ICFJ forum gives opportunity for open discussion of controversial topics

Oct 152008

"Democracy in Azerbaijan: Goals and Challenges" broke new ground, allowing open discussion of sensitive topics, and bypassing traditional government-controlled media by using the Internet.One question I faced in the press conference we held a couple of days before the forum was: “How is your forum going to affect the election?”

This was an interesting question – and a pretty easy one to answer. The goal, I said, was not to affect the election. Everyone knows the president of Azerbaijan is going to be re-elected. For one thing, the opposition is boycotting the election, so it’s not much of a contest. The idea, I said, was to provide an opportunity for Azerbaijani citizens to discuss openly issues that are so important to the social, economic, and political development of this country.

Judged by these terms, I think most people would agree that the forum was a success. We attracted an audience of more than 100 people. The event was shown around the world over the Internet. It was broadcast on the radio and the event has been widely discussed in the various political chat rooms in this country. The discussion was lively, even little nerve-wracking. So much discussion of discussion of political issues is sotto voce, so to hear people openly talking about corruption and mismanagement was startling.

One of the best things I heard was at the end of the event, when people were chatting and discussing the evening. When, one of the panelists asked me, are you going to do this again?