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Uzbekistan24 December 2007

State media serve president’s reelection bid, while independent journalists seem doomed to disappear

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Reporters Without Borders monitored the state media’s coverage of the campaign for today’s presidential election in which Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s authoritarian leader for the past 18 years, has been comfortably reelected with 88,1 per cent of the vote. It has also evaluated the situation of press freedom in the country by talking to its few remaining independent journalists.

(JPEG) The organisation spent a month in Uzbekistan without government permission in order to analyse how the state media covered the election campaign.

“It was no surprise to find that President Karimov was everywhere in the state media throughout the campaign,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He was never portrayed to the public as a candidate but as the president, with his ‘achievements’ and his ‘great successes.’ The glaring lack of pluralism in the Uzbek media prevented the public from having proper access to information.”

The organisation added: “Press freedom is in great danger in Uzbekistan. The handful of independent journalists who continue to practice their trade are exposed to grave reprisals. The foreign media are unable to operate freely there and are forced to use cunning in order to be able to continue covering Uzbek developments.”

A Reporters Without Borders team spent four weeks measuring the air time and newspaper space given to the four presidential candidates. The media monitored were the three main official dailies - Halk Suzy, Narodnoe Slovo (Voice of the People) and Pravda Vostoka (Truth of the East) - two state TV stations, TV Uzbekistan and Yoshlar, and Radio Uzbekistan, the main public radio station.(JPEG)

The special programmes dedicated to the campaign offered equal access to all the candidates. Karimov was the one who appeared least in these programmes and no interview with him was broadcast. But the situation was very different in the state media’s news programmes, in which Karimov and all the national successes attributed to him were over-represented.

Karimov got more air-time than the other three candidates combined in the news programmes. TV Uzbekistan, for example, gave him a total of 1 hour and 4 minutes, compared with 59 minutes for all the others combined. Karimov was virtually the sole candidate covered in Yoshlar’s news programmes. Only one other was mentioned. This was Asliddin Rustamov of the People’s Democratic Party (the former Communist Party), who got just 72 seconds.

In general, the broadcast media’s news bulletins and news programmes paid little attention to the election campaign, concentrating instead on social and economic subjects. Radio Uzbekistan dedicated only 17 minutes and 30 seconds to the candidates, as against 1 hour and 23 minutes to Karimov’s activities and 3 hours and 14 minutes to stories not involving any of the political actors concerned. A similar bias was seen in the print media. Every issue of the monitored dailies set aside space for campaign coverage that began on the front page and was identifiable by its special formatting. Each candidate was mentioned in these special sections, but the content of the articles was virtually identical in each of the newspapers and was provided by the state news agency UzA.

Karimov was always linked to economic successes and ongoing reforms while the other candidates were described as “representing an alternative in the democratic process of the elections.” The space allocated to each candidate varied from paper to paper but Karimov always got more. He got, for example, a total of 6,228 sq cm of space in Halk Suzy, compared with 3,480 for his rivals.

End of independent journalism

There are no longer any independent Uzbek news media. The process of muzzling Uzbek society that began six or

seven years ago gained pace after the May 2005 uprising and massacre in Andijan. Foreign news media such as the BBC and Radio Free Europe were expelled. All independent journalists have become targets and, since 2006, those who want to work for foreign news media have to request accreditation from the foreign ministry. Many topics are off-limits and unpredictability is the rule. Subjects that could be covered yesterday are banned today.

The harassment was reinforced even more in the runup to today’s presidential election. Although Germany favours easing the EU sanctions that were adopted after Andijan, the local stringers of the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle have been singled out this year and one of them had to flee the country and remains in exile.

Both threats and obstructive red-tape are standard practice. Journalists are sometimes also beaten up, as was the case on at least two occasions in 2005. To ensure that nothing escapes the government’s control during the elections, a member of the special services was even appointed to the Central Electoral Commission’s press centre.

The complete Reporters Without Borders report is available :

PDF - 833.7 kb

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