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In Azerbaijan, BBG Governor Ashe Awards RFE Literary Prize, Discusses Local Media Environment

(Baku, Azerbaijan) At a ceremony Wednesday in Baku, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Member Victor H. Ashe presented Musa Efendi with the Oxu Zali (“Reading Room”) literature award. Efendi, 20, was recognized for his short story, “Taken Away,” which bested over 200 other submissions in a writing competition judged by the online audience of RFE’s Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq. The ceremony was attended by more than 200 writers, journalists, and members of Azerbaijani civil society, including a member of parliament.

While in Baku, Governor Ashe met with Azerbaijani officials and media representatives to discuss Radio Azadliq broadcasts and other BBG-related issues. During his meetings, Ashe invited Azerbaijani officials to visit RFE’s offices in Prague and the offices of the BBG and Voice of America in Washington “to see firsthand what we do”. Ashe also attended a dinner for representatives of the media in Azerbaijan, including a blogger who was recently released after spending 17 months in prison.

In a meeting with Nushiravan Maharramli, Chairman of the National TV and Radio Council, the governmental body responsible for licensing and regulating media, Ashe discussed a government-imposed ban on international broadcasters in place since January 2009. The ban on broadcasts over government-regulated airwaves profoundly affected distribution for both RFE/RL and Voice of America in the country and was roundly condemned by the BBG, the U.S. State Department and other media organizations.

“We hope the government of Azerbaijan will reconsider its ban on international broadcasting,” Ashe said, pledging that the BBG will “continue raising the issue until it is resolved.” Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. State Department, also in Baku this week, said at a public meeting with journalists that he had raised the ban with his counterparts in the Azerbaijani government. “This is an important issue for us, and we tried to convey that to our Azerbaijani colleagues,” Melia said. “There is no good reason why RFE shouldn’t be broadcasting [on FM] here.”

Ashe’s trip included a visit to Radio Azadliq’s Baku Bureau, during which he took questions from listeners on the radio’s “Ishden Sonra” (“After Work”) live call-in program. He was also presented a letter addressed to BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson from journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who was recently released from prison in a high-profile case. “Radio Azadliq was the only media outlet in Azerbaijan that reported continuously and fearlessly on my imprisonment,” Fatullayev writes. “We served this sentence against media freedom, against the right to question and the freedom to criticize, together.”

About RFE’s Radio Azadliq
For nearly 60 years, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service (Radio Azadliq) has operated within a challenging media environment as a dependable source of professional, independent, and up-to-the minute information and news. Broadcasting for ten hours each day, Radio Azadliq puts the values of democracy and independence firmly at the center of its mission and is one of the country’s most respected news sources.