(Prague, Czech Republic--April 17, 2003) All of the speakers at a recent RFE/RL conference on "Media Challenges in Central Asia" agreed that the state of the media -- whether newspapers, television, radio stations, or the Internet -- cannot be considered without reference to political reality in the region. Indeed, with the exception of Afghanistan, the conference revealed that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are still at the very beginning of the path to a free press.
Opening the conference, RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine noted that "not one of [the countries of Central Asia] is a democracy, not one of them has a free press, and not one of them is building a genuine market economy, nor even prospering... It is therefore incumbent upon us, as people who care about democracy, to pay attention."
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve echoed Dine's comments concerning the media, stating that "I am extremely critical about the structure of free media in these countries... I have a great respect for [journalists'] courage if they do something against the power structure. And the power structure is former leading Communist dictators that have taken over democracy... We are entering a phase of feudalism."
Speakers at the conference, held at RFE/RL's Prague broadcast operations center, included leading free media advocates such as OSCE free media representative Duve, BBC World Media editor Peter Feuilherade and Internews International Executive Director Eric Johnson. The situation of the media in each of the countries of the region was addressed by RFE/RL language service directors Abbas Djavadi, Andres Ilves, Adolat Najimova, Naz Nazar, Merkhat Sharipzhanov and Tyntchtybek Tchoroev and broadcaster Alik Guilmoulline, as well as Broadcasting Director Michele DuBach, Regional Analysis Director Virginie Coulloudon and analyst Amin Tarzi