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After the Czars and Commissars: Journalism in Authoritarian Post-Soviet Central Asia

Eric Freedman
Richard Shafer
Series-Editor NORMAN A. GRAHAM
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    After the Czars and Commissars
    Book Description:

    From Czarism and Bolshevism to the current post-communist era, the media in Central Asia has been tightly constrained. Though the governments in the region assert that a free press is permitted to operate, research has shown this to be untrue. In all five former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the media has been controlled, suppressed, punished, and often outlawed. This enlightening collection of essays investigates the reasons why these countries have failed to develop independent and sustainable press systems. It documents the complex relationship between the press and governance, nation-building, national identity, and public policy. In this book, scholars explore the numerous and broad-reaching implications of media control in a variety of contexts, touching on topics such as Internet regulation and censorship, press rights abuses, professional journalism standards and self-censorship, media ownership, ethnic newspapers, blogging, Western broadcasting into the region, and coverage of terrorism.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-228-2
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Theoretical Foundations for Researching the Roles of the Press in Today’s Central Asia
    (pp. 1-16)
    Eric Freedman

    From the onset of Bolshevism through the era of postcommunist authoritarianism in Central Asia, a continuum of constraints has restricted the media. Lenin’s candid acknowledgment that press freedom and public access to information could threaten his young regime was followed by Josef Stalin’s acknowledgment of the power of a controlled press to sustain the Communist Party and its government. More recently, Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s made a bold—but patently false—assertion that “there was never in Turkmenistan any pressure on the press” (Krastev 2007), despite the government’s reputation as one of the world’s most repressitarian regimes. The techniques and...


    • Soviet Foundations of the Post-Independence Press in Central Asia
      (pp. 19-32)
      Richard Shafer

      Throughout the Soviet Union, the press was assigned the role of propagandist, collective agitator, and educator, to build the Communist Party and to further Marxist-Leninist ideology. The guiding principle was the media's subordination to the party, the single voice and agent of the working class. Although the press did not favor free expression, it did push for a positive role for itself in society and acted as an agent of international propaganda for the Soviet system and for the USSR as a nation.

      The region known as Central Asia today was for centuries referred to as Turkestan. Before effective Russian...


    • Oligarchs and Ownership: The Role of Financial-Industrial Groups in Controlling Kazakhstan’s “Independent” Media
      (pp. 35-58)
      Barbara Junisbai

      Kazakhstan is known for its authoritarian political system and the absence of guarantees protecting citizens’ fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Under the rule of president Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has been in power since 1989,¹ a variety of mechanisms—formal and informal, legal and de facto—has been used to control the media and to limit political contestation. Web sites posting critical political views are routinely blocked, opposition newspapers are closed or denied access to printing presses, and journalists are subject to criminal investigations and even physical violence. Journalists engage in self-censorship, and the range...

    • Reinforcing Authoritarianism through Media Control: The Case of Post-Soviet Turkmenistan
      (pp. 59-78)
      Luca Anceschi

      Total control over national media featured prominently in the evolution of authoritarianism in post-Soviet Turkmenistan. Since its first edition in 2002, the annual Press Freedom Index from the Paris-based NGO Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) has regularly ranked the Turkmenistani regime as one of the most serious offenders of press freedom internationally (RSF 2009). In the “List of Most Censored Countries,” compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in 2006, the Turkmenistani state occupied third place, after North Korea and Myanmar (CPJ 2007), and the list of “10 Worst Countries to Be a Blogger” also includes Turkmenistan (CPJ 2009).


    • Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kyrgyzstan as Presented in Vecherniy Bishkek: A Radical Islamist Organization through the Eyes of Kyrgyz Journalists
      (pp. 79-98)
      Irina Wolf

      For ordinary people, knowledge about any radical clandestine organization usually comes from the mass media rather than from direct interaction. In theory, given the space and resource limitations of print media, it is expected that newspapers create reduced but not distorted pictures of events or social phenomena. In practice, the media intentionally create images that would be in line with state policies—if owned or heavily influenced by the government—or with any other force standing behind the media. The importance of some issues is manipulated by garnering prominent, high-priority coverage aimed at making readers not only think about them...

    • The Future of Internet Media in Uzbekistan: Transformation from State Censorship to Monitoring of Information Space since Independence
      (pp. 99-122)
      Zhanna Hördegen

      The Internet remains an underused means of expression for the majority of citizens in Uzbekistan (United Nations Development Programme 2007; Guard 2004, 203). Connectivity is not the main obstacle, because it has kept improving since the state monopoly on access was abandoned in 2002.¹ The government also demonstrates strong commitments to develop the infrastructure of modern technologies.² Still, amid subsequent liberalization of Internet services, access and use remain a challenging task due to the state’s control of the medium. As the OpenNet Initiative reports, the Uzbek government maintains the most extensive and pervasive state-mandated filtering system in Central Asia (Deibert...

    • Journalistic Self-Censorship and the Tajik Press in the Context of Central Asia
      (pp. 123-140)
      Peter Gross and Timothy Kenny

      Tajikistan’s constitution and press law have officially ended censorship. Despite such legal directives, however, the government and power elites continue to control the media—directly and indirectly—and to frame a constricting press atmosphere that forces media owners, editors, and reporters into “politically correct” editorial choices. A list of the government’s overt acts of censorship is long. Major opposition newspapers have been closed, foreign broadcasting has been banned from the airwaves, and the Communications Ministry has demanded that Tajikistan’s Internet service provider “filter and block access to Websites on the Internet that aim to undermine the state’s policies in the...


    • Loyalty in the New Authoritarian Model: Journalistic Rights and Duties in Central Asian Media Law
      (pp. 143-160)
      Olivia Allison

      After almost twenty years transitioning from a single-party press, Central Asia was still defined by a set of laws and behavioral patterns that restricted media pluralism, which stemmed from early the early 1990s. This chapter assesses how Central Asian media law has developed by analyzing both journalists’ and governments’ behaviors leading to the restrictive press environment. On one hand, governments overlooked the relatively wide freedoms guaranteed by post-Soviet media laws, gradually passing newer, more oppressive laws; they also targeted all enforcement measures at the most troublesome media outlets. On the other hand, by failing to comply with laws and professional...

    • Ethnic Minorities and the Media in Central Asia
      (pp. 161-184)
      Olivier Ferrando

      The most captivating feature of Central Asia is undoubtedly its multiethnic and multilingual population. This mosaic of peoples and languages results from a rich precolonial history, as well as the legacy of the Russian and Soviet empires. The region was structured during the national-territorial demarcation that the Soviet authorities ordered in 1923 to lay the foundations of modern Central Asia (Haugen 2003). Five native peoples—Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Turkmens—were promoted to the rank of ethnic groups, or “nationalities” in Soviet terminology, and given national republics. However, their intertwined settlements made the initial plan of five ethnically homogeneous...

    • Journalists at Risk: The Human Impact of Press Constraints
      (pp. 185-198)
      Eric Freedman

      Central Asia has been physically and psychologically dangerous territory for journalists, both in the Soviet era and afterward. The reasons are many, including the authoritarian nature of its regimes; the lack of a tradition of independent media; inadequate education and training opportunities for journalists; pressure on journalists and their news organizations to nurture the development and public acceptance of national identity and statehood; and dependence on governments, political parties, oligarchs, business interests, and foreign donors for economic survival. Legal and extra-legal restraints also pose perils for journalists whose work is viewed as a threat or embarrassment to the ruling administration;...

    • International Broadcasting to Uzbekistan: Does It Still Matter?
      (pp. 199-214)
      Navbahor Imamova

      The twentieth century gave the world its first true mass medium. And within a few years of its birth, radio had emerged as a weapon that both powerful and weak governments could use to spread their national ideologies, promote their geopolitical objectives, improve their political and cultural image, gain social influence, and in some cases, cast light into the darkness for those deprived of freedom of speech and expression.

      Some governments have traditionally used international broadcasting to persuade foreign audiences of the superiority of their system. The Soviets, for example, maintained a global network to spread the seeds of communism....


    • Journalism Education and Professional Training in Kazakhstan: From the Soviet Era to Independence
      (pp. 217-232)
      Maureen J. Nemecek, Stan Ketterer, Galiya Ibrayeva and Stanislav Los

      This chapter traces journalism education in Kazakhstan as reflected in the eyes of some of its teachers. It recounts the legacy of Soviet times, the struggle to find a footing after independence in 1991, and recent developments in higher education—in both the Strategic Plan of Development of Kazakhstan, 2005–10, with goals set by the Ministry of Education and Sciences (MOES), and bottom-up initiatives from teachers at public and private universities (MOES 2006, 6). Kazakhstani and U.S. researchers used in-depth interviews with veteran journalists and teachers, a focus group of administrators, and a survey of teachers in university journalism...

    • Professionalism among Journalists in Kyrgyzstan
      (pp. 233-244)
      Gregory Pitts

      The crumbling of the Warsaw Pact in the early 1990s, followed by the breakup of the Soviet Union, led to major economic, social, and political reforms across much of Eastern Europe. Foreign aid, business investment, and academic assistance flowed into the region. Among the desired reforms was development of an independent press in much of the region. Meanwhile, the five “stan” countries of Central Asia—Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan—declared their independence but retained the same authoritarian leaders. Efforts to foster development of a Western-style press and democratic governance have stumbled badly in Central Asia (Kenny and Gross...


    • Internet Libel Law and Freedom of Expression in Tajikistan
      (pp. 247-262)
      Kristine Kohlmeier and Navruz Nekbakhtshoev

      On July 30, 2007, Tajikistan president Emomali Rakhmonov signed amendments to the country’s criminal code to extend the application of existing libel laws to the Internet. Article 135, for example, was amended to say: “Defamation, contained in public presentations, mass media, orInternet sites,is punished by obligatory labor from 180 to 240 hours or by fines from 500 to 1000 times the minimum yearly salary, or imprisonment up to two years” (emphasis added). The national assembly (Majlisi Oli) enacted the legislation limiting the right of freedom of expression online despite Tajikistan's minuscule number of Internet users. Although the government...

    • Blogging Down the Dictator? The Kyrgyz Revolution and Samizdat Web Sites
      (pp. 263-286)
      Svetlana V. Kulikova and David D. Perlmutter

      Kyrgyzstan, a small Central Asian country of five million people, made the front pages of print and Web newspapers and the broadcast leads of the world media on March 24, 2005. On that day, President Askar Akayev, who had ruled the former Soviet republic for fourteen years, fled the country after a series of large public protests, including one in which demonstrators seized the government building in the capital of Bishkek. As in many such events, narrative and causality were in the eye of the beholder. Western media, drawing parallels with earlier uprisings in the Republic of Georgia and Ukraine,...

  9. CONCLUSION: Through the Crystal Ball
    (pp. 287-294)
    Richard Shafer

    The end of the Cold War represented an apparent victory for by NATO, capitalism, free enterprise, and democracy over Marxism-Leninist communism, the Warsaw Pact, and the Russian-Soviet empire. With that watershed event, the five newly independent states of Central Asia emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union as potentially committed to free enterprise economic systems and democratic governance. At least that was the hope of Western democracies and human rights advocates. Unfortunately, we have documented a long list of obstacles to the development of functional and effective Central Asian press systems that could serve as public advocates and independent...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 295-299)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)