A banner with a picture of President Emomali Rahmon is seen above the gates of a stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on April 5, 2020. Tajik authorities recently passed new media licensing regulations that could force some outlets to close. (Reuters/Nozim Kalandarov)

New Tajikistan licensing rules restrict independent reporting, increase state fees

Stockholm, May 17, 2021 – Tajik authorities should rescind new licensing regulations for independent television and radio stations and ensure that all media outlets in the country can operate freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On February 10, the Television and Radio Committee, the state-run media regulator, announced new licensing rules for privately owned television and radio stations; earlier in May, the rules began to attract media attention as many outlets’ licenses were due for renewal, according to news reports and representatives of two local advocacy organizations, who spoke to CPJ in phone interviews.

Under the new rules, a copy of which CPJ reviewed, independent TV and radio stations will be obliged to “work within the framework of the country’s unified policy in the information sphere” and “unquestioningly comply” with the Television and Radio Committee’s orders.

Independent outlets will also be required to pay 13,000 somoni (US $1,140) to obtain their five-year licenses, a significant increase from previous rates, and will have to contribute 1 percent of their annual revenue to the committee, according to the text of the rules and the advocacy representatives.

Refusal to sign licensing agreements issued under the new rules will result in the denial of an outlet’s operating license, according to those reports, which stated that the financial burdens alone could force some outlets to close.

“The new broadcast licensing requirements imposed by Tajik authorities are a clear attempt to stifle what remains of independent media reporting in the country,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “The Tajik government should not only repeal these unreasonable new demands, but should work to remove all restrictions on independent outlets and let the media work freely.”

Nuriddin Karshiboev, head of the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan, an independent advocacy organization, told CPJ that the new regulations amounted to the “monopolization” of the television and radio sectors by the Television and Radio Committee, and vowed to fight for their repeal through the courts.

Abdumalik Kadirov, secretary-general of the independent advocacy group Media Alliance of Tajikistan, told CPJ that the Television and Radio Committee may not implement the new regulations across all outlets immediately, but would be able to use them at will to restrict the work of outlets deemed too critical or independent. He said that the situation will likely worsen the already pervasive self-censorship among Tajik TV and radio journalists.

The new regulations also require independent television and radio companies’ programs to be produced “with the goal of increasing citizens’ awareness in the area of pride in national belonging,” and states that outlets will be required to broadcast state-produced TV and radio programs “without hindrance.”

Private television and radio companies will also be prohibited from signing any contract with foreign media outlets, broadcasting foreign outlets’ programs, or broadcasting programs in languages other than Tajik without the Television and Radio Committee’s approval.

Disputes over enforcement will be resolved by the courts, according to the text of the regulations, but Kadirov told CPJ that private broadcasters are scared to challenge the regulator, as it could easily retaliate by delaying their licenses or finding a pretext to close them down.

CPJ emailed the Television and Radio Committee of Tajikistan for comment, but did not receive any reply.

[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its fourth paragraph to correctly reflect the financial contributions outlets will be required to make to the Television and Radio Committee.]