Tajikistan is introducing systematic state censorship of the content broadcast by independent privately-owned radio stations and TV channels by means of the conditions that the state-controlled Television and Radio Committee (KTR) is imposing on the renewal of their licences, which takes place every year in late spring.
For this year’s licence renewal, more than 30 broadcast media are required to submit all of their proposed editorial productions in a foreign language – including Russian, which is widely used in Tajikistan – for prior approval. Those that refuse will lose their licence.
“On the spurious pretext of improving the quality of the privately-owned media, the Tajik authorities are again reinforcing their censorship and control over the last bastions of independent journalism,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We call for the immediate withdrawal of these new broadcasting conditions and we urge the authorities to respect the privately-owned media’s pluralism and freedom of expression.”
As well as submitting their own content for approval, independent TV channels will now be required to broadcast content provided by the state media, when requested by the authorities. They will also have to send journalists to all official events and to “strictly follow the country’s policy on information.” And they will be forbidden to strike deals with foreign media and broadcast any of their journalistic productions without prior permission from the KTR.
The KTR is also demanding payment of 1% of their profits and has increased the annual cost of a licence 20-fold, to 13,000 somoni (950 euros). Some independent TV channels and radio stations are liable to lose their licence because of the increased cost burden.
Nuriddin Karshiboyev, the head of the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT), RSF’s partner, described these requirements as “illegal” and said he plans to challenge them in the courts.
The draconian new measures were preceded by comments by President Emomali Rahmon on Radio Tajikistan on 10 March calling on the Tajik media to improve by providing “real and impartial information.” He also warned of the danger posed by foreign media, which – he said – try to impose the ideology of their countries.
A week before that, at a meeting at the headquarters of the state-owned newspaper Jumhuriyat on 3 March, a presidential adviser asked journalists to be more “active and united” in the “information war” against opposition media, and implicitly recognised that the authorities were using the services of a troll factory.
In the wake of these instructions, a disinformation campaign designed to discredit media such as Radio Ozodi, the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, began on social media.
As a result of President Rahmon’s increasingly repressive policies, Tajikistan has fallen 46 places in RSF's World Press Freedom Index since 2015 and is now ranked 162nd out of 180 countries.