I. Introduction This master’s thesis represents study of female newspaper and magazine editors in Azerbaijan based on Western and Soviet definitions of journalism with explanation of local national features of this p

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III.1.6 Female editors and their role in Azerbaijani society

Majority of the editors believe that their objective is to control the process of information flow and filter news that the society deserves to know. Editors of government-funded newspapers are convinced that their objective is to inform public of the good that the nation achieved under current regime. Female editors of semi-independent newspapers tend to assume neutral position in media coverage with the balance swinging towards oblivion of systematic faults of the ruling regime. And no female dares to take a lead in oppositional newspaper and become a target for prosecution. Such unanimity in regime’s support and dwindling circulation numbers cause low influence of the selected newspapers in Azerbaijani society.

Partially that can also be derived from answers to question if editors consider themselves elite. According to our data, feelings of own exclusiveness are stronger among experienced editors that work in mass media over 20 years and especially among the oldest category. F.X. editor with 40 years of experience:

In Soviet times to be an editor was considered to hold a really important office since there was a good chance to be appointed as a head of regional committee, a minister or a deputy minister or other high ranking post. For example, I remember that people who worked as department editors in Communist newspaper already knew, that they are in a special list and their future is going to be cloudless.

N.M. who spent 39 years working as a journalist in Vyshka newspaper reminiscently adds that journalists during the Soviet period were often called the fourth power and in fact regarded themselves to be the forth power. Even though majority of our interviewees still consider themselves elite members there were several voices that portrait another reality and we feel compelled to voice in our report. N.Y. who previously worked in an oppositional newspaper Yeni Musavat rejects the idea that editors in Azerbaijan can even aspire to be an elite

In countries like Azerbaijan, where there is no democratic rule we cannot acquire place according to our skills but we are placed somewhere by the ruling power. Even if you are educated and intelligent you will not be able to become elite unless the ruling class will create an opportunity for you. You can be several heads above them in terms of your knowledge, analytical skills, intellect and still have a low welfare and be an outcast. And that is why I think that only government newspaper editors are elite since the ruling regime accepts them and gives them opportunity to execute their authority. Others lack those opportunities.

The theme of low welfare of journalists is highlighted by another interviewee. I.T. is not so negative as N.Y. but notes that there are financial issues that disqualifies editors from elite status.

You know, journalists in general in Azerbaijan belong rather to poor class than elite. We write about troubles of other but have our own problems. Journalists are at the best the medium class and do not belong to elites in the light of their life conditions. In the rest of the world journalism in a business – look at foreign newspapers or TV stations but our advertisement market is not formed and that is why we cannot speak of any money in the business.

Thus we may conclude that since majority of the selected female editors started their career in a realm of the Soviet Union and spent more than 20 years in the profession they consider and are considered by society to be representatives of the elite. However, their financial status, with an exception of few lucky ones to be offered job in government-run media outlets is rather of the middle class. In context of Azerbaijan, as pointed out I.T. editors can be highly influential if they were accepted by the ruling elite or directly work in a newspaper/magazine that belongs to that elite. Others could face ignorance or even prosecution if their newspaper voices ideas undermining stability of political system installed after 1994.

III.1.7 Summary

In the following chapter we witnessed how selected Azerbaijani female editors view their professional specialization, assess their role and influence in Azerbaijani society. In previous study of male journalists in Azerbaijan (Valiyev 2008) we witnessed that male editors copy social and political divide in Azerbaijan and position themselves along political camp boarders. Female editors on the other hand rule their newspapers with a balanced or neutral coverage of political life in Azerbaijan. The fact intriguing indeed is that currently in Azerbaijan there is no female editor of an oppositional newspaper. This leads us to a conclusion that Azerbaijani female journalists are less politically instrumentilized than their male colleagues. Perhaps the reason is that coverage of politics in Azerbaijan is considered male journalist dominion while social issues are mainly reserved for females.

Female editorship niche lies exclusively in semi-independent or pro-government newspapers as well as in non-political magazines aimed at specific auditoriums. Female editors of semi-independent newspapers are vulnerable and find themselves constantly stranded in a male dominated over politicized media agenda taking fire of criticism from government and opposition camps. In addition low financial status causes less experienced editors to show low self-esteem and regard their influence in the society as arbitrary. More experienced, better known and as a result working in pro-government outlets editors point that they are able to influence key political actors from time to time but also note that their influence has significantly decreased since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After carefully reviewing answers in this chapter, we would like to propose a hypothesis that female editors whose career started in the Soviet era were exposed to higher degree of sexism than their less experienced colleagues that have started their career in the 90s in the independent Azerbaijan Republic. The reason is changing mentality caused by gradual emancipation of Azerbaijani women and male acceptance of those changes.

III.2 Editor’s stances towards professional ethics

The first chapter, Regarding journalistic ethics, provides us with theoretical overview that anchors this research within broader context of scientific inquiries on journalism in countries of the post-Soviet area. In subchapter, Unveiling Azerbaijan, non-Azerbaijani reader is briefly introduced to emancipation discourse in Azerbaijan, starting year 1918 when the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic is established. Among other things the first chapter offers a roadmap of issues to watch over in any research on journalism in ex-Soviet states and especially in application of western paradigms on countries that have different social and political traditions. Subchapter III.2, Female prism on ethics, offers observations on how Azeri female editors interpret journalistic ethics, view written ethical codes and value authority of professional journalistic organization. Concluding subchapter, Summary, will discuss current situation with professional ethics among male and female journalists in Azerbaijan and present a typology of female editors according to their stances towards journalistic ethics.

III.2.1 Journalism ethics

An interest in editors’ adherence to ethical standards of journalism has been the corner stone of our previous inquiry in 2008. Goal of the 2011 research is to follow beyond the gender line where we stopped in our previous research and investigate what are ethical attitudes of female editors in Azerbaijan. Engaging the analysis in this subchapter we well look for the answers on two of our research questions: What are the stances of female editors towards journalistic professional organizations and how do the female editors perceive ethical self-regulation in journalism?

Following the same path like their male colleagues female editors state that they consider professional ethics important and at the same time fail to provide sound definition of the term. Editor-in-chief of semi-independent newspaper S.S. managed to sum up in a small paragraph definition of journalism ethics given by N.M., S.X. and R.A.:

In general, ethical norms require journalist to respect thoughts of others, do not corrupt facts, evade bias reporting, provide coverage to other side in certain types of stories, and relay information without partisanship.

Many of the old-school editors like for example F.X. instead of answering directly what they consider to be professional ethics of journalism look for the answer in their career experience in times of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.

Back in those times, journalism faculty of the Baku State University (Azerbaijan State University back then) had an ethics course. After the independence, instead of adding teaching hours to this course, many state-funded universities abolished this course from their program completely. Ethics and esthetics course was very important, it taught person how to behave and interact with others. My ethics teacher Tariel Gasimov was really great teacher. He could give so much by teaching it again at some university but he can’t since now universities deem that course unnecessary even it had nothing to do with Marxist ideology or History of the party38. Everyone [E.V. journalist] carries some ethics inside, some culture, family and school education. That sums up and gives some norms of behavior. But there are also some people in this profession that did not study or received education incompatible with this profession. They neither can build working relationship with people nor write normal sentences.

M.H. editor of pro-government newspaper owned by the State oil company of Azerbaijan Republic linked recent journalist beatings and arrests to their faulting journalistic ethics and explained what draws her to that conclusion.

Recently very often we hear reports that a journalist has been beaten. It means that he misbehaved that caused him to be beaten. To be a journalist is a high ranking job. You need to gain people’s trust by writing according to evidences and excluding from your writings false statements, slander, cursing words and etc. It means to write only according to evidences collected and not upon your own guesses. I always kept all documents, Xeroxed copies, etc. until my story belonged to archive.

With this formulation partially correlates answer of A.S. editor-in-chief of semi-independent newspaper. However, longing for neutral position A.S. takes M.H’s argument farther and adds missing part to it.

The fault why ethical standards are not being upheld lies first of all on journalists and secondly on some officials and their lack of restraint. For example, a journalist calls press office and requests information. Press service does not provide him information based on true facts or tells him to call later and then ignores his calls. Press services in Azerbaijan, with few exceptions, do not work with media. On the other hand, journalist left with no truthful information at hand, writes his story putting his own thoughts mixed with guesses and personal biases and labeling it “reliable source”. Inept official information channels cause failure of journalistic ethics.

Completing spectrum of thoughts on journalistic ethics is the editor of semi-independent newspaper N.Y.. Even though in our research N.Y. participated as an editor of politically not affiliated newspaper her previous work place in the oppositional flagship newspaper “Yeni Musavat” left deep imprints in her judgments causing her to absolve journalists and place all the blame on political elite of Azerbaijan.

I will again speak of the authorities. It is the harsh atmosphere that they have created in the society, in business, media, medicine or education that makes it [E.V. ethics] impossible. Since they selected ruthless, inhuman form of ruling it affects all other relations inside the country. Why Azerbaijani society does not reprobate an ill-bred article in a newspaper that I do not want to name here? They do not reprobate because this lack of ethics is everywhere: in official’s cabinet, in doctor’s cabinet, in teacher’s classroom. Go anywhere you want and you will find it since everything comes down to that ruthless governing.

Thus, the question of what is journalistic ethics remains open for interpretation. Our research population, with few exceptions among semi-independent newspaper editors, presented possession of intuitive rather than categorized knowledge of journalistic ethics. Against this conflicting and sometimes uneven knowledge it is worthy to point out, that the vague definition of ethical standards by female journalists may originate in male domination of Azerbaijani press organizations that codify ethical standards.

Since most of the selected female editors received their journalistic education in the Soviet Union they continue to practice the style of journalism that they have been taught and are familiar with: enlightening and educating reader while evading substantial criticism of the political regime. As a result these specialists are viewed by elites as valuable assets and occupy editor offices in government and pro-government oriented newspapers as well as are in charge of non-political magazines with scientific or educative orientation. An exception to the rule is N.M. who with her Soviet journalistic education and 41 years of experience in media leads independent regional newspaper Gancabasar.
Given background tensions between ruling elite and opposition it is not perhaps a surprise to observe that female editors replicated that polarity in their attitudes. Absence of oppositional female editor39 as a category allows us to argue that females are excluded from editorial staff in politically instrumentilized oppositional newspapers. The above mentioned newspapers, as we found out in 2008 research selected as their policy - ethics of truth or everything goes as it is but are prone to violation of professional ethics in case if it is benefiting affiliating political party. On the other hand, female editors of pro-government orientation run their newspapers/magazines with adherence to Soviet journalistic ethics but in comparison to male colleagues evade barraging opposition in a smear campaigns and rather seclude to informing about good deeds of the authorities.
Female editors of independent and semi-independent newspapers in comparison to their male colleagues from the same camp incline more towards ethical values of pro-government female editors while balancing between policies and paying attention to outputs of their media products and investing considerable amount of thought to neutrality and balance.

Thus, Azerbaijani editors

III.2.2 Editors and ethical codes

In chapter I. we reviewed results of our previous inquiry on ethical codes in Azerbaijan as well as discussed relevant processes that took place after our 2008 research was completed. Standardized codes of action and their perception by the selected female editors constitute one of our research questions as well as the focal point of this subchapter where respondents answer if they consider written ethical codes important40 and if they are familiar with such codes in local or foreign media. Given the fact that none of the participating editors accustomed a written code in their newspaper/magazine their responses only strengthened our conclusion that female editors do not consider the codified ethical norms as a must-have tool that helps to solve ethical dilemmas.

M.H. editor-in-chief of pro-government newspaper puts special emphasis on self-regulatory documents that in her opinion grant credibility to journalists as professionals.

I think we already have a code of ethics, don’t we? In my opinion, it should be like the Hippocrates oath that medics give when they enter the profession. The same should apply to journalists as well. They should swear that they will not write lies, will not for the sake of sensation corrupt citations, will not use newspaper against people that oppose them.

Editor S.A from a semi-independent newspaper offered an answer that best sums up short answers of other four female editors that consider that there is a pressing need to have a written code of ethics in Azerbaijan.

Naturally, it is very important. We already have an ethical code adopted by Press council. There are lots of journalists that just arrived in the profession and have no idea what are ethical norms and how one should apply them in his work. All problems between journalists and other side arise from this illiteracy.

Old Soviet-school deputy managing editor F.X. working in government-funded newspaper represents in our research a category of her own since in her response she addresses ethical codes via prism of her journalistic practice and customizes it according to behavioral codes stipulated by Azerbaijani mentality and behavioral stereotypes through which she was brought up in her family.

European codes of conduct originate from their heritage roots, from their national customs and traditions. We need to protect our own. The rule of thumb is, don’t write something to people that you will not allow yourself to say to your brother, sister or other family member. That’s the rule when you sit down to write something. Would you want your child to read those smearing writings of yours? Would you spill your obscene thoughts on them? You will never do that!

Even though such vague terms of professional conduct may in their essence be true, yet they are not necessarily binding or evoking respect by the rest of the journalistic community of Azerbaijan. For instance I.T. editor of independent newspaper thinks that for Azerbaijan it is too early to talk about obedience to written codes of ethics:

You know it depends rather on one’s parental education rather than adherence to a written word. Written rules will not change behavior of a man with no moral boundaries. In general, I am in favor of cleansing boors from this profession.

While editors like T.B. and U.X. see written ethical codes as a conditional tools of professional discipline inside of their editorial office. While U.X. argues that only some points deserve to be stipulated in a form of a written ethical code and be applied, T.B. states that written codes in general have be apply only to certain staff members:

It is not possible to give a unanimous answer to this. There are staff members ranging from a correspondent to an editor-in-chief or newspaper or its founder that actively works on it, - they know their work well and do not need to be taught how to do their jobs. They know work ethics like coming to work in time, they know ethics of how to communicate with people and on the workplace with their colleagues, staff or guests invited to visit newspaper. But there are also people that need to be constantly reminded by a code in front of their eyes. Those can be good journalists that profess in written language and work well but due to their nature’s absent-mindedness they have to be constantly reminded of rules.

Some of their colleagues [3 editors] form a group that has no faith in written codes and deems them to be an unnecessary. While pro-oppositional editor N.Y. considers that codes will be necessary only after all other norms and laws will be followed by the authorities in the first place, R.X. and A.S. have no faith in authority of ethical codes. A.S. relinquishes a thought that ethical codes on their own can improve the upholding of ethical standards and says the following:

I don’t think that there is a necessity to put everything on paper since if you know norms you follow them. I think codes are unnecessary but it seems that sooner or later they will be accepted as a law in Azerbaijan. There more than enough guidelines for ethics in our existing laws. It is responsibility of a journalist to know what ethical requirements are, what is allowed to write and what is not. One should study them before he embarks to be a journalist.

In comparison with the 2008 research, there was only one editor who refused to talk about ethical codes and it was a magazine editor N.M. that stated about written ethical codes

it is a complicated issue and I don’t want to tell you just general words”.

Reviewing all the answers provided in this subchapter we come to a conclusion that female editors are lagging behind their male counterparts in following latest developments of media self regulations norms in Azerbaijan and more rely on their experience and intuition. In terms of applying ethical guidelines in their offices, female gate-keepers lack common grounds except vaguely defined Azerbaijani mentality that causes them to be scattered in their practice on a curve from an idealist moral woman that acts in the best traditions of Azerbaijani mentality towards realist female editors critical of current situation in Azerbaijan and preferring true facts over greater future good of the society. Yet, our inquiry provided us with no hard evidence that selected females take active participation in politically instrumentilized journalism, a corruption that we found to be a common plague among their male counterparts41.

Collected data allows us to state that only few of the selected editors posses normative knowledge of ethical codes, including Ethical code of Azerbaijani Journalists adopted by the Press Council not to mention codes of foreign media. Our 2012 research took, with some modifications, the same direction of inquiry as in 2008 and that is why we are still not able to answer the question of how religion factor affects editors in the key of “American journalist” research by Weaver and Wilhoit. A substantial breakthrough, however, is that in comparison with 2008 research, we can theorize that female editors are affected by their family education and journalistic practice. In this regard, it is possible to draw lines between research of Souhradova Czech editors (Souhradova 2002) where on the basis of Fred Enderse’s interpretation she stated that editors are influenced by family education and journalistic practice.
Yet, since we did not intentionally conceptualize and prepare research to receive the above mentioned data we can only accept that statement with a note that our research skimmed only the surface of the issue and opening the door for farther inquiries. On the other hand interviews that we have conducted definitely allow us to say that Azerbaijani female journalists are influenced by national mentality that absorbs traditions and stereotypes of feminine behavior in Islamic culture and rely on years of journalistic practice and clichés that are connected to it. Codified ethical norms are accepted but just as in case of male editors, remain handy accessory since new journalists are encouraged to learn ethical standards by learning practices of their more experienced colleagues. The long standing bipolar confrontation of government-opposition camps produced, as in many southern states high levels of political instrumentalization that in consequence lowered levels of adherence to professional standards. At the same time low salaries and non existence of work contracts among Azeri journalists cause them to succumb to proletarization and deprofessionalization with the extortionist journalism being their logical final destination. Thus, once again we draw a parallel between process of proletarization in the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan and state that while journalistic spectrum of Azerbaijan answers classic definition of political instrumentalization of media formulated by Hallin and Mancini (2004) journalists in the Czech Republic suffer from all-present economic pressures rather than political ones (Volek 2007). The female editors in the course of our inquiry once again reassured our 2008 evaluation of similarities that our two countries display despite their different transformation phases and opposite political systems. Azerbaijani and Czech journalism go through the same process of deprofessionalization where there is a large quantity of young professionally untutored journalists that are prone to manipulations and face permanent financial crises while the old educated generation slowly dies out relinquishing their positions (Volek 2008).

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