Tajikistan's Media Haven

The independent media is blossoming in Tajikistan's corner of the Fergana valley

Tajikistan's Media Haven

The independent media is blossoming in Tajikistan's corner of the Fergana valley

Tajikistan's Sogd region has become a vibrant oasis of independent journalism in a nation where censorship and official pressure have long been occupational hazards.

The oblast in northern Tajikistan already boasts 10 independent television stations and 17 privately-owned newspapers - more than in the rest of the country put together.

Kasym Kasymov, the chairman of the Sogd oblast, commented, "Positive changes are particularly evident in the information sector where a large number of private companies have grown up alongside the state TV stations. Independent printed publications are also making an appearance."

Most observers ascribe the independent media boom to the stable political and economic situation in northern Tajikistan which was left untouched by the 1992-1997 civil war.

Inhabited by around two million people (a third of the Tajik population), the region provides the state with 74 per cent of its revenues and has attracted a high level of foreign investment. There are currently around 70 joint ventures in the Sogd oblast funded by American, British, Canadian, Italian, Korean and Russian capital.

The first pioneers of the independent Tajik media appeared in the early 1990s, taking their cue from Uzbek enterprises across the Fergana valley. With no radio stations of their own, the local population began listening to Fergana's Ekho Doliny (Echo of the Valley) and Tashkent's Grant.

It was a natural progression - around a fifth of the Sogd population is made up of ethnic Uzbeks whilst one in five marriages is mixed and more than 80 per cent of people speak Uzbek.

The first independent newspapers printed a pot pourri of "gutter press" articles, horoscopes and astrological predictions, culled largely from the Russian press.

Owned by private entrepreneurs and journalists, these publications derived their income from advertising and personal announcements but soon folded in the face of competition from Russian and Uzbek rivals.

The next generation of independent newspapers were largely funded by international organisations such as the OSCE, the Eurasia Foundation, USAID and Internews.

The Sogd paper, for example - an eight-page weekly owned by the SM-1 TV station and based in Khudjend - received start-up capital from the Eurasia Foundation in Tajikistan.

Sogd's director, Makhmudjon Dodobaev, told IWPR, "We come under no pressure from the local authorities which make no attempt to hinder supplies, printing or distribution."

He added that the first edition of the paper, launched in January 2001, featured a special message from Kasym Kasymov, who described the development of the independent press as "a vital factor in the democratisation of society".

January also saw the launch of Varorud, the region's first independent information agency, which enjoys financial support from the OSCE. Its founder, Radio Liberty correspondent Ilkhom Djamolien, said that Varorud intended to take on the role of media monitor in the region.

The agency would establish relationships with similar organisations across the Fergana valley, enabling residents in neighbouring oblasts to receive objective information about local events.

Marin Bukhoara, head of the OSCE mission in Tajikistan, said Varorud would play an important role in bridging the gap between the northern and central parts of Tajikistan whilst crossing national borders with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Lidia Isamova is a regular IWPR contributor

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