WASHINGTON – RFE/RL has documented a pattern of disruption of its satellite news programming to Azerbaijan that could indicate a new level of deliberate interference, a practice known as jamming. The practice is a violation of international telecommunications regulations.
Since April 28, 2013, RFE/RL’s weekly Azerbaijani language news magazine, broadcast to Azerbaijan on the Medya TV channel on a popular Turksat satellite from Turkey, has been interrupted with jittery images, distorted sound and static. On three successive weekends the show, “Different News” (Ferqli Kheberler), registered interference that began four to five minutes into programming and ended shortly after it concluded.
In an attempt to get around the interference, the show was subsequently placed on a different satellite and two other channels, Denge TV and Sivas SRT. On each occasion, engineers with the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau documented electronic noise and distortion, most recently on June 16.
“Our broadcasts have been thwarted and our journalists have been targeted in numerous cases of harassment in recent years, leading us to suspect that this interference is a continuation, and indeed an escalation, of such acts,” said Kevin Klose, RFE/RL Acting President and CEO. “These developments are serious, as they concern possible violations of well-established international treaties, not to mention international norms and standards regarding media freedom. They should be investigated by Azeri and international telecommunications authorities.”
Klose added, “We will continue to monitor our programming and report our findings. We are dedicated to helping the people of Azerbaijan fully exercise their freedom to seek and impart information across borders, and to form opinions, free from interference.”
RFE/RL’s news magazine belongs to a cluster of Azerbaijani language programs shown on Turksat, among which “Azerbaijani Hour” (Azarbaycan Saati), a program distributed by an opposition political party, has also reported repeated interference. At the end of its June 16 episode, which aired with a poor signal that at one point was lost entirely, the Sivas SRT anchor accused the Azeri government of jamming.
Ertogrul Akman, General Manager for Major Media, which handles placement of programs on Turkish media, called the interference “unprecedented” and told RFE/RL, “I have no doubt it’s coming from Azerbaijan.” He has appealed to Turksat to investigate as “we are now having difficulty placing the program [Different News], since it has experienced repeated interference which has affected other programs and created audience loss. The other companies are aware of this and don’t want to risk damage” by carrying the program, he added.
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani language service, known locally as Radio Azadliq, was banned from local FM airwaves by Azeri authorities in 2009, a restriction that prompted the search for broadcast alternatives, including on satellite. Since then, the service’s journalists have been the targets of defamation campaigns; abductions and death threats; arbitrary detentions; physical attacks and attempts to intimidate family members, none of which Azeri authorities have investigated. Earlier this month, President Ilham Aliyev signed into a law a bill criminalizing on-line defamation.
In its just-released annual Nations in Transit survey, Freedom House categorized Azerbaijan as a “Consolidated Authoritarian Regime” that is “characterized by intolerance for dissent and disregard for civil liberties and political rights.” Reporters Without Borders ranked it 156 out of 179 countries surveyed in its 2013 Press Freedom Index.
The current interference has many of the characteristics of deliberate interference. It only occurs during programs in the Azerbaijani language. The interfering signal carries no content, indicating its sole purpose is to disrupt other programming. When the RFE/RL program moves to other channels and satellites, the interfering signal follows. Jamming, which was used for decades to disrupt shortwave broadcasts by Radio Free Europe and Radio liberty into the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact states, is prohibited under rules of the International Telecommunications Union — of which Azerbaijan is a member.
RFE/RL is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 21 countries, including Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).