Satellite TV Under Threat

Since the Turkmen president placed a ban on cable television in 2002, satellite TV has been the only source of objective information for the nation. However, Turkmenistan’s citizens fear that the authorities will soon ban the use of satellite antennas, to

Satellite TV Under Threat

Since the Turkmen president placed a ban on cable television in 2002, satellite TV has been the only source of objective information for the nation. However, Turkmenistan’s citizens fear that the authorities will soon ban the use of satellite antennas, to

Thursday, 27 April, 2006
Over the last five years, the Turkmen authorities have come out with a series of rulings designed to suppress all the country’s ties with the outside world. These decisions have deprived the country’s residents from access to Russian and international broadcast channels.



In 2005, the Turkmen government passed a law prohibiting the import and distribution of foreign print publications. It was also decided to restrict access to foreign television channels.



The people of Turkmenistan have always been starved of information, so they breathed a sigh of relief when cable television was introduced. But they did not get to enjoy even this for very long. After a series of anti-Turkmenbashi broadcasts on Russian TV channels in 2002, the authorities banned cable television.



Pensioner Gurban-Aga says his family does not have a satellite antenna so they do not switch on the TV at home. But sometimes they go over to their neighbours to watch the football or a film. There used to be cable television, which was convenient. You had to pay 50,000 manats (about two US dollars) a month and you could watch as much as you wanted. But a week after a series of broadcasts about Turkmenbashi were shown on Russia’s NTV, everyone had their cable television switched off. As Gurban-aga says, when politicians get angry, ordinary people suffer.



According to local and foreign experts, the Turkmen government took this step to guard against people receiving undesirable information. The authorities are thus trying to prevent any foreign media influence on their citizens.



There are currently four state TV channels in Turkmenistan, but the programmes are of a very low professional standard. Censorship is rigid and the programming on all the channels mainly takes a clear ideological line.



In these circumstances, the public mostly has to resort to using satellite dishes. In the capital Ashgabat, an estimated two-thirds of the total population of about 800,000 watch satellite TV. In other provinces, over 30 per cent of people watch satellite television, while in rural areas only 10 per cent watch it.



Further growth in the number of satellite dish owners is constrained by the price, which is beyond the reach of a large percentage of the population. Installing a satellite antenna costs about 180 dollars, which not every family can afford. However, people find a way out of the situation. The average residential building tells an eloquent story: antennas have sprouted like mushrooms on windows and roofs.



When one resident who can afford it installs a satellite dish, other neighbours come to an arrangement and get a parallel connection to his antenna. Sometimes this is commercial – they pay a certain amount every month to share the antenna. But sometimes it is just people being good neighbours.



The downside is that the neighbours are forced to watch the channels the owner wants to see. If the owner so wishes, he can change channel in the middle of a news report or a thriller. But the neighbours do not complain and make do with what they have.



People mostly watch the Russian television channels - not just entertainment and films, but also analytical programmes and news reports.



This would seem adequate, since access to foreign media is thus ensured. However, there are rumours going around that the authorities want to prohibit the use of satellite antenna as well. People are concerned that they will lose their only link with the outside world.



As a first step, people have been told to remove dishes from windows and put them on the roof. What next?

Turkmenistan
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