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Tajikistani journalists learn from local media

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By Randy Patrick

Munim Olamov is grateful to the United States for helping his country’s largest daily newspaper remain viable.

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Days before World Press Freedom Day, on May 3, Olamov, director of Imruz News, joined Elisabeth Millard, U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, for the launch of a new printing press for independent Tajik media that was made possible by a grant from our government.

“I want the American people to know that through this grant, our media organization is able to survive in very difficult times,” Olamov told Forrest Berkshire, editor of The Kentucky Standard, in a meeting Wednesday at the local newspaper’s offices.

Olamov, who is also secretary general of his country’s Public Organization Media Alliance, was one of eight Tajikistani journalists and media executives who visited Bardstown as part of a program hosted by the Louisville-based World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. The journalists are studying both new and traditional media in the U.S.

Later that afternoon, they were to meet with Jim Brooks of the Nelson County Gazette, and the next day were scheduled to visit the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Louisville Public Media, and TV station WDRB. On Friday, they were to meet in Frankfort with Al Cross of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and then with students and faculty of Indiana University Southeast.

Speaking in Russian (the nation’s second language) with the help of translators for the U.S. State Department, the journalists asked Berkshire questions about the Standard and his thoughts on various subjects:

The visiting journalists asked the editor about a wide range of topics, including the use of anonymous sources and the newspaper’s influence with the community and elected officials.

The journalists also shared their own experiences in the difficulties they have in informing the public and holding their government accountable.

Gulnora Amirshoeva, editor of the newspaper Vecherka, said that legally, speech is protected in Tajikistan, but journalists often must practice “self-censorship” because of “economic leverage” the government uses against them. Because of this pressure, many talented editors, publishers and reporters have gotten out of the business, she said.

“Many media outlets have ceased to exist,” Amirshoeva added.

In an interview with the Standard after their meeting with Berkshire, the journalists were asked what their greatest challenge is in reporting the news.

It is limited access to state officials, they agreed.

The government controls a large sector of the economy, so it can exert great influence. It also controls a large part of the media, and unlike the BBC or public media in the U.S., they said, these outlets are not independent of government officials’ influence.

Asked about their impressions of media in this country, Akbarov said he can see that “the American media is fair and judicious in its coverage. That is my personal impression.”

One of the women said she was impressed with all the technological means American news organizations have for reporting and publishing.

Mehrangez Tursunzoda said that in Tajikistan, more newspaper readers read online than in print because the Central Asian former Soviet republic, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, has mountainous terrain that makes it “difficult, logistically, to deliver newspapers.”

Amirshoeva said that as in the U.S., many of the media outlets are small and local. There are some 400 newspapers and magazines in the country.

However, the visiting journalists mostly work for larger, national news organizations.

“All of us in this group are fairly well-known journalists back home,” Olamov said.

As in America, almost everyone in Tajikistan gets access to news sites through their smartphones and social media, they said; however, many Tajikistanis also like to read publications in print.