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Respected journalist Rajabi Mirzo is the paper's new editor in chief.
Respected journalist Rajabi Mirzo is the paper's new editor in chief.
For the first time in nearly two decades, Tajiks will be able to start their day by leafing through the pages of their own daily newspaper.

"Imruz News" (News Today), launched on Monday, is a fairly standard black-and-white, four-page newspaper that covers a broad range of issues -- politics, economics, international news.

But the paper, in becoming the first Tajik daily to be published regularly since 1992, is turning modern convention on its head.

Dire financial straits wreaked havoc on many Soviet-era Tajik news publications following independence, forcing those that survived to become weeklies. Now, as media outlets worldwide struggle to reinvent themselves for an online future, "Imruz News" is taking a page from tradition and will come out five times a week.

As newspapers worldwide have killed their foreign bureaus, "Imruz News" has set up a network of correspondents placed in Tajikistan's regions and far-flung places such as Washington, Tehran, Istanbul, as well former Soviet republics such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The opinion of Tajik media is that "Imruz News" won't be struggling financially. Editors of the newspaper have said they are operating with a loan from Tajikistan's Orienbank -- controlled by Hasan Asadullozoda, a highly influential tycoon and brother-in-law of President Emomali Rahmon.

The choice of the editor in chief for the new daily, Rajabi Mirzo, was a pleasant surprise for many newspaper readers in the country. Mirzo enjoys a reputation as an experienced journalist and outspoken critic of the government and of president himself.

Mirzo's own publication, "Ruzi Nav" (New Day), was closed down six years ago by authorities amid widespread criticism that its content had outraged officials.

Mirzo was unemployed for several years until he was offered the editor's position at "Imruz" radio, another independent media organization widely linked to Orienbank.

Can "Imruz News," with its experienced editor in chief and the alleged support of a powerful oligarch, be able to overcome all odds and reacquaint Tajiks with the daily newspaper?

To succeed, it will have to overcome a major obstacle that has doomed its predecessors.

First and foremost, as a daily, "Imruz News" must be able to reach its customers, well, daily. This is no easy task in Tajikistan, where the newspaper, like others, must depend on the Tajik postal service to distribute its product in the regions. The postal service, lacking funds, transport, and personnel, often takes weeks to get letters and publications to addressees.

As a result, newspapers have become a things of the past for many Tajik villagers, and considering that city dwellers have increasingly turned to the Internet for news, it's hard to see how this daily will be able to deliver.

-- Farangis Najibullah