CPJ alarmed by suspension of BBC FM broadcasts

New York, January 20, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed alarm today at Tajikistan’s suspension of the BBC’s FM radio broadcasts. The British broadcaster said it filed a complaint with the Tajik authorities on January 19 protesting the suspension since January 10 of FM programming in the capital Dushanbe and the northern city of Khujand.

“We are deeply troubled by the suspension of the BBC’s FM broadcasting and call on the authorities in Tajikistan to ensure that the BBC can resume its programming,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Tajikistan has an abysmal press freedom record. Its citizens need access to a broad array of news and opinion in the run-up to the presidential election in November.”

The state Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting suspended the radio frequency after the BBC did not comply with new regulations requiring foreign FM broadcasters to register with the Justice Ministry within 20 days and obtain a media license, according to local and international press reports.

The BBC received notice on December 20 that it was required to register with the Justice Ministry by January 10. It said the deadline was “unrealistic” and that the process usually took up to six months to complete. The Moscow-based media watchdog Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations confirmed that it would take many months to collect and prepare the long list of documents required for registration with the Justice Ministry.

The BBC is the only foreign radio station broadcasting on the popular FM frequency in Tajikistan where residents have almost no access to independent sources of information. The BBC is continuing to broadcast on medium and short wave to Tajikistan.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov said on January 19 that the suspension was only a regulatory matter and not politically motivated, the independent Dushanbe-based Asia-Plus news agency reported.

President Imomali Rakhmonov’s government has shuttered many independent newspapers in the past two years. It increased closures of television and radio stations following a March 2005 popular uprising in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and violent unrest in May in the city of Andijan in neighboring Uzbekistan.