Last Updated: Wednesday, 09 July 2014, 13:04 GMT

Turkmen Media Development Still Pipedream

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Publication Date 27 January 2011
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Turkmen Media Development Still Pipedream, 27 January 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d4a52841e.html [accessed 10 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Journalists in Turkmenistan have given a cautious welcome to a planned media development project, while acknowledging that significant change to the country's tightly-controlled press and broadcast environment is a long way off.

Their interest was sparked by a report from the Turkmen government news agency TDH that officials had held talks with representatives from a European Union-funded media development project. The report omitted to mention that the project is being run by the BBC World Service Trust.

Analysts in Turkmenistan say the media have not made any progress in the two decades the country has been independent. Press and broadcast outlets are funded and controlled by the state, rigorous censorship remains in place, and the output of various TV, radio and press outlets is fairly uniform. Even reports on the most inoffensive themes have to be pre-agreed with management and then submitted to the censors.

Much of it focuses on President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov's activities and achievements, or on success stories that show how well Turkmenistan is doing.

Last October, the authorities granted permission for what they described as a private commercially-run newspaper called Rysgal. But since it was set up by an industrialists' association close to the state, there was little chance of it becoming a model for free speech. (See Turkmenistan's First Private Paper Disappoints.)

Berdymuhammedov's predecessor Saparmurat Niazov closed down journalism faculties and training programmes were banned, which did further harm to overall standards of journalism.

When Berdymuhammedov took over in 2007, the changes he made included reopening journalism departments in universities. He also commented repeatedly on the low standard of media output.

One local journalist noted that in the last couple of years, journalist training workshops had been held on how to cover issues like healthcare, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse and domestic violence. He was also aware of plans for BBC World Service Trust training.

Other journalists were largely unaware of opportunities for training. A radio reporter who had heard of them said, "These events aren't open to anyone who wants to go along. They are mainly attended for managerial staff from government newspaper. Beforehand, they're given a lecture about not revealing anything to the western trainers."

Nevertheless, many would be keen to attend training courses.

"Journalists here need to get some idea of international standards," said a magazine editor in the capital Ashgabat. "Many of them trained as journalists in Soviet times and can't conceive of any other way."

A local lawyer argued the case for a new media law since the current one dates from 1991, in the final months of Turkmenistan's existence as part of the Soviet Union, and is obsolete.

He said new legislation could set out what rights journalists had and allow private ownership of media outlets, adding, "It might only exist on paper, but at least it would have been laid down as law."

Vyacheslav Mamedov, head of the Civil Democratic Union, a Turkmen émigré group in The Netherlands, doubts the current authorities will ever relax their grip on the media.

"Then everyone would start writing whatever they wanted, and that would undermine Berdymuhammedov's authority," he said. "Media development is impossible unless there are system-wide democratic reforms – something the authorities are not going to go for."

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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