Step aside, CNN, and make room, Al Jazeera: an international news network is coming to break the current "monopoly" on news and promote a Turkic point of view. Media scholars like John Merrill may welcome a diversity of perspectives in the global news flow as a counterbalance to Western news companies and their takes. The caveat is that the latest new channel is a brainchild of four autocracy-prone governments; primarily of Kazakhstan's president-for-life, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The idea of a pan-Turkic news has been in the can for a while, but on August 18 information ministers signed a memorandum of understanding about the project in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Kazakh communication officials said that Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey have reached a conceptual agreement on the network, which will broadcast "Turkic cultural values" in the four countries' languages and English. It is unclear when the channel goes live.
But, already, Ali Hasanov, a senior aide of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and the longtime presidential point-man for media matters, has his ideas.
Azerbaijan has been chafing lately about coverage by US and British outlets, and, plainly, the 55-year-old Hasanov believes it's time for a change.
Looking back to this summer’s European Games, he complained that “the great strides” made by his country “are hardly highlighted by some leading global media resources.” Rather, as the country’s star has risen, the “ media attacks based on preconceived, false accusations” only have increased, he claimed, the pro-government Trend news agency reported.
Consequently, he vowed that Azerbaijan would bring to the table “all of its existing experience in the economic, socio-political sphere “ to make the Turkic TV channel a success.
That experience could be open to interpretation. According to international rights watchdogs, Azerbaijan is not exactly renowned for media-friendliness.
But perhaps Hasanov meant his own family experience. As reported by OCCRP last July, his wife, Sona Veliyeva, sits on Azerbaijan's National TV and Radio Council, while son Shamkhal Hasanli has run a radio station and television/movie production company.
The article alleged that a string of conflicts of interest has been the result.
The author of the report, freelance journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who also has worked for EurasiaNet.org, is now on trial for criminal charges largely rejected by international media watchdogs as a cover for squashing her exposés of alleged abuses of power within the government and President Ilham Aliyev’s family. (The government rejects claims of any wrongdoing.)
At her trial on August 19, Ismayilova charged that the procedure was being rushed and that documents necessary for her defense were not being examined, RFE/RL reported. “As a result, my rights are being violated and I cannot defend myself,” Ismayilova said.
Mainstream Azerbaijani news agencies have presented these complaints only as an attempt to delay the trial.
Hasanov did not specify whether or not the experience Azerbaijan will contribute to the International Turkic News Channel will include lessons learned from Ismayilova’s trial or her investigations.
Or from that of the late journalist Rasim Aliyev, who died on August 10 after a beating apparently connected to his criticism of a prominent soccer player. (The player, Javid Huseynov, and several others have since been arrested. President Aliyev is overseeing the investigation.)
Or perhaps from the situation of other independent Azerbaijani reporters (or civil society activists) who have been singled out for public abuse and harrassment, threatened, prosecuted or, in one instance, killed.
Hasanov merely specified that the network will cover news from the Turkic world, Iran and Russia without "being put through an ideological sieve of international news channels."
But, apparently, put through another "sieve" all the same.
-- Caucasus News Editor Elizabeth Owen added reporting to this post.