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National Broadcasting Council unveils plans to take three foreign radios stations off FM band by 2009

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has sent a letter to the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, appealing to him to intervene after the National Broadcasting Council announced it planned to take three foreign radios stations off the FM band by 2009. The stations targeted are the BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said in its 3 November 2008 letter that it was "dismayed" by the "shocking statements" of the council's chairman, Nushirvan Magerramli, announcing the bans on 31 October.

The organisation pointed out that the three media involved "provide comprehensive, high quality and objective news" and "contribute fundamentally to the continued pluralism that is virtually non-existent elsewhere in the Azerbaijan media. It stressed that "their popularity - particularly that of RFE/RL - demonstrates this."

Reporters Without Borders also condemned what it called a "very serious strategic mistake" that it would "strongly condemn, should it happen." "How could it not be seen as a desire to step up control of the country's media landscape and a mark of political failure?" the organisation asked.

The organisation pointed out that "these radios would not disappear because of this, because they would be able to broadcast on short wave as happened during the Soviet era. It would only have the effect of lowering the quality of reception for listeners."

Stressing that it was not "not too late", Reporters Without Borders urged President Aliyev to "reject this decision", and distance himself from "a counterproductive act for Azerbaijan", and "to let it be known that foreign media are not a threat to your authority and that they play a key role in providing news and information to your citizens."

Finally, the organisation urged the president to open a dialogue with the representatives of the three radios and to plan, if necessary, the construction of new transmitters.

Nushirvan Magerramli, Chairman of the National Broadcasting Council, said on 31 October that the three radio stations, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, BBC and Voice of America in the Azeri language, should stop broadcasting on FM from 2009. "Azerbaijan is not interested in foreign radios on its national frequencies," he said.

He added that over the past few years, Russian and Turkish television broadcasters, as well as French and Russian radio broadcasters, had lost their frequencies. The decision could be applied gradually, he said. The radios involved all broadcast on FM: RFE/RL and VOA on 101.7, and the BBC on 103.3.

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