Independent radio station denied license

New York, July 19, 2002—After delaying its decision for nearly four years, the Tajik government last week refused a broadcast license to the independent media agency Asia Plus.

Asia Plus applied in August 1998 to open a radio station in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, where only state-run television and radio stations operate. The agency received a brief reply from the State Committee for Television and Radio on July 8, 2002, stating that a second radio station in Dushanbe was “unnecessary.”

Asia Plus director Umed Babakhanov told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he believes there are two reasons for the committee’s decision. “The first is that the state doesn’t want competition in this market and wishes to maintain its monopoly. The second reason is that some top officials fear the appearance of an independent station that is outside their control.”

Lawyers from the nonprofit media-training agency Internews Tajikistan plan to assist Asia Plus in challenging the committee’s ruling. “Asia Plus has a good reputation for quality programming and for highlighting stories that affect the people of Tajikistan,” said Roshan Khadivi, the country director for Internews. “There’s a political angle to this case, as well as a commercial one,” she added.

In a May 8 letter to Tajik foreign minister Talbak Nazarov, CPJ deplored the lack of plurality in television and radio outlets in Tajikistan. Government officials routinely deny independent television and radio stations broadcast licenses, and although 15 independent television stations operate in the republic, most are located in the north, far from large population areas and with very limited audiences. There is only one independent radio station in Tajikistan, and it, too, has only local reach.

“We are very concerned that, after an unreasonable delay, the authorities have denied a license to Asia Plus,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on the State Committee for Television and Radio to speed up its procedure for awarding licenses, and to reconsider its refusal of a license to Asia Plus.”