Experts are readying new proposals to prop up national media
Humanity is in the midst of the Information Age, and the huge impact that media have had on all aspects of society and the Global Village as a whole has been starkly evident. One notable outcome is the transformation of conventional media. The resultant electronic versions of print media were complemented by network information resources. TV and radio broadcasting has reached a new level of development as there are now online radio and television channels. Uzbekistan’s national media are also embracing transformations, and a concept initiated by President Islam Karimov has come as a sort of a roadmap for the growth of Uzbek media.
The current state of affairs in Uzbekistan's media is a result of ongoing phased reforms in the country. Naturally enough, time, too, poses challenges and tasks for the improvement of the media market. The Concept of Further Deepening Democratic Reforms and Formation of a Civil Society, put forth by the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, has come as a program of action that laid out priorities. As the President states in the concept, “ensuring freedoms and rights of citizens in the information sphere that include elements such as freedom and right to obtain and disseminate information and one’s own ideas is the cornerstone of building a democratic society in Uzbekistan.”
For the purpose of reforming media and ensuring freedom of speech and information, the concept defined further specific measures to make relevant amendments and additions to laws “On Media”, “On the Principles and Guarantees of Freedom of Information” and several acts. The concept also proposed passing laws “On the Financial Foundations of Media Activities” and “On Guarantees of Governmental Support of Media” that seek to boost the efficiency of the activities and protect the economic interests of those involved in the information market, and “On TV and Radio Broadcasting” aimed at developing this crucial segment of information communication. They have always taken center stage with the expert community, which always explores new ways and opportunities to improve them. This is exactly why these draft laws were the leitmotif of an international conference, “Strengthening the Independence of Media – a Guarantee of Freedom of Speech and Information”, held in Tashkent. The conference included panel discussions during which leading national and international experts discussed pressing issues in media development.
The conference was attended by over 100 experts and specialists from over 50 national and international organizations. Organizers included the National Association of Electronic Print Media of Uzbekistan, the Parliamentary Commission for the Management of Assets of the Public Fund for the Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions, OSCE and UNESCO offices in Uzbekistan, and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
As it was noted at the conference, one of the practical steps in the implementation of the concept was a presidential decree that granted a series of benefits and concessions to media organizations and publishing houses, effective January 1, 2013. Perhaps, that is the only example in the world whereby media staffed by up to 100 people pay only a unified 5-percent tax and are exempt from customs dues and fees. Moreover, the President put forth another legislative act that exempted founders of media outlets from tax on dividends. The results of such measures have been palpable. The funds garnered are channeled into revamping media, strengthening resources, and encouraging journalistic growth. Considerable support in nurturing Uzbek media has also come from the Parliamentary Commission for the Management of Assets of the Public Fund for the Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions, which annually provides grants and subsidies and places orders.
The results are impressive: as of January 2015, the Press and Information Agency of Uzbekistan registered nearly 1,400 media outlets, among them 970 print media and 100 electronic media organizations. Around 43% of the print media were created by authorities and state bodies, 53,4% - by nongovernmental organizations, and another 3,6% - by governmental and nongovernmental organizations. As compared with 1991, the number of media outlets has increased 3.5 times.
There is a significant growth of Internet resources registered as mass media. In the past five years their number has more than doubled. As of January 1, 2015 the number of online media made up 304, of which more than 95% - nongovernmental media.
The national television network has been expanding intensively. Over the past few years new channels have been opened. A new television channel Mening Yurtim - MY5 started broadcasting in 2014, aiming at shaping a creative attitude to reality and active life stance in the youth. Twenty-nine percent of TV and radio channels have been founded by state agencies and administration, 67% - by nongovernmental organizations, 4% - by public and private organizations.
The National Program for the Transition to Digital Broadcasting is another important step in the implementation of the Concept. Uzbekistan was the first in the CIS space to commission the terrestrial HD format television - Uz.HD in November 2011. To date, the level of coverage with digital television has exceeded 54%. Cutting edge digital transmitters were installed in Tashkent city, Tashkent, Samarkand, Khorezm, Bukhara, Andijan, Namangan, Ferghana, Navoi and Kashkadarya regions and in Karakalpakstan.
The National Program for the Transition to Digital Broadcasting envisages the installation of 84 high power transmitters by the end of 2015 to cover all the major towns of the country and 90% of the population with digital television broadcasting. A phased transition to digital television should be completed by the end of 2017.
Under panel discussions on bolstering economic foundations of the media as a factor of ensuring their freedom and independence, the conference participants analyzed the draft of the law on economic foundations of mass media and advanced proposals on its improvement.
According to experts, the bill aims at introduction of market mechanisms in the information sector, revitalization of nongovernmental press, building up an effective media market and ensuring the economic independence of media, strengthening their logistical capacity, thus creating a favorable ground for financial incentives for journalists in their professional growth, and enhancing the competitiveness of national publications.
“The conference has scrutinized the issues of media financing, which are very important for their future development. It is noteworthy that Uzbekistan has been addressing them at the legislative level. The participants heard an interesting report on the state promotion of media activities. We have also reviewed the draft law on guarantees of state support for mass media that stipulates some additional funding. In fact, different sources of funding allow them to be independent from advertisers and grow on a strong financial foundation. I was thrilled to learn and make sure that many recent laws and legal acts in your country provide more opportunities for media, envisage privileges and preferences for them. This clearly demonstrates an integrated support for journalists,” said UNESCO expert Marius Aleksas Lukosiunas.
“The conference allowed generalizing the experience the media of Uzbekistan has gained. The state provides many opportunities for their development through tax and customs privileges. However, the way how the media will grow largely depends on them. It is vital that the benefits were targeted at the media,” said Editor-in-Chief of Tax and Customs News Mikhail Perper.
A PARTNER’S SHOULDER
As part of a panel discussion on the role and importance of state support in the development of socially-oriented media, the participants came up with recommendations on topical issues of streamlining the activity of online media in covering socially important tasks, as well as in production of competitive media products. The panelists paid special attention to the revision of the draft law on guarantees of state support for mass media, and proposed on its improvement.
The bill is expected to settle legal mechanisms of support for national mass media system in market conditions. It is aimed at creation of legal guarantees for the introduction of self-regulation institution for mass media that would ensure their independence and autonomy. Assignment of state obligations for creation of favorable financial and organizational conditions on the basis of mechanisms of social order and subsidies for mass media, support of socially relevant publications, television and radio broadcasts and other media products, would also produce a positive effect in terms of expanding political, ideological and cultural diversity in the information sector.
“State support of the media is very important, especially when it comes to production of socially-oriented media products and advancing skills of young employees. Regarding the liberalization of the media, Uzbekistan has been implementing a program of continuous training and professional development of journalists, so I think involvement of foreign experts and arrangement of trainings is a very important aspect. It is good that today the Uzbek media is trying new formats and approaches to news coverage with the domination of young people. It would be impossible without the involvement of the state, but contribute to the dynamic development of the Uzbek media in the future,” shared his ideas managing director of television Sachsen Fernsehen GmbH & Co Fernseh Betriebs KG René Falkner.
He was supported by the OSCE Project Coordinator in Uzbekistan Gyorgy Szabó.
“Your youth lives in the virtual world. NAEMM plays a huge role in the development of online media, which is particularly important for the further development of the country. Uzbekistan should take moves for generating the content that would be relevant for the country and at the same time interesting for the mass audience,” he said.
During the discussions, NAEMM Project Coordinator Bakhtiyor Turakhanov emphasized that Uzbekistan is already practicing a mechanism of support of initiatives of the media in producing socially important content in the form of state grants and social orders of the Parliamentary Commission for Management of Assets of the Public Fund for Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions under Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
“The activity of media structures, unlike other business institutions, cannot be focused exclusively on profit. Therefore, the bill spotlights the state support of the media, the responsibilities of founders for funding the needs of editorials in their implementation of statutory tasks. This is fundamental for the modern media of the country,” said director of the Public Fund for Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions under the Oliy Majlis Abdujalil Turaev.
The panelists dwelled into the results of the joint round table with UNESCO on the production of social media videos in Karakalpakstan under the guidance of René Falkner. The NAEMM camera focused on tourism capacity of the region, archaeological sites, the construction development program for 2015-2016, development and life of the Aral Sea region, the port town of Muinak, accomplishments of the Karakalpak youth.
A NEW LOOK ON TV
Panel discussions assigned a big part to the draft law on broadcasting, which stipulates the guarantees of independence of the media, providing their equality before the law, regardless of the form of ownership and organizational structure. Prohibiting all forms of pressure on broadcasters, the draft law extends the guarantee of banning censorship, as settled in the Constitution of Uzbekistan and media laws. During presentations and discussions of the bill the panelists assessed and proposed on its improvement, as well as on relevant issues of further development of nongovernmental television in Uzbekistan.
“Initiated by the President of Uzbekistan, the Concept has triggered the formation of a strong platform for the breakthrough of the Uzbek media. For example, under the regulations that were developed in line with the Concept, the national media is granted with a range of privileges and preferences. This is very important that the state supports the media at the highest level, providing additional guarantees and opportunities for development. Many countries lack the level of support provided in Uzbekistan,” emphasized President of the National Association of Broadcasters of Russia Eduard Sagalaev.
Eduard Sagalaev drew attention to several NAEMM projects on the development of nongovernmental television and radio broadcasting.
“I'm even a little jealous of Uzbek journalists, because they work in excellent conditions that are created by the state and personally President Islam Karimov. The fact that representatives of independent mass media have the opportunity to be involved in the work on the new laws suggests a huge scale of this job. I have also watched the MY5 TV channel. As a television professional, I admit it is the state-of-the-art TV, truly high-quality TV in line with international standards,” he stressed.
Director of Jizzakh TV channel Bakhtiyor Eshonkulov came up with the proposal to optimally simplify the licensing system.
“Today, when claiming for allocation of radio frequencies, radio stations have to pay a deposit in the amount of the state fee for the license, for design, construction, operation and service of TV and radio broadcasting networks, which totals 340 minimum monthly wages. Meanwhile, TV and radio studios run only one type of activity - they render services of TV and radio broadcasting networks, and therefore do not need a license for other activities. I believe it would be right if the law stipulated paying fees for the type of activity as claimed by the applicant, including determination of the amount of deposit for the right to participate in the competition,” he said.
As an outcome of the international conference, the participants developed certain important recommendations on streamlining the abovementioned draft laws, which promise to be a new stage in the further development of domestic media. Foreign experts highly commended the current legislative framework and the related legislative process in the field of information and freedom of expression, as well as conditions that focus on the development of the media industry and building up stable and economically independent media.
The conference was crowned by the pearl of the domestic media sector - the traditional festival ‘Jurnalistlar Bahori-2015 (Journalists’ Spring). The purpose of the festival is to promote national traditions and customs, the unique culture of different regions of our country, incentives to the employees of the regional TV and radio stations, NAEMM members.
The awarding ceremony of the winners of the first stage of the television song contest ‘Mening Yurtim - Mening Fakhrim!’ (My Country - My Pride!) was the highlight of the evening. It was organized by the NAEMM and Mening Yurtim TV channel jointly with the Youth Culture and Arts Center, Public Youth Movement Kamolot and Associated Actors of Uzbeknavo. The main goal of this ambitious project comes to the cultivation of love for the Motherland, respect and reverence for the elderly in the audience with the focus on young people, promotion of the spiritual and moral enlightenment of the younger generation, promotion of musical compositions and videos on the homeland. The project has covered nearly 30 million people of the audience, concert programs were broadcast by 12 regional TV channels and the Mening Yurtim TV channel, and 11 independent radio stations.