CESD incident with OCCRP&MeydanTV: how it evolved

CESD incident with OCCRP&MeydanTV: how it evolved.

A few hours ago, MeydanTV has released audio-recording of an interview with Mr.Bayramov, head of Center for Economic and Social Development (CESD). Allegedly, the interview is for OCCRP local correspondent for the article ‘Mystery Company Quickly Wins More Than 120 Tenders’. But it is not. Although quite many points in the story needs to clarified. So, here is how all of this evolved.

On 25th August 2015, OCCRP publishes an article, titled ‘Mystery Company Quickly Wins More Than 120 Tenders’. Exactly on the same day, MeydanTV publishes it in Russian and the next day in Azerbaijani. The Azerbaijani version gets full attention from the media and quickly spread in the social media sphere.

Only at the end of the second day, after receiving calls from journalists, CESD staff becomes aware of the fact that, Mr Vugar Bayramov and Center for Economic and Social Development (CESD) has been repeatedly referred in the article. Nobody, including Mr.Bayramov, at CESD cannot recall any interview to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), any journalist calling on behalf of this organization, or any interview on tenders recently. The staff started a search for similar articles by CESD, to understand how the quotes in the article can be associated with Mr.Bayramov and CESD. No result.

An email to OCCRP did bring no response.

In the atmosphere of dubiousness, Mr.Bayramov decided to go public and inform about the abuse of the name of CESD. A relevant comment was posted on Facebook: No employee of OCCRP project, or anyone on behalf of this project contacted us. We consider this as a breach of Journalists’ Ethic Code and Research Ethics. CESD and the name of its head was abused to bring credibility to the project.

Media started referring to the post, copying the interview content from each other. Things got viral.

The next day, the local correspondent, who already employed by another local media group, contacted us. During the conversation it was made clear that: (a) no OCCRP employee called us for interview, the journalist took the interview for a local newspaper, (b) things told during the interview was not about the subject of the article by OCCRP. The tenders and requirements for tenders were discussed in general, (c) the interview was recorded in Jan’15, (d) the quotes and ideas in the OCCRP article does not correspond with the ideas and quotes in the interview. Many of them were altered, (e) the name and quotes should be taken out of the article soon.

For some brief period, the needed changes were made to the article. Nevertheless, after a few hours the previous content was restored back. We have no reasonable explanation for that.

CESD is not happy with the ongoing things and did not initiate the escalation, which the process reached after publicizing the voice record of the interview by MeydanTV, partner of OCCRP. The issue has got social and political impetus, which we consider was avoidable, if all the necessary corrections were made in a timely manner.

Why CESD is not happy with the ongoing things?

CESD sees it as a breach of Ethical Journalism Code and Research Ethics. The name of CESD and its head was abused for the purpose of suiting only OCCRP and its partners. The quotes attributed to Mr.Bayramov were mainly altered and even at several points totally made up. Some of these points were taken out from the Azeri version by MeydanTV, some of them were attributed to the “another expert of tenders, who didn’t want his name to be used for fear of government reprisal”.

We think, it is ethical-journalism standards demand to correct mistakes promptly and in a transparent manner. That is what we asked OCCRP to do in our correspondence, and that is how things started.

Moreover, CESD is for transparent tenders and accountability. Alongside with the decentralization and liberalization of the economy, transparency and accountability is the key ideas promoted by CESD during its activity. This is how CESD gained its reputation and high rankings among other top think-tanks in the world.

Representatives of the project, presenting their true identity and explaining the purpose of the interview would get the same aforementioned comments, and there would be no objection by CESD. Unfortunately, they did not follow the steps for Ethical Journalism and breached Research Ethics in general. CESD is against breached in Research Ethics, which are strictly followed in our papers, and will not tolerate the abuse of its name.

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