Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, seemed to be making a move toward greater press freedom on Jan. 4, when it enacted a new media law that ensured freedom of expression and banned censorship. This type of law was a first for Turkmenistan, but many media watchdogs are claiming that the law has done more harm than good.
“For the time being, some of [the law’s] provisions, although very satisfactory on paper, border on the ridiculous when confronted with the reality of journalist practices. The state is supposed to ‘guarantee media pluralism and independence,’ but in practice the media are monolithic and controlled by the state and independent journalism is unthinkable. We strongly urge the authorities to bring practice into line with their own legislation,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in a Jan. 9 statement.
Recently, inspired by the new media law, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has withdrawn from ownership and protection from many of the country’s newspapers. According to Al Jazeera, President Berdymukhamedov previously owned all the country’s 39 publications.
This effort has left many already shaken journalists more uncertain than ever before. Now that news organizations are “independent,” they have to compete on an open market, Eurasianet reported earlier this week. This has caused financial insecurity, considering that most newspapers in the country are considered repetitive mouthpieces that operate at a deficit. Most of the new owners of the news organizations are in the pocket of President Berdymukhamedov.
Freedom House’s 2012 rankings hold Turkmenistan only higher than North Korea in terms of press freedom the world over. Reporters Without Borders has also long placed Turkmenistan in the bottom three countries in the world in terms of press freedom along with North Korea and Eritrea.
According to Al Jazeera, people have turned from print media as a way to get reliable information, instead communicating through word-of-mouth.
"The people are afraid to share information and views because they fear reprisals not only for themselves but for their whole family," Turkmen journalist Anna Soltan said in the article.
Even thought the new media law looks good on paper, it is likely that nothing much will change in Turkmenistan.
By Kelly Moffitt.