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Monday, May 02, 2005

 

Rules for Uzbek journalists

On the web site of the Committee for Freedom of Speech and Expression of Uzbekistan, a journalist using the pseudonym D. Morphius describes the unwritten rules that hinder Uzbek reporters:

The most closed theme for Uzbek media is, certainly, the country’s president. Journalists are strictly prohibited to touch upon his personality, criticize the rules he introduces or doubt anything he initiates.

His title is always written with a capital letter, although titles of his colleagues may be written with a lower-case letter.

No one can also compare him to any other president or statesman or anybody else or call simply Karimov or use his initials (live VVP for Russian president Vladimir Putin).

It has to be acknowledged that there is no personality cult in the country as such – Islam Karimov prevented all attempts to create it right from the start. This, however, does not stop the official media from constantly praising him.

One can also never say that the government violates the Constitution or other laws, even when this is evident.

Political analyses can only be made if they reflect the leading role of the president in building the bright future. Thoughts about the structure of the authorities, society, economy and possible perspectives have no chances to be published.

Such an important issue as introduction of the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic one was never raised in the media of Uzbekistan. In the same way, most of the urgent matters are never discussed in the country.

The second most important “sacred cow” for Uzbek media is the country’s independence. None of them can say that something has worsened after the country had attained independence. Independence Day is the main holiday in the republic. Each year, huge money is spent for grand celebrations in the country’s capital and all major cities, but nobody can ask how much is spent for these purposes.

Nobody can doubt that “Uzbekistan is a country with a great future”.

Speaking about secrets, it has to be said that in Uzbekistan it’s also hard to know what is a secret. Article 5 of the Law “On protecting state secrets” states that “Classification and declassification of information is done in accordance with the present Law, Regulations on the order of defining and establishing data secrecy level and the List of data subject to classification in Uzbekistan, which are approved by the Cabinet of Ministers”. However, these regulations and the list themselves are kept secret.

There are no materials about the opposition in the country. Similarly, no news on demonstrations or protests can be found in the local media.

Names of opposition parties and their leaders are under the ban. Well, some of them may be named, but only as famous terrorists.

Another banned theme is the vertical of power. For example, one cannot ask why the regional governors or other officials, including judges, are not elected but appointed by the president.

And the last and the most secret theme is censorship. Notably, even the president himself is censored when he says something unintentionally. What he says is immediately reported by the BBC, Deutsche Welle, AP and other agencies, but the skilled editors of the Uzbek TV or radio stations know that this cannot be aired.

Issues like poverty and unemployment, untimely payment of salaries and low living standards are also banned.

Thoughts about the general business atmosphere in the country are prohibited. No newspaper can publish in-depth materials on this topic, since any attempt of analysis will reveal economic problems.

One of the most closed themes is child labor. Each year, tens of thousands of school and university students and their teachers pick cotton. The children in villages are in the worst situation – they cannot study for months, working in the cotton fields instead.

Low salaries of teachers lead to widespread corruption in the universities. Articles on this are not only prohibited in the press, but are also blocked on the Internet.

One of the peculiarities of the national history is that all famous personalities that have lived on the territory of modern Uzbekistan are named “our great ancestors”. Their ill deeds are never mentioned. Thus, according to modern historians, Tamerlane was an extremely kind and humane statesman. The official doctrine states that he had built cities and united the country, but says nothing about the fact that those cities were built by slaves from the conquered states.

Whole epochs like the so-called “colonial period” have fallen out of the history and are evaluated mostly negatively.

Bolsheviks, October Revolution as well as names like Lenin, Stalin and Marx are under the ban.

One journalist told the author about a case when the TV company management ordered to cut out all parts of a French film about the events in the early 20th century containing the word “revolution”.

The World War II, according to official mythology, started in 1941. To avoid using the Soviet term “The Great Patriotic War”, the Cabinet resolutions state: “World War II of 1941-1945”. This is why, when writing about that period, journalists have to say either “World War Two” or “war with fascism”. Only the history textbooks say that the World War II started in 1939.

Homosexualism is a secret theme in Uzbekistan and is never raised. The country’s Criminal Code contains an article prosecuting homosexuals.

Mahalla (neighborhood) committees are never criticized in the country, although most agree that they have turned from an organ of citizens’ self-governance into a controlling body.

Family violence is a theme that is sometimes raised in the press. However, there is no statistics on family violence in the republic. The same is with data on suicides, crime, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases (except for HIV).

Papers cannot publish caricatures on real politicians or officials and write critically about the state-supported kinds of sports – kurash (national wrestling) and tennis. The ban on billiard clubs remained unreported in the country’s media.

Below is a small list of words which are banned from use in the newspapers, on the radio and TV:

shahid (terrorist should be used instead),
despotism,
tyranny,
clans,
communist party,
rebels, and
revolution.

The following words can be used but only when the materials is not about Uzbekistan:

corruption,
dictatorship,
mafia,
nationalism,
slavery,
torture,
poverty,
opposition,
human rights,
women’s rights,
speech freedom, and
free world.

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