Central Asia: Jan '09, part 2

Journalists in Badakhshan welcome report highlighting parlous state of both print and broadcasting media.

Central Asia: Jan '09, part 2

Journalists in Badakhshan welcome report highlighting parlous state of both print and broadcasting media.

An article about media outlets in Badakhshan focused attention on the resource problems facing journalists in this vast but remote mountainous region of southeastern Tajikistan.

The article, by reporter Aslibegim Manzarshoeva and IWPR editor Lola Olimova, was called Badakhshan Media in Dire State, and described how local people rely on passing travellers to find out the latest news.

What media infrastructure there is has become obsolete, with radio equipment in a state of disrepair and state-run regional television available only an hour a day, six days a week. The print media are hardly in better shape, with the provincial government newspaper achieving a circulation of 1,200 only because public institutions have subscriptions.

IWPR’s report attracted a wide readership in Tajikistan when it was reprinted in the Asia Plus newspaper.

One reader called IWPR’s office in Dushanbe to express outrage that the report focused too much on the negative.

But journalists from Badakhshan said they were glad that the difficulties they faced were now more publicly known.

“At last it is not only us but other people too who are paying attention to the disastrous situation in Badakhshan, and it’s been spoken about openly,” said well-known journalist Amon Mardonov.

Most of those who read the report said that they had not realised the extent of the problems.

Muhibullo Zubaidulloev, political affairs officer at the British embassy in Dushanbe, said he had been unaware of how hard-pressed the media in Badakhshan were.

Although the embassy offers support for local journalists and runs projects in other parts of Tajikistan, no one from this region had ever applied, said Zubaidulloev, adding that they were welcome to do so.

“One of our priorities is to support independent media,” he said. “The new budgetary year starts in April, and if there are any interesting proposals, particularly from Badakhshan, we’ll definitely consider them.”

Lack of funding is a fundamental obstacle, local media workers say. The Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Tajikistan provided support for Pamir Media, the only independent news agency in the region, and this funding ran out shortly after our report was published and the agency was forced to close.

Apart from that, there are no donor-funded media projects.

As Pamir Media’s head Qurbon Alamshoev said in the article, donor organisations neglect Badakhshan because of a perception that the Aga Khan Foundation, AKF, is already providing enough support there.

Nodira Davlatova, civil society programme coordinator with AKF, confirmed that the organisation supports health, education and economic development work but does not have dedicated media projects. At the same time, some of AKF’s civil society projects do include media-related elements such as training for journalists.

“This year we are going to conduct journalist training sessions in Dushanbe and in other regions, and we are also planning to hold them in Badakhshan,” she said, adding that it might be possible to set up a media programme in future.

Representatives of international organisations based in Dushanbe said journalists in Badakhshan should take the initiative and seek out funding possibilities, and simultaneously try to make media outlets into sustainable, money-making ventures.

Michael Unland, media officer with the OSCE office in Dushanbe, said securing funding was not enough; journalists needed to work out what kinds of media were likely to survive.

“In Badakhshan, as in other regions, as soon the funding ends, the media outlet closes down,” he said.

“I know many journalists from there [Badakhshan] and they do display initiative and they’re interested in developing media in the Pamirs. But I think what’s needed is to find out how effective a project is going to be. Sustainability is very important in media development… it means independence.”

Unland said the future for media in Badakhshan probably lay in radio, given the inaccessible mountainous terrain there.

Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Dushanbe.

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