Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajik Radio Project Nurtures Aspiring Journalists

Bilingual programming brings key issues to wider audience.
By Saule Mukhametrakhimova
  • Shahodat Saibnazarova, IWPR editor in charge of the radio project in Tajikistan. (Photo: IWPR)
    Shahodat Saibnazarova, IWPR editor in charge of the radio project in Tajikistan. (Photo: IWPR)
  • A  trainee producer edits a radio piece. (Photo: IWPR)
    A trainee producer edits a radio piece. (Photo: IWPR)

Mehrangez Tursunzoda was an 18-year-old journalism student in Tajikistan and was unsuccessfully trying to find work placements when she came across IWPR’s radio project.

She wanted to become a radio journalist but found herself caught in a vicious circle – the radio stations she approached would not take her on because she lacked experience, but she could not gain any without working somewhere.

“Local radio stations didn’t want to take on a student for work experience as they were concerned that prospective interviewees wouldn’t take them seriously if an inexperienced girl was going around talking to them as a reporter.”

When Tursunzoda joined the IWPR project as a trainee reporter, she was both overwhelmed and excited by the amount of responsibility she was given. On her first day, she was asked to propose story ideas and get started on a radio piece right away.

“After my negative experiences with other media outlets, I was taken by surprise by this attitude,” she said. “Once I’d done my first radio piece, my confidence started to grow.”

After six months with IWPR, Tursunzoda was recruited by Tajikistan’s leading news agency, Asia Plus.

Her IWPR radio reports were also submitted to a contest which won her a place on the 2011 summer journalism school in Kyrgyzstan organised jointly by the OSCE Academy and the German radio station Deutsche Welle. That in turn led to the offer of further journalism training at the Deutsche Welle Academy in Germany.

“I’m a young journalist but a lot of doors have opened for me even though I’m still at university, in my fourth year in the journalism faculty of the Tajikistan State University.”

Without the initial experience she got with IWPR, she might not have got opportunities to develop her career.

Tursunzoda is one of around 170 reporters who have gone through training on the Tajik radio project, some of who go on to report for the programmes.

The 15-minute programmes consist of news, analysis and comment on pressing social and political concerns in Tajikistan, and each one is produced in two parallel versions, one in Tajik and the other in Russian.

They go out on two networks – the nationwide Sado-i Dushanbe, and Radio Jahonoro, broadcasting in the north of the country. The two stations have a combined audience of 1.5 million, with several million more able to hear the former digitally in Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and even China and Afghanistan.

Launched in 2009 together with a similar radio project in Kyrgyzstan, the work in Tajikistan is part of a larger IWPR programme funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Jahonoro’s director general Mahmudjon Dodoboev said the partnership with IWPR had helped improve his station’s production values and staff skills, which in turn was attracting more listeners. The station lacked the resources to make analysis programmes itself, and the IWPR output also raised human rights-related issues that were not often discussed, he said.

“Topics like the death penalty, torture, beatings, illegal arrests and detention, domestic violence and suicide are highly sensitive. It isn’t every journalist who’s able to report on these things. IWPR raises these difficult issues on air, and does so professionally,” Dodoboev said, adding that this had encouraged other journalists to report on these issues. “They follow the example set by IWPR journalists and want to be as professional and as courageous as them.”

He said many listeners called in after hearing reports, while others sent in SMS text messages asking “who makes these programmes, whether they weren’t afraid to talk openly about problems in Tajikistan, and whether we worried that our radio station might get closed down,” he said.

“I can say that our audience has increased thanks to the IWPR programmes,” Dodoboev said.

In addition, he said, the radio training conducted by IWPR had helped alleviate the shortage of journalists able to produce good-quality analysis on current events.

“We’ve started to invite graduates of the journalism faculty to work with us. I can say with conviction that IWPR prompted us to pay serious attention to analytical reporting,” he said.

Shahodat Saibnazarova, the editor in charge of the IWPR project, said the subject-matter was now reflected in other local media, with an observable increase in human rights reporting.

She said each programme generated dozens of SMS messages from listeners who wanted journalists to come to their area and report on the problems they faced, in the hope the publicity would lead to solutions.

Tursunzoda is not the only reporter whose career took off after working with IWPR. Zarina Ergasheva, now editor of the online news agency kloop.tj and also a contributing writer for the Tajikistan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, is happy she shifted from financial reporting, her previous job, to covering human rights issues for IWPR radio.

“Even international organisations campaigning against death penalty expressed interest in my reports. I was pleased and gratified to discover that my reports were being listened to not just in Tajikistan but also abroad,” she said.

Ergasheva’s feature Children With HIV to Get Tajik State Benefit won second place in a media competition run by the East Europe & Central Asia Union of People Living With HIV/AIDS in 2010.

IWPR radio producer Khalil Kayumzod, whose reporting led to a one-year scholarship in political journalism at the Caucasus Institute in Armenia, described the secret to making complex issues accessible to the listener – first, invite human rights and experts to discuss key concerns and offer possible solutions; and second, tell the story through real people whose personal experiences will resonate more with the audience.

Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR Central Asia editor in London.