Today, July 22nd marks the 145th anniversary of Azerbaijani national press. The Akinchi newspaper founded by prominent enlightener and publicist Hasan bey Zardabi has identified three basic principles – the ideology of enlightenment, modernity and independence – that future generations can be guided by. Although these principles have passed through the difficult stages of history, they are still relevant today.
As Azerbaijani national leader Heydar Aliyev said, “Prominent thinkers of our people, through the press, gave a strong impetus to the formation and development of national consciousness, moral values and culture.” It is no coincidence that the new period of development of our national press after the restoration of independence is connected with the national leader’s name.
As part of the fundamental reforms carried out under national leader Heydar Aliyev’s leadership towards the transition into new political and economic relations, a new Constitution was adopted in 1995, the priorities of the state’s information policy in the context of human rights and freedoms were identified. Moreover, in 1998, censorship was abolished, and the state control over the media was lifted, which, in turn, opened up new prospects for the development of the national press. Over the past years, many important measures have been taken to improve the material and technical base of media outlets.
This political course is successfully continued and developed under the leadership of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
President Ilham Aliyev earlier signed an order on marking the 145th anniversary of the national press. The order defined the principles and directions for the national press at the next stage of development.
• the media should also not stay away from the fundamental reforms being carried out in our country;
• the media should adapt to the principles of activity determined by the global information environment;
• the media should further intensify efforts in the field of objective and professional information for our society.
Moreover, modernization, rationality, objectivity, creativity, widespread use of advanced technologies, tracking leading trends should become the most important factors determining the development of media.
• Modernization is the sum of all the progressive changes that move society forward. In this regard, the media should protect itself against the negative aspect of modernization, but also embrace progressive innovations.
• Rationality is one of the most important principles that the media should be guided by. Every media representative should predict and understand the possible impact of the journalistic activity on the audience and the reactions it will cause in society. Pre-planning and measuring the possible impact of information is one of the most important components of professional communication.
• Creative media successfully integrates all technological and social innovations into its activities, copes with the widespread use of new methods of communication, as well as can interact with readers.
• Objectivity is the main principle that determines the functional necessity of modern media. Without objectivity, modern society is deprived of the opportunity to choose between truth and bias in the current information chaos.
This is a result of the increase in the speed of information dissemination. The main driving force of this growth is the Internet. According to analysts, while human history has produced a total of 12 exabit pieces of information, the same amount of additional information has been produced in the last two years. For instance, in 2015, 5 million videos were watched every single in the world, 2.6 million requests were made on the Internet, and 600 sites were created.
Undoubtedly, revolutionary innovations in the field of ICT and communication bring relevant changes. Also, the impact of globalization, the creation of social networks that have become an alternative information platform, serious and rapid transformations in nations’ value systems also increase the weight of responsibility on the media.
Emerging technological innovations do not only create new opportunities, but also specific threats and challenges. Of course, this affects public relations, too. Although reactions of different societies to “new media vary, what they have in common is that the process of change and adaptation to change develops within one generation, not among generations.
New media has also led to several trends such as the networking of mass communication, the individual transformation, the individualization of information systems, new discussion formats, the social groups and communication channels, the polarization in public discussion, the spread of misinformation and others. Also, 5G technology will give another impetus to the development of new media by making content faster soon.
New media platforms (social networks and messengers) have taken full control of the formation of the information agenda of a large audience. For instance, in 2017, Google controlled 90 per cent of the advertising market in a global context, while Facebook controlled 80 per cent of social networks. These platforms manage the audience's mood, decisions and motives through daily information, determine who is allowed into this audience and who is not. Digital platforms, which initially emerged as an alternative to the centralized dissemination of information through channels controlled by states or monopolies, have eventually become hostages of the ambitions of their corporate or individual political and economic groups. Their illusion of neutrality gradually disintegrates, and it gets clear that they are a means of manipulation. In the reality of Azerbaijan, we constantly observe inside and outside forces’ attempts to influence the mood and psychological state of society through social networks and messengers within the framework of certain interests. As a result, information security and digital community formation become one of the most pressing issues on the agenda.
However, the media does not only remain as one of the most important institutions of society but also new content and form in the environment of 24/7 information flow and circulation.
The rapid advancement of modern technologies in the XXI century has led to the application of new approaches to ensuring the national interests of states, the implementation of domestic and foreign policy.
The current global agenda, dominated by information and hybrid wars, requires each state, including Azerbaijan to create effective information policy, constantly update its implementation mechanisms, ensure its flexibility and deepen reforms in the field of media and communications.
Ideological trends and information and communication policy stimulated by the pandemic
Systemic changes appear inevitable in modern public administration regarding the ideological crisis that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic and the influence of social media on the spread of populist ideas, the gradual marginalization of various political forces - the right and the left - in the struggle for the electorate and ratings, the ineffectiveness of the development models offered by the liberal economy in removing conceptual differences between financial and industrial capitalism. The pandemic further stimulates and accelerates to develop new approaches.
Therefore, ideological trends such as regionalization, localization, technocratic governance, digitalization, state capitalism, neo-communism are beginning to emerge. As a result of the increasing impact of the pandemic, ideological trends are seen to change rapidly and adapt to the world’s challenges.
In this context, Azerbaijan should also define the framework for ideological renewal for the near and long term perspectives following its development model, as well as, the information and communication policy of the state should be adapted to the development model and its updated ideological content.
The information policy is one of the state's multifunctional political, ideological tasks. Being more systematic, effective information policy ensures the coordination of interests among citizen-society-state.
Azerbaijan is currently undergoing fundamental reforms and newly formed governance mechanism conditions to pursue the relevant information policy. This policy envisages the following:
• The renewal of the legislative framework regulating the activity of media in accordance with the challenges of modern times
• Improvement of media infrastructure, revision of forms of direct and indirect state support to the media;
• New approach to the economic basis of media activity, optimization;
• Formation of media and creative industry, which is closely connected with it;
• Finalize the transition to digitalization;
• Increasing the professionalism of journalism, personnel training on new specialities in accordance with the requirements of the modern media industry, etc.
Information security should be considered concerning information policy and communication. In a single information space where physical boundaries are blurred and global threats and challenges are widespread, the opportunities to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries through hybrid information-psychological operations, information manipulation, and fake news increase the need for the activities of professional media.
Armenia has recently violated the ceasefire in the Tovuz direction of the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border, using the hybrid war tactic based on the joint use of military operations and information attacks against our country.
Along with military operations, we have once again witnessed hacker attacks on information resources, attempts by the enemy on psychological and information operations to create confusion, frustration and anxiety among the population by disseminating a lot of false information and damage the connection between the people and the state. Unfortunately, we have also witnessed the involvement of some marginal in provocative activities against our country, ignoring national interests.
In her recent address to the people of Azerbaijan, First Vice President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva covered the issues of information security during the conflict and analyzed in detail the negative trends observed on social media during the recent events: "The confrontation in which we have been living for many years covers not only the line of direct hostilities but also the information field. In the era of social networks, the scale of information warfare and its impact on the course of events are becoming a very significant factor influencing the outcome of the confrontation. Modern information platforms are used by hostile forces, ill-wishers and sometimes just envious and prejudiced circles in the most shameless way to spread "fakes", knowingly circulate false and provocative material. The goal is to sow panic, create a split and an internal “front”, and whip up decadent and defeatist sentiments".
Therefore, Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva clearly stated the fundamental issues that fall on each of us as a citizen and must be followed in our daily lives: "Remember that the duty of each of us is to protect the interests of Azerbaijan. And not only on the battlefield but also in front of a computer monitor. Remember that today we are a nation, a people with a common goal. For we need a victory. One for all of us".
Apparently, in response to all these threats, our state, army and people are waging a war in the field of both war and information as a fist. This unity, well-established, effective military-psychological-information operations covering all areas of state activity determine our future victory. It is no coincidence that President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev once again made a statement in his latest speech: "We know what, when and how to do something. So far, all our steps have been successful - both in the political and economic spheres and in the battlefield".
It is no coincidence that today in any conflict the primary target is people’s mental state and "objects" of information and communication and the mass media along with military facilities, which is a strategic resource for both the front and rear line. It is a reality that today information is not only the most important source of power in all fields but also the most effective weapon. History showed that even the slightest advantage of information has become the turning point in large military operations. In this regard, the mass media and social media resources of our country have big responsibilities. Great determination and professionalism are vital to prevent the spread of fake information at crucial points and provide operational information flow.
Another important part of information security is operative filtration of fake and true, main and secondary information in the 24/7 regime. In this sense, we must admit that in the context of the richness of information resources in our country, the opportunities to apply professional filtering to information flow are limited. Therefore, we often observe grammatical errors and widespread of non-objective and harmful information within a short period. Experts believe that searching for precise and actual information among multiple sources, as well as the professional presentation of this information, will become one of the main factors of success for the media in the near future.
According to the research study conducted by UNESCO in 2002, 74 % of Europeans suffer from Infophobia (fatigue syndrome caused by information overload). If we consider the creation of social networks in the last 20 years, which has become an alternative source of information, it is not difficult to imagine complications caused by Infophobia. Currently, there are tech companies, which offer services - “apps” to get out of social networks and messengers. As can be seen, the uninterrupted, fast and excessive flow of information repeatedly reduces the ability to choose between fake and real news.
Current global pandemic brought out a new tendency - “infodemic”. Infodemic is a wide and rapid spread of misinformation, which confuses people in choosing fake and real news.
Thus, filtration is the most effective tool to prevent the spread of misinformation and information overload.
Considering poor legal regulation, especially, in the field of social media, it is necessary to formulate rules of behaviour at the regional and international level, norms defining rights and obligations, as well as platforms of cooperation.
Currently, there is also a need to advance the communication activities in the country. Now all countries live in a time where information technology develops fast, information spreads uninterruptedly in “vertical” and “horizontal” directions in the 24/7 regime. Now information and events of local nature rebound at the level of states, sometimes at a regional and global level. Therefore, any country which intends to establish a successful information and communication system should take into account these conditions. The nature of the communication strategy should be systematic and operative considering public opinion in the context of bilateral information flow and differentiating between internal and external directions. This includes issues such as the organization of work of communication and public relations, effective work in classical, online and social media, appropriate management of communication in times of crisis and others.
Recently, a lot of work has been carried out in this direction. Regular information on activities of the state agencies within the fight against COVID-19, operative education of people, operativeness of the internal and external work of information and communication on Armenia’s provocation in Tovuz direction are positive changes in this direction. President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev noted: "Today we see strong international support more than ever." It is a result of the successful policy on external and fast information and communication pursued by the head of the state.
In the modern time information and communication activities of the state should be formulated on 3 components, covering internal and external directions:
(1) information policy
(2) information security and
In this regard, it is possible to formulate information and communication activities by applying a complex approach. The information-communication strategy should cover the regulation of the relationship of the citizen-society-state triangle, considering external and internal political trends, the characteristics of vertical and horizontal spread of information.
Deputy Head of Department for Work and Communication with Non-governmental Organizations of the Presidential Administration