The Methods of Marginalization

by Nathan Hamm on 3/14/2005

Christopher Walker of Freedom House powerfully comments on Azerbaijan’s toxic media environment in the wake of the murder of Elmar Huseynov.

The methods of marginalization are all too clearly political. The government bans state businesses from advertising in opposition newspapers. A private business with interests in state contracts will usually decide caution is wiser than advertising in such publications. Publications not aligned with the government are subject to the capriciousness of state-owned printing facilities … The distribution of opposition publications outside Baku is inadequate or obstructed. In Baku, unregistered newspaper vendors—the type who sell opposition newspapers—are finding that law enforcers are increasingly tough. The opposition print media therefore find it hard to survive and pay wages. Tax inspectors seem unusually vigilant, and the courts weigh in with hefty fines for ‘libel.’ Since the court system is not independent, journalists and news organizations do not in practice have legal recourse.

And the country’s media environment pushes opposition media to act irresponsibly as well.

In effect, the distribution of power within Azerbaijan’s media community mimics to a significant degree the distribution of political power in that country. Both are profoundly skewed. At the political level, power is effectively monopolized by the YAP, through an elaborate web of patronage and entrenched corruption. Those not in league with the ruling powers have negligible influence.

These unwholesome ingredients feed into an unvirtuous circle in which an ever more besieged and marginalized opposition uses ever more desperate tactics and inflammatory language to inveigh against a regime that has no interest in sharing or competing for power.

I must admit I often feel uncomfortable with the opposition groups in Central Asia and the Caucasus precisely because of their over-the-top rhetoric. They have few options though.

Walker recommends that the Azeri government free up the media environment to improve relations with the opposition ahead of November’s parliamentary elections. It’s as good a place as any to start letting some of the tension out of society. It’s a shame it probably will not come to pass though.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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