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Tajik Media Faces Exodus
Tajik media landscape is losing its diversity due to financial difficulties, political pressure and brain drain. (Photo: Radio Ozodi, RFE/RL Tajik Service)
Journalist Sayora Gafurova (not her real name) decided to quit working for independent Tajik news agency Ozodagon after an entire year of police harassment.
Gafurova, also a former IWPR contributor, was a longtime freelancer for the outlet, which is banned in Tajikistan.
But as the space for press freedom began to shrink in Tajikistan, she found herself under suspicion.
“For a year I visited the interior ministry [for questioning]. Every time I got a new investigator, it would start all over again.
Each session could last hours, she continued, and the accusations got more focused.
“I used to often attend internships abroad," Gafurova said. “Those trips were usually sponsored by the embassies of the participating countries, or the inviting party would cover the costs. The last time [I was interrogated], the investigator accused me of going on trips that may have been sponsored by Group 24 [a banned diaspora Tajik opposition organisation]. I’m tired of all that."
She then managed to secure a post at local bureau of Sputnik, the news agency funded by Russia, where she earned a decent wage of 760 US dollars a month.
But Sputnik was yet to be granted state accreditation, a requirement for all foreign media, and in December 2015 dismissed all Tajik staff until its official status was clarified.
Gafurova went to work for the local independent newspaper Nigoh for 800 somoni a month (100 dollars), until it went bankrupt in November 2016.
Unable to find another job in her field, Gafurova decide to leave journalism and stay at home to look after her children.
A combination of state pressure and lack of job opportunities is having a ruinous effect on Tajik journalism.
Interviews with media professionals in Tajikistan have revealed that at least 20 journalists have quit journalism in the last year, a significant number in such a small field.
At least ten Tajik journalists left the country, including six IWPR-trained reporters. Three of them asked for political asylum in western Europe.
This seems to be partly fuelled by a crackdown on independent media.
The 2016 World Press Freedom Index, published by the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, ranked Tajikistan 150th of 180 nations, a drop of 34 positions from the previous year.
It also comes as pressure on opposition movements has similarly increased.
In 2014, opposition businessman Zayd Saidov received a lengthy prison sentence.
In September 2015, deputy defence minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda was killed after launching an attempted coup.
In the same month, the country’s largest opposition force, the Islamic Rebirth Party of Tajikistan, was outlawed. Party members were arrested and charged with extremism.
The economic crisis has also fuelled the media’ problems, with 65 per cent - 429 out of 656 - of local Tajik outlets privately-owned.
Nuriddin Karshiboev, head of the Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan, said that profits had fallen by half over the past two years due to the economic crisis, while the costs of running an outlet had risen by 35 per cent.
Media companies were also reluctant to take risks for fear of losing advertising.
A 2016 survey conducted by Mediaconsulting, a Tajik media research company, revealed that 63 per cent of privately-owned Tajik print media was on the verge of bankruptcy. It also indicated that 78 per cent of respondents were ready to sacrifice editorial principles for financial gain.
“The economic crisis leaves the editorial independence [of Tajik media] in serious doubt,” Karshiboev told IWPR. “Would a desk which has a firm editorial policy, principle grounds or special views on covering [hard] topics sacrifice principles when facing financial difficulties?”
Media professionals warn that standards are falling across the board.
Naziri Nusrat, editor-in-chief of independent Tajik newspaper Imruznews, told IWPR that fewer journalists were willing to do proper reporting. Plagiarism had also become a problem.
“Journalists prefer browsing through online sources, mostly the Russian or other foreign ones, and producing something, pretending it was their [own] comment or news analysis,” Nusrat told IWPR.
Ozodagon editor-in-chief Abdulaziz Voseev lamented that one could find a solid piece of journalism in the Tajik media only “on a rare occasion.”
“The Tajik media landscape was significantly narrowed down in the past two years,” he continued. “Media coverage weakened under political pressure. Some individual journalists are also pressured; they are invited more frequently for a 'friendly chat' [by law-enforcement bodies]. Self-censorship is growing as a result. Many strong reporters have lost their jobs and left the country,” Voseev told IWPR.
That was the experience of political reporter and former IWPR contributor Humayra Bakhtiyor.
She first started receiving anonymous threats by phone and social media in 2014 when she began covering the Saidov case.
The following year, Bakhtiyor’s employer refused to publish her political stories, suggesting she turn to covering Tajik show business if she wanted to keep her job.
She refused to do so and was fired.
After more than a year of trying to find work as a political reporter, she recently left the country.
“I left because all doors had closed for me in one go… If a journalist is unwanted [by the regime], the employer will get rid of you very harshly, no matter how they used to praise your work before,” Bakhtiyor told IWPR, adding, “It’s not that I left Tajik media. It’s the Tajik media that left me."
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