III.2.3 Union of Azerbaijan Journalists and its place among journalists
III.2.3 Union of Azerbaijan Journalists and its place among journalists
This subchapter is dedicated to the answering the research question was: what are the stances of female editors towards journalistic professional organizations? In the course of the subchapter I.2.1 Journalism – profession or craftsmanship we looked at scholar thought that over the years tried to resolve if journalism can be classified as a profession. In our excursion to sociology, we described attributes that any long-lasting activity needs to present if it aspires to be considered as a profession. One of the points in our checklist was organization that provides licensing, testing of competence and educating its members, as well as punishes deviants from codes of professional behavior. In subchapter 1.4 Azerbaijani editors we also revisited results of our 2008 research with editors of twelve largest statewide distributed daily newspapers and above everything else, mentioned that Azerbaijani journalists lack universally accepted professional organizations since there are many organizations that claim to represent interests of journalists. The same is true for female journalist organizations. Among the noteworthy catch-all organizations are the Union of journalist of Azerbaijan and the Press Council (Valiyev 2008). In this subchapter we will look at stances of female editors towards professional organizations in Azerbaijan.
As it was mentioned above, there are two professional organizations in Azerbaijan that have threshold to influence journalistic community and stand out in a polarized spectrum of organizations saturating needs of different journalistic factions: the Union of Journalists of Azerbaijan and the Press Council. History of the Journalists’ Union dates back to early 40s of 20th century when it started its existence as a local branch of a larger organization – the Journalists Union of the USSR.
Relevant here is for example answer of editor-in-chief F.X. that became a member of the Union in the 70s right after finishing her journalistic education:You know I am their member but for a long time have no relations with them. They still have the name but no one knows what their activities are. I don’t feel their presence or get any help or an invitation from their side. If I accidently bump into their chairman he probably even will not know me. I have more connections with the Writer’s union or the Press Council than with the Journalists’ Union even though I remember that I had to pass examination by 7-8 people in order to become its member in the 70s, right after I have finished the university. I remember how much I valued that membership and how proudly I wore a pin with a pencil that they gave to me. I was flying with joy that I became member of the Journalists’ Union, the Soviet Journalists Union back then. But it is all gone now and today I sometimes even hesitate to say that I belong to this profession.
One of the stances that we cannot afford to omit is the stance that a professional organization must assist journalists in solving their existential problems and provide financial care. Among the greatest deeds of the Union female editors first of all distinguished financial support for journalists. A.S. editor in chief of semi-independent newspaper says:During the last two years there are a lot of things written and said about this organization. Of course, it should be noted that Mr. Mushvig [chairman of the Union] many times brought up spotlight on issues of journalists’ social and apartment problems. Thank goodness, the President assigned 5 million manats that will be used to build houses for journalists but after that decision the issue disappeared from the agenda. Wouldn’t be it nice if member-journalists could, like in other professional organizations of this sort, go free of charge to sanatoriums for medical treatment or could rest via some putyovka in foreign countries?
The notion of financial support expectation was also in the spotlight of three other editors S.X., S.S. and I.T. that are members of the organization and all three represent semi-independent newspapers in our research. In general we can summarize their answers under the statement made by I.T.:I am a member of the Union and currently there are no advantages to it. You know, previously, and I am talking about the Soviet times membership in the Journalist’s Union allowed journalists to go to sanatoriums or get cheap putyovkas or in case of illness to get cheap medical treatment. Now there is nothing of that. But I should note that existence of such organization is really important and the whole world accepts it as a universal norm. In general, we lost what we have had and now will have to build it up again. Sorry to say, but in our country in many things we are inventing bicycles again, even though we already had it right.
At the same time, female editors do not constitute homogeneous camp in their evaluation of professional organizations. Some editors like for example R.S., N.X. or U.A. – the editor-in-chief of Parliament-sponsored magazine have an ambivalent stance where at one hand they are skeptical of any particular benefits that the membership in such organizations grants and at the same moment express cautious belief in importance of the Union’s existence. Here is the stance of U.A. regarding the matter:
Question:Are you member of professional organization and if yes what are the benefits of the membership?
U.X.:Frankly speaking, I am not a member of the Union and I don’t see any benefit from becoming its member.
Question:Is existence of Journalists’ Union of Azerbaijan important for journalist?
U.X.:In some aspects yes
Not to be neglected is a stance voiced by N.M. or N.Y. where they deny Union’s authority and propose other professional organizations. Editor N.Y. goes even farther than N.M. by stating that among other things professional journalist organizations should engage politics:In Azerbaijan it does not matter what kind of organization you create, or what do you name it - union, council, committee, etc. They have no capability to influence state authorities and I don’t see that it will gain that power unless there is a change in the political regime. That is why I greet existence of independent organizations that will allow united struggle against current state of being since I do not consider the Union to be an independent organization. It is on the payroll of the government. It is good that we have new independent organizations that need to be nurtured since they provide common base for unification and strengthen possibilities of united defense.
Editor T.B. is against professional organizations in the context of modern Azerbaijan since as she believes currently such organizations are a breeding ground for clientelism and serve narrow interests of some groups in the journalistic community.You know I think that there is no necessity in such organization since they come together and build clans in order to divide later everything among themselves while denying others to join their organizations.
Nevertheless, even though majority of the selected female editors voices skepticism towards current state of professional organizations in Azerbaijan some still consider it to be a relevant professional institution with a right to exist. Editor N.M. notes that the Soviet past is not a problem for her and she praises any form of professional organization that will have as its objective unification of journalists in Azerbaijan:You know, it doesn’t matter for me if you call it a Union or some other name. For me the paramount is the unity of journalists itself. Power is in unity and currently scattered journalists’ voices are not being heard. Journalists like all other people have their own problems but in comparison with others they also carry a heavy load of their mission, to be on the watch and bring to discussion problems of the society and assist their solution. That is why I consider that unity among journalists is very important.
This pull between longing for unity and a pressing need to have functioning organization resulted in the creation of the Press Council – professional journalist organization that was created in the second decade of Azerbaijan’s independence when in year 2002 representatives of largest newspapers in Azerbaijan met to discuss rising necessity to fill empty place once taken by the Union of Journalists. One year later delegates of the same newspapers42 signed Council’s platform and accepted its ethical code (Valiyev 2008).
M.H. who currently is a member of executive board at the Press Council represents one of the old-School journalists who seeing idleness of the Union decided to move on and create a new organization rather than continue with membership in the old one: You know in the past we were members [of the Union] but not anymore. When the Press Council was organized we were among its organizers and members of the executive board. And we still are.
All of the following responses suggest that female journalists generally do not value professional organizations as institutions capable of enforcing professional standards and rather perceive them as bodies lobbying material subvention from the government or in case of opposition-inclined editors as means to extend political struggle against current political regime. Farther inquiry shows that another weak point of the organizations in Azerbaijan is their impeded capability to serve media community as a forum for discussions of ethical dilemmas. A.S. editor-in-chief of semi-independent newspaper:In my opinion it is not right to implement once or twice a sporadic event dedicated to discussion of some topic. In order to educate journalists, especially ones that just arrived to the profession these events must have a permanent nature. There is a pressing need in implementation of such events either by the Press Council or by other compatible organizations.
Perhaps the only articulate discussion in Azerbaijan on journalistic ethics belongs to the Press Council - the institution that professed itself and invested substantial amount of effort to fight extortionist journalism. Editor-in-chief S.S. of semi-independent newspaper:Recently, the Press Council staged some discussions on ethical norms. The reason for that is, as you know, recent struggle of the Press Council against extortionist journalism. As you know many such newspapers were banned. However, the initiative originated from complaints filed by ordinary citizens to the Press Council where they demanded to punish trespassers of their personal life, honor, and dignity. The Press Council was forced to act, and many of those newspapers stopped to exist. Yet, in our modern world, with developed media and internet, where news have to be very operative there is always a space for problems and that is why from time to time they organize some meetings where we participate and offer our piece of advise regarding certain issues.
M.X. editor-in-chief of SOCAR funded newspaper clarifies previous statement.You know, the Press Council is constantly reviewing the issue of extortionist journalism. That is in essence discussion on journalism ethics. According to my observations every day they [the Press Council] issue warnings to someone. That is a large amount of work done. For example, it happened to me once that I received a call from an acquaintance who told me that some people came and told him that unless he pays them they will write bad things about him. How could this possibly fit in journalism ethics? It is extortion in true meaning of that word. And the Press Council monitors that and maintains black list of newspapers. Recently they have added three newspapers to that list.
Other selected editors divided either on those who stated that there are no relevant transparent discussions staged or those editors that said that discussions that are currently being held are not done on necessary level. The case illustration for the first group [5 editors] can be magazine editor N.Y.:I have not heard anyone to discuss journalistic ethics here. May be there was something discussed but I have no information about that. I wish they have discussed the matter more often so one can remember about it.
Representative of the second group is also a magazine editor-in-chief U.A. This editor of Parliamentary magazine considers that current discussions have no proper effect due to political cleavage present in the journalistic community of Azerbaijan:Nowadays, there is not enough attention paid to the subject. I do not see a relevant discussion happening in our society or to be correct there are discussions in Azerbaijani society as a whole but not in the journalistic community. Today we have two camps in journalism: pro-government and pro-oppositional. And each of those camps follows only their own interests. I do not observe some wholesome discussion on ethical norms with participation of all parties. The reasons of that as I said earlier are different interests and I doubt that currently any such discussion may yield any common decision.
Thus, prevailing amount of discussions on ways of solving ethical dilemmas is implemented “in the house” i.e. inside of an editorial office and rarely surpasses its boundaries. This kind of approach was hailed by S.A. and S.S. This is how S.S. describes the process in her newspaper:Journalist brought a biased material and naturally we did not print it but made him to include into article an opposite side as well. At one hand, I don’t blame him. It is really hard to reach sources; they do not pick up phones or are being rude but nevertheless we always at the end of an article note that we are ready to give word to the opposite side. We had such cases and always tried to resolve them before sending newspaper to print house.
Yet, our research suggests that majority of female editors follow their male counterparts in terms of post factum confrontation with ethical dilemmas resulted by actions of their staff.
Editor T.B.: In year 2000 I had a case when one of my journalists went to do a story without consulting me or being assigned to do a story. He went to some official in order to compile necessary information. Rudeness of the official and journalist’s disobedience to ethical standards caused a big scandal that I had to go and solve it at the spot. I consider such behavior unacceptable, as in any organization the person in charge should know where his /her employees are while doing their job.
Editor-in-chief of government-funded medical newspaper A.X. recalls that she had to solve ethical problem caused by a picture in one of articles in her newspaper:I had a publication where I considered unethical the fact that there was an included photograph of parents whose child was born with development anomalies.
An interesting fact concerning extortionist journalism that was never touched upon by male editors in our 2008 research was portrayed by one of the oldest and experienced female editors M.X. that devoted 39 years of her career to her newspaper.Don’t think that in the Soviet time it [extortionist journalism] did not exist. There was a journalist; he is dead now so I will not name him. Once I received a call from a restaurant Druzhba [Friendship] that was beneath the Kirov’s park, nowadays Martyr’s Alley. He came there, and started to write something. Administration called us and told me that he is saying that he is from “Vyshka” newspaper and does not want to tell them what he writes about. Just seats there and asks people what they have ordered and how much did they pay. We offered him, please don’t write about us, we’ll give you something but he demanded a large sum of money from us. I asked them to give the phone to him:
– Aydin, what are you doing there?-I am writing a story. -Who gave you that assignment? Did someone sent you there? -No. I came on my own initiative. I received a tip about this place. Then I told him that if he had a tip and went there to write a story he should bring it to the newspaper office and we will review it together but what was that with him wanting money? So, I want to say that it was in the Soviet times as well.
Our current inquiry brought spotlight on yet another ethical misdemeanor that was omitted in our previous research. N.M. editor of independent magazine recalls her work in the Culture ministry-sponsored newspaper :We had a freelancer writing for us and I was printing her articles in Medeniyyet [Culture] newspaper. Once, I was approached by one of our correspondents who asked me: Nigar chanim, did you know that this girl submits the articles that we publish to other newspapers as well? And I should note that I was giving her good honoraries since I wanted to encourage her to write more, she had a “good pen”. So I called her to our office and told her to stop writing for us since I considered her actions to be a forgery that broke journalistic ethics and showed disrespect towards our newspaper.
The most common corruption of the ethical norms, however, is evidenced in a work with sources. It is not uncommon when a journalist due to different reasons uses unchecked sources of information and presents it as an unconditional truth. However, when the fabrication is discovered those responsible are treated variably in different media outlets. The strictest reaction towards responsible person portrayed the above mentioned N.M. that told interviewer about a case that cost her editor’s chair in the ministry-sponsored newspaper.There was an article brought by a journalist or rather by a section editor who was also an editor on duty that day. He took out an edited article that was scheduled to go and inserted in that spot an unchecked one. I was sick that day and went home early relying on the section editor and deputy editor that they will look after the issue. I checked everything before I left and did not expect them to substitute articles without my consent. I was fired after they have printed that article.
This represents the only case in our research when actually someone was fired for false information in their newspaper. Editor I.T. for example admitted that she have experienced such cases and she had to apologize for the unprofessional writings of her staff. U.X. on the other hand noted that she encountered numerous misdemeanors of this sort caused first of all by inexperienced journalists but refused to reveal specifics. Several other editors preferred to state that since they worked in very professional collectives they had no problems of this kind. F.X. confessed that when she was very young journalist she had minor issues with her articles but since she loved her profession very much she managed to correct her mistakes. Very interesting can be considered reaction of N.Y. who in our research represents stances of pro-opposition journalists.I think that you cannot use unchecked information, even if it concerns some official that is viewed by our society as very negative person the information must be checked. In case if there is an anonymous source, you should use that information only in case if you trust your source and there are sufficient serious evidences in a form of documents.
To summarize this subchapter we would like to focus reader’s attention on conclusions that we can draw based on an analysis of the selected female editors. To begin with, in the course of this section we found out evidence that female editors in their majority view professional organizations as institutions capable of enforcing professional standards and rather perceive them as bodies lobbying material subvention from the government or in case of opposition-inclined editors as means to extend political struggle against current political regime.
Focusing on the question of ethical norm creation showed that majority of female editors do not rely on journalistic organizations to create and enforce standards and act according to their best knowledge derived mainly from their experience and time spent with more mature colleagues. Farther inquiry showed that when it comes to professional organizations, none of the selected female journalists associates herself with specific female professional organizations like for example Azerbaijan Woman Journalist Association. In fact instead of such organizations female journalists seek authority in male dominated Press Council or the remnant of the Soviet past – the Azerbaijan Journalists Union. The results provided in this subchapter, allow us to state that with some minor exceptions, selected female journalists are not involved in current polarization of journalistic spectrum in Azerbaijan taking rather a stance of neutral observers. That can be caused that majority of them are experienced professionals who work either in semi-independent or state-funded but narrowly profiled newspapers and magazines.
Among interesting findings of this subchapter certainly belongs the fact that extortionist journalism has a longer tradition in Azerbaijan than it was anticipated in our 2008 research where it was labeled as a product of the independence era. Among other nuances, female editors reported that not only political polarization but also specific interests of narrow journalistic elites prevent mutual cooperation of different journalistic professional organizations. Thus, once again we are forced to state, that existing professional organizations in Azerbaijan do not fulfill their duties of controlling, testing and educating new generations of journalists resulting in farther fragmentation of the spectrum and deepening processes of deprofessionalization and proletarization of Azerbaijani journalists. In our opinion, it is evidently result of proletarization that freelance journalists sell their articles to more than one newspaper while others try to extort money by a threat of writing articles. In this situation, selected editors that have spent in some cases more than three decades in journalism take a stance of a bystander that observes current events with a sentiment of reminiscence of the old days of journalistic glory.
III.2.4 Editors and Ethical Dilemmas
Following in the footsteps of the first research we in this subchapter will examine one of our last secondary questions: is there any difference between ethical approaches of female and male journalists in Azerbaijan. In order to answer that question we presented our female respondents a battery of five questions covering different ethically dilemmatic situations that would allow us to map how selected editors make decisions in ethically ambiguous situations. Our first question remained the same and addressed a conflict of interests when a journalist writes an article using close relative as a primary source for an article. Three editors stated that this is unacceptable while majority of female editors (10) answering the first question stated that there is nothing wrong with using a relative as a primary source, however, all editors noted that author of such article will have to present checked and reliable facts and take all precautions to eliminate any bias.You know it depends on the topic and the article. His/her relative is also a citizen and a human being. Why should we not trust that source? He/she is also a member of our society. Should now journalist refuse to cover his/her problems only because he/she is his/her relative?43 No there is no problem in this question. However, we have to supervise so there is no bias in there. The article must be based on facts and match requirements and norms of journalism.
A.S. editor of independent newspaper adds:Professional editor will not allow this to happen. Even if you write an article on a pressing social issue where the only source is someone’s relative, still you have to make your facts right. And in order to do so, you have to check addresses, acquire expert opinions in other words, an experienced editor when he/she sees this he/she knows right away if the story is well done or is immature.
The second dilemmatic situation tested if the editors feel comfortable allowing a journalist who previously worked in a PR department of a cosmetics firm to write reviews or articles on the subject of cosmetics. These question divided editors in two groups. Answers of the first group presented positive stances towards employment of a journalist with PR background. Some editors in this group like for example T.B. and U.V. see this background as a definite plus and point out that experience that the journalist gained in cosmetics firm will help her to cover the subject more thoughtfully, while others like editor N.M are more cautious and state that supervision is still necessary:It depends on her skills. She might have been a manager in that firm but her writings must be based on facts and actual works since when she is a journalist now she has to obey rules of journalism.
On the other hand the group of editors that would deny such journalist to write reviews on cosmetics had no polarization. Editor I.T.:Well first of all when I read beauty columns I feel deeply ashamed. They do not know what they write about and no one knows where they take their information from. No I will not allow and rather write it myself. Moreover, in my opinion this column is not necessary. Thank God we live now in time when there are lots of opportunities to obtain information so anyone who is interested can find it. It is better than many magazines that they right now publish and that have very low quality.
The third and the last one to involve a conflict of interests was the question where editorial house receives an invitation from a company, government, non-government organization or firm and editor has to decide if he will attend it.
The in-depth interview showed that in contrast with male editors, majority of female editors visit events that they consider to be important. Even editors of pro-government newspapers and a magazine said that they make their best to attend all events that they have been invited to. Editor of pro-government daily newspaper M.H.: First of all, participation at such events is very beneficial since they create connections. I personally do not go there for a long period of time since it is not my place there anymore but my staff goes regularly. They create connections and write articles. We have attended all events that we have been invited to since I believe that it is important.
Female editors of independent and semi-independent newspapers according to their answers try to cover all events that they are invited to and in case if they cannot they send their staff. Editor S.S. of independent newspaper says:
Usually all are invited: press, TV channels, government officials, etc. If we talk of presentations (a book, website or something else) such events always carry some information with them. I always try to go to such events and if I cannot then I sent a journalist. We always attend such events and at least we have information what is going on in there. In case if I receive personal invitation I always go or send some of our editors.
The invitation question then was closely followed by another where we asked respondents how they would feel if their journalist went to such event and came empty-handed. Answering this question, majority of female editors that answered the ethical dilemma section, followed patterns presented by male editors (Valiyev 2008) of independent and semi-independent newspapers where they stated that it is journalist’s duty to write something based on the event he/she attended. Editors S.A. and N.M. for example have an identical belief that it is journalist’s duty to bring something since journalist must always be in a search for information and it will be rude to let those who invited you without any piece of information about their even. S.A.:If you were invited then there should be some purpose of your invitation, in other words they hoped in you, had confidence in you, wanted to see something from you since you were invited as a journalist. I must not forget that you are there as a journalist and not as a guest and journalist must collect facts not only at some events but even during a walk on a street. That is why it is very good if he will put aside laziness and indifference and writes something good about event’s organizers.
Even though all editors mentioned that it is journalist’s duty to write article based on the even he/she visited, yet only one female editor – S.S. mentioned that in her newspaper there is a punishment for such misbehavior.You know we already have some sort of tradition in this sphere. Our journalists go, participate and cover events but sometimes it happens that even finishes late. If that happens, naturally it is very problematic for a journalist to return and write the article in time. That is why if we cannot manage to give article on the same day it occurred then usually we do not cover it since we will be beaten by TV channels anyway. However, it is unacceptable when a journalist comes back without information from the event. For such course of events we have a certain set of actions that will be implemented against him, I’ll only add that it will affect his salary and honorariums. Yet, that cannot happen under my watch, I know who and where I am sending and every journalist has his/her specific sphere of competence.
M.H. editor in chief of the pro-government Vyshka newspaper says that she follows the rule that she once learned as a young correspondent from Vyshka’s editor-in-chief:Many years ago, my teacher – editor Mikhail Grigoryevich Goldberg he always used to say: I gave you a task. In case if you went to a factory and they told you that the person you are looking for is sick or they do not know when he/she comes back to work you still cannot comeback empty-handed. Go; find an actual and interesting topic to write about yourself. It can be someone suitable for a feature story or you can go to party committee or professional union. In other words, do whatever you want but do not come back without material. A person who returns without material cannot be considered a journalist. It signifies that he/she has no interest in the job or is a clumsy person or is a journalist without initiative who is used to do only what he/she was ordered to.
The final question tested how the selected gate-keepers behave when their sources require protection through preservation of anonymity. Only two female editors (I.T. and T.B.) approve anonymous sources. Editor of independent newspaper I.T:Practice of anonymous sources is quite normal around the world and journalists have right to hold their source’s name secret.
Ex-editor T.B on the other hand agrees with anonymous source only if information of the source is proven to be reliable. Her stance is that if information is vital the source will remain anonymous but must be prepared that in case if newspaper will go to court it will have to reveal itself:The source may remain anonymous but he/she must provide facts to the journalist so that if tomorrow he is drawn to court he should have evidences.
Other editors were against anonymous sources. For example A.S. in her answer expressed deeply rooted antipathy towards conjunction “reliable source”:You cannot use anonymous source, it must be revealed. They often write “according to information from reliable sources” something reliable something. From my personal experience I remember that I had people who did not submit any article till 5 or 6 o’clock and then suddenly he puts in front of me an article that some official did something, someone had a fight with someone I asked him, where he took that information from and he only replied that from a reliable source. That is why I do not accept anonymous “reliable” sources and do my best to not let them through in our newspaper.
Complete exclusion of anonymous sources from newspaper seems like a good strategy for many editors that try to preserve their newspapers from courts and fines. S.S.:You cannot just write that an official is corrupt if you did not see it with your own eyes and rely only on some anonymous call. Tomorrow the counter side may bring you to court for slandering their dignity and honor and not only you but the entire newspaper. Anonymous will remain anonymous but you will have to keep the answer. That is why I firstly do not believe that journalist will show interest in such material.
Journalistic ethics constitutes an important part of the media freedom. Editors in this process play a pivotal role inextricably linking ethical norms and their application in the real life. Even though our female respondents did not specifically state that they follow ethical codes in their routine yet the dilemma situations show that majority of them comply with practices stipulated in the ethical code of the Press Council (see
Appendix 2for the Code of Ethics)
Reviewing the answers we also now can provide a comforting answer to the question that we put forward at the beginning of this subchapter – there are some difference between ethical approaches of female and male journalists in Azerbaijan. We already stipulated that Azerbaijani female editors are highly trained professionals with extensive experience that work predominantly in independent, semi-independent or government-funded but narrowly oriented newspapers and magazines.
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