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Central Asia news

Tajik authorities seek to improve the image of the country

16.07.2008 20:34 msk

Ferghana.Ru

Politics Tajikistan

The Tajik authorities are hoping to improve the country's image in the eyes of the international community. What information is available indicates that a special committee for information warfare has been set up under President Emomali Rakhmon. Official Dushanbe, meanwhile, is strong-arming the domestic media into obedience. Journalists are summoned for a friendly chat, while newspapers are threatened with being shutdown for publishing "anti-government" stories.

The decision to establish an information warfare committee was made at a Security Council meeting, behind closed doors, in early July. Implementation of the Information Policy Concept, adopted in 2004, was the only item on the Security Council meeting agenda. Dushanbe is seriously upset by the negative image of the country abroad, where it is known only as a "main transit corridor for trafficking from Afghanistan to Europe", the "source of Gastarbeiters for Russia", or "the poorest country in Central Asia". Authorities fear that such images may frighten potential foreign investors that Tajikistan desperately needs.

The Security Council has now set out to remedy this image. Public relations and image improvement is the prime task of the new committee of seven. The panel is expected to do whatever it takes to improve the image of Tajikistan and that of Rakhmon, himself, in the foreign media, first and foremost within Russia. The committee will react to negative publications on Tajikistan with official statements or attempts to have denunciations published. Tajik ministries and departments have until the end of the year to come up with ideas on how to improve the image of the country.

Not that the new committee will encounter any financial difficulties. Along with everything else, authorities expect Tajik businessmen to donate to the popularization of Tajikistan in the eyes of the international community.

Domestic media outlets discovered themselves in the focus of the authorities' unwanted attention at approximately the same time. Officers of the Interior Ministry and State Security Ministry paid visits to editorial offices of nearly all Tajik newspapers. "Executives of newspapers and news agencies were instructed, at great length, about what materials should be published and what omitted. They were also told of what awaited journalists and their families who had the temerity to step out of line," Charogi Ruz Chief Editor, Dodojon Atovulloyev, said.

As for Atovulloyev himself, Tajik Prosecutor General Bobojon Bobokhonov called this journalist, forced into exile, an "information terrorist". As far as Bobokhonov is concerned, Atovulloyev, in his writings, smear the Tajik people and Tajik state. "Should he persist with slander, we will be compelled to put him on the list of wanted criminals, and Atovulloyev will be brought to answer, at whatever cost," the official said.

Neither were foreign media outlets accredited in Dushanbe forgotten. Correspondent of a Western newspaper working in Tajikistan said local Reuters and BBC correspondents had been summoned to the Tajik Foreign Ministry earlier this week. The authorities were marginally more polite to them and only asked for "objectivity" in their news reporting.

Experts attribute the Tajik authorities' interest in the media to the growing clout and importance of the latter. "Tajik media outlets make more straightforward reports on the developments in Tajikistan and on the president's family than they did before," Atovulloyev said. "The people's respect (for the media) is growing because these journalists are perceived as brave enough to speak the truth, despite the regime." Unfortunately, the Tajik powers-that-be have become alerted to the trend and have moved to crush it.

Kommersant, June 16, 2008, p. 7. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru