International radio stations may no longer use local frequencies in Azerbaijan.
Broadcast regulators in that country have ruled they will ban such stations, according to Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe. The ban takes effect Wednesday and will end broadcasts by Voice of America, RFE/RL’s Radio Azadliq and the BBC.
According to the news report, regulators argued that national FM and medium-wave radio frequencies are property of the government that cannot be used by international broadcasters. The council chairman said the move was not connected to politics.
Jeffrey Gedmin, president of RFE/RL, said, “Losing our FM frequency means losing 90% of our audience. Nevertheless, we will find ways to reach our listeners.” The U.S. State Department said the decision “will represent a serious setback to freedom of speech, and retard democratic reform in Azerbaijan.”
Banned broadcasters will still have access to satellite, cable and Internet platforms in Azerbaijan, RFE/RL reported, but “the ban on radio transmissions is expected to eliminate the vast majority of the stations’ current audience.” The BBC said it will continue shortwave and online broadcasts there.
The news report noted that a public referendum is planned for March on scrapping presidential term limits, which would let President Ilham Aliyev stay in office. It quoted one critic speculating that the ban will mean voters will hear few opposing points of view before the referendum; he also said the leadership is trying to transform the republic into a monarchy. RFE/RL quoted an official with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe saying the ban would have a chilling effect on the few independent journalists in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is in Southwestern Asia between Iran and Russia.