Journalists

Tajik journalists Abdullah Ashurov, Jamila Mirbozkhonova, Aslam Muminov, Marhabo Azamatovna

One of the good things about being a journalist in Tajikistan is that you have a lot more independence that those working in government, say the four journalists I chatted with recently. As an example, one of them showed me a full-page story she wrote about her trip to Jaipur, India.

I met the four through a contact in Dushanbe. Aslam Muminov is an economics editor and also reports for the only daily newspaper in Tajikistan, Imruz News. I haven’t seen a copy of it, so I don’t know if both words are in Cyrillic or if News is spelled with the Latin alphabet. Imruz means “today’s” and the four joked that one word is in Tajik and the other in English. Abdullah Ashurov, who went to university in Russia as well as Tajikistan and who has worked for a Russian newspaper and the Russian publication AsiaPlus (English version at news.tj/en) now works for a youth program on Radio Liberty. Marhabo Azamatovna is the chief editor of the Russian Language Program for the National Information Agency of Tajikistan “Khovar.” Jamila Mirbozkhonova is a political and feature reporter for the weekly newspaper Ozodagon. All have Tajik university education in journalism, history or economics and all are full-time, professional journalists, between their late twenties and forties (I am guessing their ages, based on their appearance.) Asia Plus is a popular news source in Tajikistan, for those who have Internet access.

In this blog post, I am summarizing what they told me, but have not been able to verify it — not because I tried and couldn’t get verification, but because I have not yet talked with anyone else about these topics and I can’t read Cyrillic, let alone Tajik or Russian. So all the comments below are from their perspective – working in a language that is not their own, but that they speak moderately well. Plus, you will notice that they talked only of print journalism.

Another good thing about being a journalist, they told me, is that journalists can help poor people. People with problems come to them and ask them to write about it, and then people in the government see the stories and sometimes help. When I interviewed a broadcast journalist in China 10 years ago, I was told the same story. The people came to the journalists for help, rather than the government, because with the publicity, the government is more likely to remedy the situation.

The conversation quickly moved to some of the aspects that are not good for Tajik journalists.

Running a newspaper is expensive. An independent (from the government) newspaper makes its money through circulation and advertising. The advertising market is quite small in Tajikistan. Circulation of most newspapers is also quite small, perhaps 2-3,000 for most of them. Newspapers cost 1.5 to 2 somoni (about 30-40 U.S. cents), which is expensive for most Tajiks. We were speaking in the American Corner in Dushanbe – two rooms full of computers and information about the US run by the embassy in one of the university buildings – and I noticed that the three newspapers Jamila brought to show me were quickly snatched up by onlookers to be read while the five of us talked.

A big expense for newspapers is the newsprint. The Freedom House site (www.freedomhouse.org) reports that the government controls newsprint distribution. However, my four colleagues disagreed and said the government does not control any of the companies that import the newsprint from Russia (none is manufactured in Tajikistan), but the paper is expensive. So is printing, although there are numerous printers in town. But, they continued, the government does assert some control on circulation through the mail. Independent publications must pay relatively high postal rates while government sponsored publications are posted at a much lower rate.

Another way that the government influences news content is that access to information can be difficult for a journalist working for an independent news source. The laws do not require ministry officials to give information to journalists or to the public. The government officials will frequently ignore requests and give what information they do want publicized to the government supported media.

The lack of technology is another problem for the Tajik journalists. The newspapers cannot pay for phone use or laptops for their reporters, although they may have computers in their offices.

The print media are technically free (although I believe the television broadcasting stations are government owned, or at least heavily government regulated). However, government officials can still harass journalists who become too critical of the President or of other political or economic doings. Not that my four friends are afraid that they would be put into jail, at least not longer than a few months, but they and their newspapers can be harassed in other ways, such as having their taxes raised and eventually being forced out of business.

I read on the Reporters Without Borders site (www.en.rsf.org) that Dodojon Atovulloev, a Tajik journalist who founded the first opposition newspaper after Tajikistan’s independence and who was forced out of Tajikistan in 2001, was stabbed in the stomach while at a restaurant in Moscow last month. He was badly hurt, but survived. Atovulloev now lives in Hamburg and Moscow and maintains editorial offices there.

The last problem that Jamilia, Abdullah, Aslam and Marhoba talked about was journalists’ pay. They work hard for little pay and many journalists have other jobs to make ends meet. This would mean that they have less time to do their reporting jobs.

I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that these four busy journalists gave me on that winter afternoon and hope to learn more about their profession in Tajikistan as well as keeping in touch with them. The fact that they said I could report what they said using their names shows that Tajik journalism is different from the time of the Soviet Union.

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4 thoughts on “Journalists

  1. dave sennerud

    It’s always interesting to see the condition of journalism in other countries. We often complain about our own situations but don’t realize that we have it pretty good.

  2. Interesting. Why is there only one daily newspaper? Is it that the population isn’t large enough, government control, the economy, etc.? Is there any “underground” press there that publishes information more critical of the government?

    I would be curious to know how these journalists regard freedom of the press, U.S.-style. Would they think it too unfettered in its excess, or would they want it for themselves?

    • I would like to have conversations with other journalists and get answers to some of these questions. I would like to know more about the pother forms of information (magazines, underground pubs, etc.) as well as broadcast journalism. I believe that most of the “critical” information comes from Asia Plus, which is published in newspaper form here, but is also available online, for those few Tajiks who have access. It is in Russian (a common language here) and also there is an English version. Once I have access to Wifi everyday at home, when I get to Khujand, I will be checking it out regularly.

      From the conversation, I am guessing that they only have one daily newspaper because that is all they can afford. Although the cost of a newspaper is minimal to us, it is a lot for most Tajiks, and so it is difficult to get the advertising necessary to support a newspaper because of the size of its circulation. Plus, advertising is not that lucrative because of the size of the consumer market (although Coke, RC and Snickers seem to be doing well.)

      • Sugar rules everywhere! LOL.

        I had the opportunity to attend the World Editors Forum/World Newspaper Congress in 2009 in India with a bunch of journalism students and faculty from my university. It was fascinating to hear first-hand how the press was faring around the world. At the time, the trend was very positive, just the opposite of what it was at home. I recall some glowing accounts from India, central Europe, etc. It makes me more curious about what’s happening in the former USSR.

        Thanks for your post. More power to these journalists!

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