Politically themed live broadcasts have been cancelled in Uzbekistan following a on-air confrontation between Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov and the head of the international press club.
The live broadcasts were an innovation ushered in since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power and were seen as a bold experiment in curtailing of journalistic censorship.
But on August 21, when Aripov met with the presidential adviser on media affairs, Hairiddin Sultanov, and journalists at the Uzbek state broadcaster he ordered, in no uncertain terms, a stop to the straight-to-air shows presented by the head of the international press club, Sherzod Kudrathodjayev.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek service cited a journalist present at this charged meeting as saying Aripov confronted Kudrathodjayev directly.
“Look man, you’ve gone too far. Who do you think you are?” Aripov is reported as having said.
“You may be prime minister, but you have no right to yell at me and hassle me like this,” Kudrathodjayev is said to have replied angrily.
The upshot of the meeting was that state broadcasters were ordered to run all their shows past Sultanov for approval.
The encounter has been subject of lively discussion on social media.
On August 24, Kudrathodjayev intervened directly, taking to Facebook to try and contain speculation about this episode.
“It is not right to make assumptions from such instances about the end of democratic changes and the trampling of freedom of speech in our country,” he wrote.
But regardless of such attempts to play things down, things have clearly changed. A journalistic talkshow with the minister of education scheduled to appear on August 23 was cancelled. Another program, Munosabat, presented by popular journalist Kudus Azam, has also been dropped from the airwaves.
Sultanov, the man responsible for holding the line on this matter, is no stranger to censorship. He was appointed to his post 17 years ago — a period marked by intense restrictions on the activities of journalists. Despite this dubious background, Mirziyoyev kept him in his position.
The live press conferences on round-the-clock news channel Uzbekiston24 had become a relatively popular staple for viewers in Uzbekistan for the sheer freshness of the format. They were brought in after remarks made by Mirziyoyev on March 30, when he criticized state television for being mindlessly patriotic and lacking a critical edge.
What Mirziyoyev makes of the decision to drop the live-to-air broadcasts is not yet known.