We are going to meet representatives of Azeri Internet television Meydan TV in downtown Berlin. We go inside a small room right from the street and wonder how they make television in such a small room. In a while a young man approaches and tells us to follow him in order to see their studio. Later I find out that he is the well-known Azeri blogger Hebib Müntezir, the YouTube Channel of whom was closed down several months ago. He says Azeri government has “banned” him. I ask what he has uploaded and replies that nothing so serious, just cut-edited President’s TV-speech the way that he himself understood he was talking lies; so they sued me for violation of copyright. Now he has opened a new channel and hopes that he will collect just as many subscribers and his new videos will just as popular as the old ones.
We entered the studio. To be more correct not the studio, the real “underground.” We passed one room and after went down to a cellar. Studio is only 5 square meters with Asian carpets on the floor and brick walls. There are only two studio-lights there.
We meet Emin Mil, Project Director. He is also Azeri blogger. He has been arrested several times by the government for different charges, as he himself says because of his activities; he himself says that the government was most of all irritated by the satire video by which he protested against “import” of several donkeys by the government from Germany – “We could not find out why the country needed to buy donkeys for such big money. Nobody had the answer. Because of this we organized press-conference and went there in donkey costumes.” After he was released from prison he started collecting money for a new television.
“In May 2013, as soon as we went on satellite, government immediately removed us from there,” Emin Mil starts telling the story of Meydan TV. Meydan in Azeri means square – “we realized that in order to work we had to have infrastructure in another country.”
After they went to Berlin, as it is relatively cheap compared to other European countries. He found here well-known Azeri blogger, musicians who have been oppressed by Aliev’s government. There are up to ten people in Meydan TV team now.
I do not understand, what is the point in making a television in Berlin if Meydan TV journalists will still be in danger in Azerbaijan. Infrastructure will be protected, they will not be able to switch us off the satellite so easily and will not be able to close down our website, which is the most important, Emin tells me.
He makes me believe that EURO 30 thousand necessary for launching the project he collected through Internet campaign Paypal. Azeris living in different corners of the world collected money for him. Now he hopes donors will also give him some funding.
“Azeris want to have free media. People who work in this profession risk their lives. People respect them for that and support them,” Amin Mil stressed and said that “our main goal is to circulate information and for this all the videos will have English subtitles.”
For the moment they have uploaded up to 30 videos which have total of 210 views. Content is political and cultural also.
In the nearest future he plans to go on satellite and to broadcast for one hour daily. They have several reporters in Baku and also actively use information sent by civil journalists. Many of them work voluntarily. Emin says some of them cooperate with the television openly and part is incognito; because they are afraid of the government.
According to him, there was order for murdering Habib and an agent sent by the government was following him in Berlin also, although they managed to protect him. “I feel calm in Berlin. In Azerbaijan journalists are being killed and arrested. Instead of watching all this violence calmly I prefer to fight against as I can,” Hebib Müntezir tells me.
Presidential elections are to be held in Azerbaijan in October. You will probably activate more during the elections, I ask. Emin answers that no; that their main work starts after the elections. He stressed that their goal is not to change the government but to inform the population in order that they can make the right choice. That is why it does not matter who will be in power.
“Government did everything for silencing well-known members of our team, but we continue the fight even more loudly and extensively,” Emin Mil says.
I ask about their long-term plans and Emin Mil says he wants Meydan TV to become the same as Al Jazeera. I want for it to be 24-hour independent international broadcaster, he says. Until then he plans to add new journalists and to create more content.