Uzbekistan: French Embassy Media Embargo

Views of French diplomats on Iraqi war ignored in pro-US Uzbek press.

Uzbekistan: French Embassy Media Embargo

Views of French diplomats on Iraqi war ignored in pro-US Uzbek press.

France's opposition to the war in Iraq has left the French embassy cut off from the media in pro-American Uzbekistan.

After the war started, Ambassador Jacques-Andre Costilhes told IWPR he found himself unable to communicate with Uzbek press and broadcasters.

"Unfortunately," the ambassador said, "I could do nothing to persuade the Uzbek press to cover the position of France on the Iraqi issue, a position which is held by many other countries as well."

Uzbek state television channels ignored a press conference held at the French embassy early in the war. Other journalists who did attend made no mention of it in their reports.

"Not a single newspaper used any material from my interview," Costilhes said. "France thinks that UN inspections should have been continued for several more weeks and that a military solution will destabilise the region and the world.

"The official Uzbek press represents only the government position. I am sorry the Uzbek population does not receive objective information on a position different from that of Britain and US."

The Uzbek media, most of it government controlled, does not usually publish material frowned on by the authorities. President Islam Karimov has clearly pronounced his support for the military campaign against Saddam Hussein. Uzbek coverage usually consists of information received from American or pro-American sources.

The headline in People's World on April 4 proclaimed, "US liberating Iraqi People from Tyrant". It was a discreet quote from US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

On the same day, the newspaper Uzbekistan News published an interview with Iraqi opposition journalist Akhmad Zubaydi, titled "Iraqi people hate Saddam Hussein".

In a commentary on Uzbek radio on March 21, President Karimov, strongly criticised those European countries that have taken an anti-war stance.

"Satisfied Europe today acts according to the principle 'do not shake my cage and I won't shake yours'.

"Some strong European states have interests in Iraq like oil and other matters. However, they do not talk about that. They play upon the natural desires of ordinary people to live in peace."

Uzbekistan is the only Central Asian republic that supports the war against Iraq. Karimov said Saddam might possess weapons of mass destruction and compared him to a genie in a bottle, "If you set him free, it would be impossible to get him back."

This is not Uzbekistan's first military partnership with Washington. In 2001, Tashkent entered the American-led anti-terrorist coalition and provided its Khanabad-Karshi airfield in the south of the country for deployment of US military personnel engaged in operations against Afghanistan.

The French ambassador's complaints were received unsympathetically in the Uzbek media.

"We did not ignore the French embassy's invitation to the press conference, which is usually communicated through the foreign ministry, we simply did not receive it," said Bobur Alikhanov, manager of the Akhborot information programme on Uzbek television.

"Moreover, Akhborot's daily programmes cover a full range of opinions on Iraq, and our journalists preserve neutrality in covering the war."

Alikhanov said the Akhborot programme used all international mass media as sources of information, from America's CNN to Qatar's Al-Jazeera.

The presidential press service denied that local journalists had been ordered to carry only anti-Iraqi stories.

One press service official, Sherzod Kudratkhodjaev, commented, "It is news to me that activities in the French embassy were not covered in the Uzbek press. Maybe it was decision of the journalists themselves, maybe they did not have time, maybe the embassy did not properly advertise the press conference."

But the French embassy's chief adviser on political issues, Edith Nowak, told a recent conference titled International Journalism in the Age of Globalisation, "In Tashkent, journalists do not dare show their readers that many countries take positions on the Iraqi issue which differ from the view of Uzbek authorities."

Costilhes said that despite the information vacuum imposed on the French mission he had found in conversations with ordinary people that they were well informed and supported the French position.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR director in Uzbekistan

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