This year's Eurovision Song Contest took place at the end of May in Azerbaijan's capital Baku. The German media, though, focused on the country's limited human rights and lack of press freedoms. Rightly so?
Emin Huseynov said it was high time for Europeans to take a closer look at his country. "After Azerbaijan won the Eurovision Song Contest last year we discussed ways to draw public attention to the serious problems we're facing." Huseynov is a human rights activist and heads the "Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety" in Baku. "There's no freedom of the press and no opposition media here - almost all newsrooms are controlled by the state." Huseynov described the situation during an expert panel discussion on Azerbaijan held May 11 in Berlin. It was organized by DW Akademie together with German public broadcaster ARD.
Huseynov said he was glad to see any media reports on his country and particularly welcomed critical ones. He was, however, surprised that there was more coverage now than there had been for the last presidential elections. Another panel member, Thomas Schreiber, also acknowledged an increase of reports on Azerbaijan. Schreiber is ARD's entertainment coordinator and was the executive producer for last year’s Eurovision Song Contest held in Germany. "This contest has certainly offered a platform for more coverage," he said, but he would also like to see a broader focus. Azerbaijan has a rich history, he pointed out, and the media also needs to look at this despite the current problems.
"You're ruining the party!"
For years journalist Silvia Stöber has been covering Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus for the German media and agreed with Schreiber's comments. But she also talked about the challenges. "Even when I want to report about tourism or the country’s scenic beauty I run into enormous poverty and corruption." She rejected the Azerbaijani government’s accusation that current coverage is a concerted effort to discredit the state.
DW correspondent Alexandra von Nahmen joined the discussion from Baku via Skype and said this outrage was palpable. She described it as a sense of 'Here we are organizing this great celebration for Europe and you’re ruining the party!' She said that as a journalist she was often met with skepticism. To date she had still not been able to organize an interview with a state representative. Her most recent report for Deutsche Welle had focused on forced relocations.