Azerbaijan: Radio Azadliq Takes to Satellite
The Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has begun to broadcast its programs via a Turkish satellite network in a bid to circumvent Azerbaijan's ban on domestic FM broadcasts by foreign-owned radio stations.
Radio Azadliq (Radio Liberty) and Voice of America will share a 24-hour broadcasting slot on TÃ¼rksat, the station announced on April 17. News programs from Radio Azadliq make up the bulk of the schedule. The station already broadcasts via Hotbird, a part of the Paris-based Eutelsat service that reaches a much smaller percentage of Azerbaijani satellite users.
Radio Azadliq bureau chief Khadija Ismayilova told EurasiaNet that TÃ¼rksat's coverage area will allow the radio station to penetrate Azerbaijan's regions; TÃ¼rksat is estimated to reach the majority of Azerbaijan's satellite users.
By contrast, the FM radio frequency restricted the station largely to Baku and the surrounding Absheron peninsula. AM broadcasts, which reached other parts of Azerbaijan, have been curtailed as well.
Radio Azadliq stopped its FM broadcasts on January 1 after a heavily-criticized decision by Azerbaijan that foreign-owned stations should not have access to the frequency. Ninety percent of the station's audience received Radio Azadliq's broadcasts via FM, Ismayilova said.
Now with access to TÃ¼rksat, Ismayilova estimates that the station's audience will expand. To capitalize on the opportunity, the station plans to extend its coverage of issues in Azerbaijan's regions, she said. "There are no specific figures on how many of our listeners we will be able to get back, but I believe we will see a tremendous growth in numbers," she said. [Editor's Note: Khadija Ismayilova formerly worked as a reporter for EurasiaNet.org.]
The station has begun work on returning programs to the air that were scrapped after the National Television and Radio Council's ban on FM broadcasts went into effect on January 1. The first program is expected to reappear on TÃ¼rksat by mid-May. New programs are also in the works.
While Radio Azadliq focuses on satellite broadcasts, the authorities are still keeping silent about proposals from the US government to restore the station's FM radio broadcasts.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees all US government-funded civilian international radio broadcasts, has offered Azerbaijani radio stations the chance to broadcast within the US in exchange for Radio Azadliq and Voice of America returning to the air within Azerbaijan.
"If the two states sign a contract to restart foreign radio stations in Azerbaijan, we can consider this issue," APA news agency reported NTRC Chairman Nushiravan Maharramli as saying on April 16. Otherwise, Maharramli noted, the council has expressed its position about foreign radio broadcasts within Azerbaijan.
In an interview with EurasiaNet, Maharramli stressed that foreign-owned broadcasters can use satellite, cable television and the Internet to reach Azerbaijani audiences. "Apart from the shortwave frequency that foreign radio services can use now, we have created all conditions for the free use of other means for broadcasting, but not for using Azerbaijan's national [radio] frequencies," he stressed.
The presidential administration is looking into the US proposal; if it wins a positive evaluation, the NTRC would reconsider the issue, he added.
Meanwhile, as the NTRC and government deliberate, Radio Azadliq has turned to other media apart from satellite.
Bureau chief Ismayilova states that the station's website experienced by March "at least [a] 300 percent" increase in the number of users listening to radio programs posted on the site. The number of unique visitors coming to the site to read news stories has increased "by six to seven times" to a high of 6,000 per day, she added.
The Internet has let the station gain better contact with its listeners, who now sometimes send photos or videos of events they have witnessed.
Despite Radio Azadliq's access to Internet and satellite broadcasts, the US "will continue negotiations on seeking a solution to allow radio services to get back on FM," commented Terry Davidson, spokesperson for the US embassy in Baku. "Satellite and Internet are not sufficient to allow [them] to reach [the] audience that they reached in the past."
Bureau chief Ismayilova, though, maintains that relying on the two platforms has brought Radio Azadliq valuable experience.
"Basically, we are using the problems we faced and have turned them into advantages," Ismayilova said. "Radio Azadliq is still relevant."
Mina Muradova is a freelance reporter based in Baku.
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