Ninety-five years have passed since first news was released by AZERTAC. On March 1, 1920 the agency published its first article. A lot has changed in the past 95 years: both on the political map of the world and public and economic realities in our society. For over 70 years we lived in an empire called the Soviet Union. We saw collectivization, repressions, war, political and economic upheaval ... And finally came the years of independence, a cherished dream of every nation, the path from bondage to freedom, from darkness to light, from backwardness to progress, incredible leaps... Like the whole world and our country, AZERTAC, the first news agency of Azerbaijan, has also experienced these dark and light, sorrowful and joyful days.
AZERTAC marks its 95th anniversary at a time when in a globalizing world the system of values in all spheres of life undergoes fundamental transformation, stereotypes change, new information technologies emerge and social media experiences a boom. Against the background of these processes, I will try to cast a glance at AZERTAC’s past, its historical path, achievements, place and role in the global information system.
From telegram and telex to computer era
The abbreviation “AZERTAC” derives from the historical name of the agency - Azerbaijan Telegraph Agency (French word «agence» means "agency"). The word "telegraph" in the name of AZERTAC (Azerbaijan Telegraph Agency) probably attracts the attention of many people and is sometimes misunderstood. The thing is that telegraph was the only tool for transmitting and spreading news at the time. The older generation still remembers the days when AZERTAC was disseminating news by teletype. At that time dissemination of news was a big problem not only abroad, but also in remote regions within the country. But now we live in the age of computers, when you cannot surprise people by receiving and spreading information. We will dwell on this later. And now let’s make a journey into the history.
AZERTAC is the legacy of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. It has gone through a difficult and, at the same time, a glorious path over the 95 years. Despite all the difficulties, the agency has always served the people of Azerbaijan. The most objective appreciation of our work was given by our National Leader Heydar Aliyev who said: "Since its inception, AZERTAC has become the herald of our people’s quest for freedom."
The expression "difficult and, at the same time, glorious path" is not a rhetoric written to describe the history of the agency. Over the past 95 years the name of the agency has changed seven times.
Under the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, AZERTAC operated independently for only two months.
For 70 years, as part of the USSR, AZERTAC acted as a branch of TASS and covered processes in Azerbaijan in the years of collectivization, industrialization, World War II. AZERTAC created a chronicle of that period. In the post-war years, the agency highlighted achievements in the economic, social, political and cultural life. In the 1970s, Azerbaijan began to develop a new information environment and a new tradition emerged in our national press.
I can state with full confidence that what represents AZERTAC today and what led to its integration into the global information system are the results of efforts of our great leader Heydar Aliyev. National leader Heydar Aliyev’s ascendance to the political leadership in 1969 in Azerbaijan became a turning point in the life of the republic, and opened a new chapter in the history of Azerbaijan’s mass media.
Thanks to the great leader`s attention and care, AZERTAC was supplied with state-of-the-art technological equipment and took the leading position among the news agencies of the former Soviet Union due to the richness of content and technical base, as well as high creativity.
After Azerbaijan restored its independence in late 1991, the historical name of the agency (Telegraph Agency of Azerbaijan, AZERTAC) was restored on December 18, 1992. However, the then incompetent leadership of Azerbaijan neither appreciated the role of information in society accordingly, nor did it manage to efficiently organize the work of the agency. As the whole country, AZERTAC was turned adrift. Fortunately, the situation did not last long. Thanks to wisdom, foresight, rich political and statehood experience of national leader Heydar Aliyev, who – at the request of people - returned to political power in June 1993, Azerbaijan managed to retain its independence, overcome all difficulties and obstacles and cement its place in the global community. This period witnessed the opening of a new page in the history of AZERTAC. In accordance with a decree of the national leader, AZERTAC was granted the status of a state agency and for the first time in its history opened its bureaus in foreign countries. Since 1995, six decrees and orders have been signed at the level of the head of state to improve the activity, material and technical infrastructure of AZERTAC, which now has its own bureaus in 21 countries. This opened up new opportunities for the development of AZERTAC and its integration into the global information system.
AZERTAC - the only information source in the region, which provides news in 7 languages and video news in 5 languages
Azerbaijan is now known in the system of international relations as a reliable strategic partner, a strong and significant player. Thanks to President Ilham Aliyev's independent and balanced foreign policy, our country - in the context of bilateral and multilateral relations - makes a fundamental contribution to the geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-strategic security of the region.
Having transformed from a regional player into a global partner, Azerbaijan is rapidly moving up in the hierarchy of influence and power in world politics. From this perspective, the spread of Azerbaijani realities and on-line coverage of the world's major events is a key priority of AZERTAC’s activity.
Today AZERTAC possesses advanced technological equipment necessary to build productive activity. The agency has a cutting-edge server system which enables to archive information, photo and video material and manage a rapidly growing information flow. An upgraded UPS system ensures uninterrupted operation of the local network even in case of a power outage. AZERTAC has recently announced the launch of its new website which has an improved functionality, design, and navigation. The new website provides news in 7 languages, and also has a video site and a children’s portal.
One of the projects implemented on the eve of the 95th anniversary was the launch of a Chinese version of the agency`s website, which aroused great interest in the Peoples Republic of China. Chinese Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the Embassy of Azerbaijan to China organized a presentation of the Chinese version of the agency`s website. The event also featured the launch of a photo exhibition entitled “Azerbaijani-Chinese relations through the lens of AZERTAC” in Beijing. About 100 photos taken from the archives of AZERTAC were demonstrated at the exhibition highlighting the visits of great leader Heydar Aliyev and President Ilham Aliyev to China, meetings of Chinese delegations in Baku, as well as various aspects of bilateral relations.
AZERTAC’s Facebook page in the Azerbaijani language has roughly 110,000 subscribers, with the total reach ranging from 20 to 50 million people on average. AZERTAC’s videos on YouTube account have hit 1.6 million views.
According to Socialbakers, the most popular provider of social media analytic tools of the US, AZERTAC’s Facebook page (in Azerbaijani language) ranks in the top five among the fastest growing media accounts and the first among news agencies. According to Socialbakers reports, AZERTAC’s Twitter and YouTube accounts constantly rank in the top five in "Media" category for Azerbaijan.
The Agency provides videos in English and Russian languages via its YouTube channels, as well as news and video material in Azerbaijani, English and Russian on Twitter online social networking service. AZERTAC users can get news in Russian, English, French, German, Arabic and Chinese as well as photos and video through browsing the search engines such as Google, Bing, Yandex, Mail.ru and Yahoo.
How did we achieve this success and dynamics? First of all, I would say, we have a modern and innovative approach to the dissemination of news. Our time has its own requirements and challenges, we also strive to catch the pulse of the era and get the maximum advantage of advanced information technology. To this end, AZERTAC has created a new structure – Department of Social Networks and Information Resources. We constantly analyze the results and think about how to expand our audience.
Multimedia and video news make special contribution to the development of our agency. AZERTAC provides news in 7 languages and videos in 5 languages. A number of local TV channels are broadcasting our videos. Our recent video about a SOCAR-sponsored forum called "US-Azerbaijan: Looking to the future” in the United States, presentation of "Arshin mal alan" play were aired by all local television channels with AZERTAC logo.
"Student Success" program, a joint project of AZERTAC and ADA University is broadcast every Saturday in "Yeni Gun" program of Public TV channel. This program has also gained immense popularity in a short span of time.
Our video projects, particularly "Travelling across Azerbaijan", "Ambassador’s hour", “Sports in Azerbaijan ", "Our monuments", "Arts and masters", "Person", "Hero of the day without a tie", "Fashion" and "Tasty" also enjoy popularity.
In partnership with diaspora organizations AZERTAC is carrying out joint projects aimed at promoting Azerbaijan`s culture and history. A recent project in this series was implemented in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, in cooperation with "Vatan” society. We conducted the Day of Azerbaijani Culture there, which brought together a wide audience. AZERTAC presented national costumes and tutorials for members of a children's dance ensemble of the Azerbaijani House.
AZERTAC in global media system
Our national leader Heydar Aliyev knew that information has a great power of influence. So he always said that it is necessary to spread the Azerbaijani realities in the world. He advised to popularize Azerbaijan, raise the international community`s awareness about what is happening in Azerbaijan. “You should not speak for yourselves only, you should push your information beyond the borders of the country, you should tell the world community what is happening in our country and who we are.”
These tasks, objectives and recommendations set by our national leader lay at the heart of AZERTAC`s activity. This is what brings us success. There are many interesting trends in our country which deserve to be the news disseminated on global level. Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan is confidently moving forward along the path of building a democratic state, our country is among the world leaders in terms of socio-economic development. And raising the international community`s awareness of this development is one of the core principles of our activity. This can be achieved only through ensuring international cooperation, spreading news in many languages as possible and in a wider area.
AZERTAC is exchanging news with nearly 130 countries around the globe. Last year alone the agency produced and distributed 103,534 news stories in Azerbaijani, Russian, English, German, French, Arabic and Chinese languages and 8,331 video news items.
Although figures may seem too tedious, only statistics can accurately reflect the results of the agency’s activity. For example, last year the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA), which groups 44 news agencies from 35 countries, published on its website 3,565 news stories, 669 videos and 1,631 photos provided by AZERTAC. Some 413 news stories of the agency were published by the Black Sea Association of National News Agencies (BSANNA). Some 2,706 news items and 304 photos by AZERTAC were published by the Alliance of National News Agencies of the CIS countries (ANIA). AZERTAC also provides an average of 8-10 news stories per day to the International Islamic News Agency, which brings together more than 40 news agencies of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and to the Xinhua News Agency of China.
In general, last year saw the publication of 7,203 news stories, 1,935 photos and 669 videos produced by AZERTAC on the websites of international and regional news alliances.
There are other effective and efficient means of spreading the truth about Azerbaijan on the global scale. Wouldn`t it be right if foreign journalists visit our country and write about what they see with their own eyes?! I think that it is necessary to see and know Azerbaijan in order to love it. There have been many such cases and they have yielded positive results. For example, AZERTAC has recently organized a visit of Lim Dong Kun, a correspondent of the Korean Yonhap news agency, to Azerbaijan. Mr Dong Kun was deeply impressed by our country, and collected an extensive material for his article. Look at the headline of his article: "Azerbaijan is a rich land chosen by Prometheus." Full of love for our country, the article was accompanied by interesting photos. It was published last year in the December issue of "Imazine" magazine of Yonhap agency. According to the correspondent, he received positive feedback on his article.
Another tool on this front is our foreign correspondents. They send us news from the countries they are working in and also provide articles about Azerbaijan for the local media. Last year alone 181 articles by our correspondents reflecting Azerbaijan’s achievements were published in the U.S., European and Asian media.
In addition, a number of my articles, including "Confidence and determination demonstrated by President Ilham Aliyev at the Prague Summit as a sign of the growing influence of Azerbaijan on the international arena", "A reliable address of international relations", "Transformation of traditional media in the global information network is inevitable" were published on Eurasia Hoy and Foreign Policy News websites (the United States), Eurasianews.de (Germany), “Society” magazine (Austria), and in “Gündem", "Denge", "Kars Haber", “Halk” newspapers (Turkey).
AZERTAC builds media dialogue between East and West
Azerbaijan has a geopolitically pivotal location. It can be called a bridge between East and West, and the gate to the two continents. This unique opportunity enables AZERTAC to play the role of a bridge, build dialogue between the media organizations in East and West. On a few specific examples I would try to highlight how our agency takes advantage of this opportunity.
AZERTAC is a member of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA), the International Islamic News Agency (IINA) and Association of National News Agencies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (ANIA). AZERTAC is also a founding member of the Association of Turkic-speaking News Agencies (TKA), Black Sea Association of National News Agencies (BSANNA). At the OANA General Assembly in Moscow, the Director General of AZERTAC was elected a member of the Executive Committee and Vice President of this organization for the third time.
Such an extensive and active representation in international media organizations and our work to spread the truth about Azerbaijan in a very broad geographical area enables us to build a platform for dialogue between Eastern and Western news agencies. The foundation of this platform was laid in September 2008, when AZERTAC hosted the 30th meeting of the OANA Executive Committee entitled "News for all in a globalizing world”. For the first time AZERTAC brought together outstanding decision-makers that shape the global information policy in Asia and Europe. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev received the guests, which considerably increased the importance of the event.
AZERTAC is committed to enriching this tradition in the 2016-2019 when the agency will hold the chairmanship of OANA and the News Agencies World Congress (NAWC). AZERTAC will host the 16th General Assembly of OANA and the Fifth News Agencies World Congress in Baku in 2016.
Frankly, many of our foreign colleagues wanted to preside over these influential organizations.So, I think there is no need for a detailed explanation as decisions were made in a tough competition. I just want to emphasize that unlike the other international media organizations, the presidency of OANA and NAWC is determined through secret voting, rather that rotation. And almost every vote is decisive. It`s no coincidence since these organizations bring together nearly 150 media outlets.
Last year AZERTAC organized a meeting of the News Agencies World Council in Baku. The meeting discussed preparation for the Fifth News Agencies World Congress, which will be hosted by AZERTAC in 2016. Participants of the forthcoming event include Chairman of NAWC and the President of Saudi Press Agency (SPA), president of OANA and CEO of TASS agency of Russia, CEO of the Austrian news agency, Secretary General of NAWC, Secretary General of the Federation of Arab News Agencies, president of EANA and CEO of the Press Association of UK, Director General of Anadolu Agency of Turkey, chairman of the Latin American Association of News Agencies, etc.
The next meeting of the News Agencies World Council will be held on March 1-2 in Baku and will coincide with the celebrative events marking the 95th anniversary of AZERTAC.
The Baku International Humanitarian Forum is another platform for dialogue that we try to take advantage of. Outstanding political figures, academics, former heads of state and global media leaders join this annual forum. As part of this event AZERTAC organizes round tables addressing topical problems of the media. These round tables contribute to the development of media dialogue between East and West. During the panel sessions media leaders and experts from different continents exchange views on current media development trends. For example, at the last forum our round table was called "Media Transformation in the Digital Age: New Development Trends". Participants of the round table included the former president of the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA), heads of TASS (Russia), APA (Austria), BERNAMA (Malaysia), VNA (Vietnam), WAFA (Palestine), WAM (UAE), Kazinform (Kazakhstan), AGI (Italy), Tanjug (Serbia) news agencies and other media organizations. They shared views on the current state of and challenges faced by the media throughout the world.
I would like to conclude by saying that AZERTAC has so far signed 35 agreements with national news agencies and leading foreign media outlets. And we are determined to expanding our foreign relations: in the next couple of days we will sign new agreements on cooperation with our partners.
Out path forward
Who owns the future of the media? Who will withstand an ever-increasing competition? These are the questions that representatives of classical media are mostly concerned about. Some of my colleagues, especially the older generation, take the social media for granted. But, regardless of our will, time has its own challenges, and the future belongs to those who recognize these challenges and address them accordingly.
AZERTAC is the oldest member of the Azerbaijani media community: 95 years is a long time. No matter how difficult it is to destroy stereotypes that were formed over the years and adapt to the requirements of our digital world, it is inevitable.
We have to run, at times, almost breathlessly in order to keep pace with time. AZERTAC is ready for this marathon: we have a team of young professionals who are able to carry this heavy burden, mastered advanced information technologies and realize the responsibility of spreading news.
The main unchangeable criteria for us is truthfulness and reliability, accuracy of information. It is not easy to preserve these traditions amid the wave of revolutionary changes offered by the Internet and at a time when rules in some cases are violated and the media space is often filled with fake, factoid, biased news. But we – AZERTAC - have to cope with it.
I think that the only key to our future success is the combination of innovation and tradition, and the search for a common denominator.