Tajikistan: Badakhshan Media in Dire State

Residents say they’re forced to rely on word of mouth to get the latest news.

Tajikistan: Badakhshan Media in Dire State

Residents say they’re forced to rely on word of mouth to get the latest news.

In the remote Tajik region of Badakhshan, people don’t turn to the radio, television or internet to find out what’s happening in other parts of the province or beyond.

Instead, they go down to the bustling market in the region’s capital, Khorog.

Just next to the market is a bus station, where a steady stream of travellers arrives bringing news of the outside world.

“You find out the latest news here, long before you get the national newspapers,” said 32-year old Davlatbek. “The drivers will tell you quicker than our media.”

Badakhshan, a large region consisting of inhospitable high-altitude terrain in south-eastern Tajikistan, is home to more than 200,000 people.

The mountains and harsh weather conditions make it hard to get there by road or air. The sense of isolation is compounded by the poor state of the media, which suffers from a shortage of professional journalists and weak infrastructure, the result of years of under-investment and neglect.

While radio used to be the most effective way of bringing news to Badakhshan residents, the region’s broadcasting equipment has fallen into a state of disrepair.

“All the radio lines used for transmission are old or have been destroyed during mudslides and rock falls. In some places, radio masts and cables have simply been stolen,” said local radio producer Amon Mardonov.

The state-run regional radio station switched to FM in 2007, but it rapidly became apparent that many people could no longer hear it as they had the wrong kind of radios and the rugged terrain limited the reach of broadcasts.

Journalists at the station still persevere in broadcasting, telling IWPR they produced two hours of material each day.

The programmes are painstakingly put together on obsolescent equipment using reel-to-reel tape, said staff at the station. They find it hard to source supplies of tape as most broadcasters use now use digital editing software.

Television broadcasts are even more limited. The state TV station for Badakhshan broadcasts just one hour-long programme each day, excluding Sundays, and only to Khorog residents.

The TV station’s roof collapsed last year,, and there is no money to repair it.

Nor can the station afford to buy more transmitters to broadcast more widely.

The print media are also in poor shape. There are nine newspapers in Badakhshan, but they appear just a month, with the exception of “Badakhshan”, the regional government’s mouthpiece. That paper manages to have a 1,200 circulation only because public institutions are required to subscribe.

The newspapers mostly focus about official events and decisions by the local authorities.

The shortage of printing equipment means some are printed in the Tajik capital Dushanbe rather than Khorog.

There is only one independent media organisation in the region –

Pamir Media, which was up by a local non-government group with funding from the United States-based Soros Foundation.

The agency, which has recently set up its own website, brings news of developments in Badakhshan to the rest of the world. But few people inside the region can use it because there is such restricted access to the web.

None of the regional media outlets has its own internet connection, and the only places with access to the net are two cyber cafes in Khorog, where customers have to queue for hours for their turn to go online.

The regional media also suffer from a shortage of professional staff.

Although a journalism faculty was opened at Khorog University three years ago, it does not have enough teachers, said faculty dean Azatsho Nasredinshoev.

Meanwhile, the several dozen journalism graduates who leave the university each year have no guarantee of work.

Those who find media jobs with local organisations can expect low ages.

The average pay for a journalist or editor is 10 to 15 US dollars a month, appalling even by the low national average 60 dollars.

The poor pay levels lead many graduates to seek work with international organisations instead.

“We now have many promising, talented young journalists but they go to work for international organisations or other agencies where the pay is better,” said Iftihor Mirshakar, editor-in-chief of Pamir Media’s news agency.

Local journalists say that Badakhshan’s media will not improve unless it gets proper funding.

According to Mirshakar, the region is so underdeveloped that conventional sources of income such as advertising are not available. There are no large companies, and the smaller ones do not advertise.

“Small companies are not interested in advertising. They think that they don’t need to waste money on it, as everyone knows them anyway,” he said.

Media workers are calling on the Tajik government and international agencies to provide funding to develop the sector.

Apart from the Soros Foundation support for Pamir Media, there are currently no other media projects of this kind.

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

AKF, which came to Tajikistan in 1995, is part of the Aga Khan Development Network, which supports projects in health, education, culture, rural and economic development.

The organisation was set up by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims. The people of Badakhshan are mainly Ismailis, whereas Tajiks in the rest of the country are Sunni.

“When local journalists turn to these [international] organisations, they always point to the Aga Khan Foundation, but it does not have a specific programme designed to support media development,” said Alamshoev.

Mirshakar stressed the importance of investing in Badakhshan’s media.

He pointed out that the region, which borders on Afghanistan, China and Kyrgyzstan, was a crucial gateway for the whole of Central Asia, not just Tajikistan.

“In the future, our region will host a road link connecting the whole of Central Asia with India and Pakistan,” said Mirshakar. “It is not for nothing that the president [Imomali Rahmonov] himself has dubbed Badakhshan the ‘Golden Gates of Tajikistan’.”

Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an IWPR-trained contributor and Lola Olimova is an IWPR editor in Tajikistan.

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