Following the 2016 death of President Islam Karimov, circumstances have only barely improved for the media, and criticising state power remains complicated.
Uzbekistan has no private television network. State-owned radio transmits official propaganda, and privately owned radio stations abstain from any criticism for fear of being shut down. The written press serves state interests. Only the approximately 15 online media outlets, some of them based abroad, publish quality content. One of these is the Fergana press agency, based in Moscow, and Ozodlik Radiosi, the Uzbek-language service of the U.S. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, whose broadcasts are jammed. About one-third of the press publish or broadcast in Russian.
The authorities largely control the media, as well as a number of bloggers with close ties to the government. The real opposition, composed of both an Islamic movement with ties to the Taliban and a partly exiled nationalist group, is banned.
Authorities still have not implemented the reforms needed to abolish laws that enable repression of the media. Surveillance, censorship and self-censorship are prevalent. To preserve their independence, local online outlets avoid officially registering as media, running the risk of prosecution and heavy fines for what they publish.
Officials make it a practice of exerting economic pressure, and of trying to corrupt journalists. Development of an independent press is essentially blocked by laws limiting media financing.
Sixty percent of the population of 30 million is under 30 years old. This strong youthful presence, as well as the expansion of internet coverage, explains why social networks are booming, especially Odnoklassniki, Facebook and Telegram. Some groups on these platforms allow the exchange of information on corruption issues, which the official media barely cover.
The last imprisoned journalists, some held for nearly 20 years, have been freed but not rehabilitated. Bloggers are threatened or arrested, as was the case with Otabek Sattory, founder of the Xalq Fikri (People’s Opinion) YouTube channel. He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison in May 2021 in a defamation and extortion case in which he was framed. Reporters who tried to cover his trial were attacked or suffered baseless criminal prosecution.