public service broadcasting in central asia
Overview Of Public service Broadcasting in Uzbekistan
Media in Uzbekistan
For years, strict state control has undermined press freedom in Uzbekistan. Any apparent easing of government control over the media often results in one step forward, followed by two steps backward. A case in point is the issue of state censorship.
On May 13, 2002, the government officially abolished state censorship, which appeared to be a giant step forward. But, it quickly became clear that at least two steps were being taken in the wrong direction. The State Press Committee issued new rules informing editors and television executives, at both state-controlled and private outlets, that they bear the legal responsibility for everything they publish.
In an extraordinary step, the government directed state-supported media to write articles and broadcast reports critical of the government. Rustam Dzhumaev, the presidential press secretary, said issues the media are expected to criticize include the national tax system, the national budget, the health care system and military expenditures.
Again, what appeared to be a step forward had a catch: state-supported media were required to submit an annual report detailing critical articles published and reports aired. And, of course, editors and executives from both state-supported and private media would be held responsible for what they published or broadcast – a legal threat that could encourage self-censorship.
A further ambiguity to the media situation is the position of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. He has urged media in the past to criticize the government and expose corruption, but at the same time, he has said the country is not ready for Western-style freedom of the press and expression.
About two weeks after the official abolition of state censorship in Uzbekistan, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based advocacy organization, conducted a 10-day mission in the country, meeting with government officials, Western diplomats, local and foreign journalists and human rights activists. CPJ said that the new policy had little effect, noting that government authorities “routinely encourage self-censorship by threatening critical journalists with imprisonment.”
also urged President Karimov to free three imprisoned journalists and
to lift restrictions on the press. The organization called for an end
to the legal harassment of independent media, promotion of a culture
of transparency and reform of the two government agencies responsible
for regulating the press. 1
The Constitution of Uzbekistan provides "freedom of thought, speech and convictions," but in practice the news media face censorship, registration requirements. Print media also must contend with state-controlled publishing and distribution systems. Uzbek media law also provides journalists with freedom of access to information, extends protection to journalists' activities, and protects their sources.3 Like the constitutional provision for freedom of speech, these measures have not truly been put into force. 4
In addition, certain provisions in the text of the 1997 law seem vague enough to permit interference with the function of the media at the discretion of authorities. For example, while journalists "have the right to search for, receive and disseminate information," they are also "responsible for truthfulness and trustworthiness of aired or published information in accordance with legislation." 5
In addition, any strides that other sectors of the economy have made toward a free-market system have not been matched by the news media, as they remain entrenched in a hierarchical system.6 Officials dictate the editorial content of newspapers, and journalists in many cases will avoid criticism of the authorities, effectively censoring themselves. A law dating to 1991, the year of the Soviet collapse and Uzbek independence, forbids affronts to "the honor and dignity of the president." 7
All media outlets - print or broadcast - must register with the State Press Committee. In the past, the letter of the law required newspapers to receive a censor's clearance for the content of each issue. This provision had been enforced to curtail the publishing activities of Uzbek opposition groups. 8 Some newspapers have received a censor's clearance prior to publication as a defensive measure. 9
press committee statistics show that by February 2001, 507 newspapers
were published in Uzbekistan, 400 by the state and the remainder by
public, commercial and religious organizations. 10 Of the three Uzbekistan-based
news agencies, two of them -Uzbekistan National News Agency and Jahon
News - are state-controlled. 11
For years, the government criticized BBC programming and U.S. government-funded radio stations, such as Voice of America and Radio Liberty, as enemy voices and sources of hostile foreign propaganda. Since about 1995, Radio Liberty, Voice of America and the BBC have been welcomed and the government has assisted the BBC and Radio Liberty in registering as official foreign agencies. The BBC World Service has supplemented its English-language correspondent with a local correspondent working for the Uzbek Service. Radio Liberty has opened an office where local correspondents similarly file stories to its Uzbek-language service in Prague. The BBC's Uzbek Service broadcasts morning and evening programs. 14 Reuters and Interfax news agencies opened their regional offices in Uzbekistan in the last two years.
The government press committee enforces the national law on media, which was adopted in June 1991, before the Soviet Union collapsed, and has been supplemented in the years since with various additional regulations. The Ministry of Communication is empowered to award or revoke broadcasting licenses. 15
Newspaper executives are appointed for their loyalty to the authorities, and not their professional merits, ensuring that newspapers will offer no criticism of the state.16 Professional standards in journalism are further diminished by a lack of training and materials addressing the specific needs of Uzbekistan, such as improvements in marketing, skills in building a profitable advertising base and the use of computers and other technologies that can improve the performance of journalists. 17
Addressing these needs is complicated by the cost and the scarcity of capital in the post-Soviet, transitional country. Additionally, the flow of capital from outside Uzbekistan is effectively controlled by the state. Under Article 15 of the law on the media, signed by President Karimov in December 1997, registration can be denied to a media outlet if the "founder or one of the founders ... or publisher is based outside the Republic of Uzbekistan."18
Freedom of press
An additional constraint on the news media of Uzbekistan is cultural. The Uzbek public can regard a news report critical of the authorities as a threat to the country's welfare, an argument used to defend the repression of journalists. In the present atmosphere of economic turmoil in Uzbekistan and among its former Soviet neighbors, notably Russia, it is possible that such an argument could be used even more persuasively against truly independent media voices, if such presently existed. 19
In the absence of a visible commitment by the state to permit an independent media to flourish, media observers say some initiatives would help professional journalists. These include newspaper access to technology, such as computers and desktop publishing systems that would allow some of them to bypass the state publishing monopoly, and training to use these technologies. Advice on the development of advertising markets could help end the dependence of media outlets on state financing.20 Such assistance, however, would have to be delivered in a manner consistent with the state's prohibition against foreign ownership of the news media.
to Protect Journalists, “ CPJ Urges Uzbekistan to Free Local Press,”
10 June 2002. Online. Available URL www.cpj.org/news/2002/Uzbek10june02na.html