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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Azeri Radio Barred From Airing Foreign Programs

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azeri authorities will bar local broadcasters from airing programs of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America starting next year, the country's broadcasting chief said.

The opposition media denounced the move as part of a government campaign against the freedom of speech.

Nushirrin Maharramov, head of the National Broadcasting Council, said Wednesday that local broadcasters lacked the necessary licenses to air programs of the foreign radio stations. The three radio stations would be barred from airing their programs through local broadcasters starting Jan. 1.

Maharramov said the BBC and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty would be able to continue broadcasting on frequencies allotted to them by Azeri authorities. He said authorities were ready to discuss providing a frequency to Washington-based Voice of America, which currently does not have one.

"We are ready to provide additional frequencies to foreign radio stations if necessary," he said.

The BBC World Service said in a statement that it was "watching the situation carefully" and wanted "to continue to offer our listeners in Azerbaijan independent and impartial news and information."

Asked why the foreign stations that had been using local broadcasters for years were barred from doing that now, Maharramov responded that his National Broadcasting Council had been created three years ago and spent the first two years in tackling organizational issues.

"We have stepped up our activities during the last year," he said.

Editors of leading opposition newspapers and media freedom advocates issued a statement late Tuesday voicing concern about official plans to end foreign broadcasts.