.
V. International Relations.
The Press Council of Azerbaijan has been a member of the World Association of Press Councils (the WAPC) and European Alliance of Press Councils since 2005. The Chairman of the Azerbaijani Press Council is represented in the Board of the WAPC. The members of the Press Council are actively participating in annual conferences together with their international counterparts. The Council has established good working relations with the relevant media regulatory bodies of the Post-Soviet countries and Turkey. The Council does also closely cooperate with the Press Councils of Austria, the UK and India. The Council has mutual understanding memorandums with the Turkish Association of Journalists and the Press Council of Turkey.
VI. Financing of the Council
In line with its Charter, the Council is financed by its members via annual members fee. Daily newspapers, information agencies and journalist organisation are required to pay 148.5 AZN on an annual basis, whereas this amount for weekly newspaper and magazines is 99 AZN. Some of the projects led by the Council have been financed international foundations, foreign embassies and the State Fund for Support of Mass Media Development.