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RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service Wins Major Award for Political Coverage

(PRAGUE, Czech Republic — November 5, 2009) In the face of ongoing pressure and harassment from authorities, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service (Radio Azadliq) has won one of journalism’s most prestigious awards for its coverage of Azerbaijan’s controversial March referendum.

At a gala dinner in London last night, Radio Azadliq accepted a 2009 Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) Media Excellence Award, an honor granted each year for “the best in broadcasting worldwide.” Azadliq took first place in the category of ‘Best Radio Coverage of a Single News Event.’

The award was given for a series of special reports from Radio Azadliq’s Baku bureau in March on a referendum to amend the Azeri constitution to allow President Ilham Aliyev to rule for life.

“This recognition is proof that, despite the road blocks being thrown up against us by the government, our journalists continue to do groundbreaking work,” said Radio Azadliq Director Kenan Aliyev.

This recognition is proof that, despite the road blocks being thrown up against us by the government, our journalists continue to do groundbreaking work

Three months before the referendum, the Azeri government forced Radio Azadliq and other international broadcasters off the national FM airwaves in a crackdown against independent media. The move cost the station 85% of its audience, as Azeris today can access Azadliq’s award-winning programming only via shortwave, satellite radio, and the Internet.

On the day of the vote, Azadliq’s journalists fanned out at polling stations across the country and discovered widespread violations of electoral procedure. They followed up with election commissions, pressing officials for explanations about irregularities. They also recruited “citizen journalists” to document their experiences at polling sites. One reporter managed to obtain a video of ballot stuffing.

“Thanks to this brave reporting, our Azeri listeners not only heard descriptions of electoral fraud – they saw the faces and heard the voices of the people involved,” said Aliyev. “The AIB Award is a great honor, especially on the heels of last week’s Rafto Prize given to Malahat Nasibova for her reporting on human rights abuses in Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan province.”

AIB officials praised Radio Azadliq, recognizing that RFE/RL journalists “face some tough hurdles in trying to reach into countries where the press is not as free as it should be.” The corresponding award for a television broadcast went to BBC’s Persian TV for its coverage of the Iranian elections.

About RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service
For more than 50 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 10 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.