Media Freedom or Creeping Control?

As Tajikistan marked its national press day on March 11, journalists were divided on how much real freedom the media enjoy.

Media Freedom or Creeping Control?

As Tajikistan marked its national press day on March 11, journalists were divided on how much real freedom the media enjoy.

Saturday, 14 March, 2009
Reporter Khalil Qoimzoda spoke to a range of journalists and politicians, some of whom pointed to the recent decree by President Imomali Rahmon requiring state officials to take swift remedial action when they are criticised in the media, as a way of prodding them to become more responsive and accountable to the public.



Others, however, argued that state control was being gradually replaced by more subtle forms of influence. Powerful business groups close to government have the resources to offer inducements to journalists and to fund or even buy out formerly independent media outlets, so as to acquire their own public mouthpiece.



“They’ve chosen a different tack,” said Zafar Sufi, chief editor of the Ozodagon newspaper. “Given the very poor economic state of the media, they sponsor the publication but at the same time they set boundaries. And that’s very bad.”



Khurshid Atovullo, head of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and chief editor of the Faraj newspaper, does not agree that if journalists are invited along on official trips it necessarily means they are being coopted or bought. It could also be read as a sign that government institutions are at last taking the independent media seriously.



However, Atavullo pointed to the continued existence of libel law in Tajikistan’s criminal code as a serious deterrent to the exercise of free speech by journalists.

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