On June 27, media workers across Uzbekistan (presumably) celebrated a day named in their honor. The 19th iteration of Mass Media Workers' Day was noted in a speech by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, where he cautioned the nation’s journalists not to “succumb to euphoria and get overexcited” about Uzbekistan’s many achievements.
Karimov was not specific about exactly which achievements the media should not get excited about, but he knew that they knew what he meant. “I am confident that you will agree that the whole world acknowledges our tremendous achievements and successes,” Karimov said, reminding the nation’s media that it needed “to reflect reality objectively.”
According to rights groups, however, objective information is harder to find in Uzbekistan than almost any other country in the world. The country ranks just ahead of North Korea in Freedom House’s 2012 Freedom of the Press
report, is one of the 10 most censored countries
in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and was named one of Reporters Without Borders’ “enemies of the Internet
A dictatorship since independence in 1991, Uzbekistan became especially hostile to independent media after the 2005 massacre in Andijon. Following the events, the government cracked down heavily on civil society and expelled all foreign journalists. RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Radio Ozodlik, was also barred from operating inside the country. Today, the state maintains strict controls over all print and broadcast media, and heavily filters the Internet. That is, unless you ask the authorities.
On Mass Media Workers' Day in 2011, Karimov rejected claims that his government censored the web. "We absolutely do not accept the establishment of any walls, [or] limitations in the information world leading to isolation," he said. A press release issued by the Uzbek government for the 2012 celebration praised the diversification of Uzbek media. It reads: "Before independence, all the media structures in the country...were the bodies of state power and governance. Today, more than 60 percent of the mass communication media registered in our country are considered private.”
Interestingly, as the Uzbek government unironically celebrated its media workers, CNN aired a report on the country where "echoes of the ancient Silk Road are everywhere." The seven-minute piece mentions Karimov's dictatorial tendencies only in passing (in the first minute), saying the country "stands with one foot in the past, and one foot in the modern world," which is a "sometimes uneasy transition for a former Soviet republic."
WATCH: "Uzbekistan Redefines Itself on Global Stage"
- Deana Kjuka & Alisher Sidikov
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