Uzbekistan has hugely simplified accreditation procedures for foreign journalists and, after a long hiatus, granted accreditation to a reporter with the BBC.
In the meantime, however, it continues to keep employees of U.S.-funded broadcaster RFE/RL at arm’s length, prompting concerns over the extent of its openness to robust media scrutiny.
As of June 4, the process of obtaining long-term journalistic accreditation from the Foreign Ministry has – in theory – been shortened to five days. In former times, even successful applications could take up to two months. Rejections were the norm, however.
Although the timeframes have been tightened, the steps toward receipt of the press card remain unchanged. An applying journalist must first receive a positive recommendation from the Uzbek diplomatic mission where their publication is based. Achieving that requires providing information about the publication and its sources of funding. Freelance reporters are still are a largely alien concept.
Also on June 4, the Foreign Ministry approved accreditation for Avazbek Takhirov as correspondent for the Uzbek service of the BBC. The British broadcaster has been denied official permission to operate in Uzbekistan since 2005, following the bloody unrest in the Ferghana Valley town of Andijan. Following the government’s harsh suppression of an uprising there, all BBC reporters were ordered to leave the country and the broadcaster’s website was blocked.
During Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to France in October, he was asked unexpectedly by a BBC correspondent when the broadcaster might be allowed to return. Mirziyoyev pledged that this would happen soon. Last month, a long-standing block on the BBC Uzbek website, along with that of several other independent media outlets, including Eurasianet, was lifted.
While things are looking up for some outlets, RFE/RL is still being regarded with considerable suspicion.
Umid Bobomatov, a correspondent for the radio’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, revealed on his Facebook page on June 5 that he had been denied entry into Uzbekistan when he arrived on a flight from Moscow.
Ozodlik has come under sustained verbal attack from media officials in Tashkent. In May, Komil Allamjonov, the head of the state agency for information and mass communication, accused the broadcaster of violating journalistic ethics.
“Questions are raised by Ozodlik’s one-sided and prejudicial editorial policies. [The broadcaster] tends to a considerable degree to publish tendentious and often inaccurate material, which ultimately misleads the public and global audiences in general,” Allamjonov said in a May 20 post on Facebook.
Allamjonov did not specify which specific materials had caused concern.