Installing hi-tech equipment in Turkmenistan’s television and radio stations will not improve programme quality as long as the authorities continue to keep journalists on a short leash and censor their work, say NBCentralAsia media-watchers.
On August 17, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov pointed out that there was “a great deal of unfinished work” to do in the media. He said radio news programmes often put out unchecked information, the artistic content of television programmes “leaves a lot to be desired”, and neither radio nor television employs modern technological or journalistic methods.
Berdymuhammedov has been highly critical of the media since assuming office in February, and he has sacked two culture and media ministers in succession.
So far the president has focused his attention on technology rather than programme content. He has issued orders to build a 470 metre high television tower in Ashgabat, making it one of the tallest in the world, and the government has already signed a 3.5 million US dollar deal with a British company, Eurasia Trans Ltd, to supply video editing equipment.
However, NBCentralAsia media watchers say that the president has missed the mark, as no amount of new technology will improve the quality of radio and television programmes in Turkmenistan as long as the authorities continue to enforce strict censorship.
The state currently runs one national radio station and four television channels, which all broadcast in the Turkmen language.
Each TV channel fills around 17 hours of airtime a day, with 10 per cent of this dedicated to home news, a quarter to feature films and cartoons and the rest to music and propaganda programmes which are frequently repeated.
All media heads and chief editors are personally appointed by the president and all printed, audio and video material is censored by the Committee for the Protection of State Secrets in the Press, which comes under the government.
“The state is not ready to give [journalists] any freedom. There is harsh censorship in all media outlets, which is no good for freedom and creativity,” said one journalist from Ashgabat.
University journalism courses were banned in 1997 by the late president Saparmurat Niazov, and most journalists now working in Turkmenistan were either trained during the Soviet era or taught themselves.
A media-watcher based in the country says that there are simply not enough skilled journalists available to bring domestic broadcasting up to modern standards.
“Television needs to develop new programmes and new production ideas, but who’s going to do it? The TV people joke that they have more cameras than people,” he said.
(NBCentralAsia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region)