Celebrating World Press Freedom Day

Speeches Shim

Monday, May 3, 2021
Shakhlo Akobirova speaking about the challenges journalists face in Tajikistan
Internews Inc.

On May 3, world over, we celebrate World Press Freedom Day. To learn about the freedom of speech and journalists’ rights in Central Asia, USAID’s partner, Internews, interviewed Shakhlo Akobirova, Managing Director of the public organization Khoma to understand the challenges journalists face and what work is being done in Tajikistan to improve the situation.

There are several signs to gauge journalists’ rights in Tajikistan. “First, journalists themselves are not well-aware of their rights. This is what we are working on: we advise and train media lawyers with the support of the Central Asia Media Program. Second, there is a need to improve the legal framework; it does not always meet international standards,” says Shakhlo.

Khoma was created in 2003 to promote the professional development of Tajikistan’s media. “We implement projects that raise the level of professionalism among journalists, expand the legal knowledge of media workers, help them learn effective media management, and in general, develop journalism in Tajikistan,” adds Shakhlo.

“We work to protect the rights of journalists in Tajikistan. Our biggest achievement in this area is the decriminalization of libel and slander in the country in 2011.” Khoma also works on improving laws that govern the media and provides legal consultations for media and journalists.

“For the past two years, we have been implementing a project to improve the legal environment: we work with students, advance legislation, and train media lawyers. We have already held the first school of media law which helped us to develop new media law professionals in the country. We will be holding a second one very soon. This comprehensive project is also a part of the Central Asia Media Program,” says Shakhlo. “We hold residencies and practical seminars to develop economic, environmental, and social journalism. We also organize study tours for representatives of the media, civil society, and government agencies. We work closely and effectively with the country’s state and independent television stations, as well as with state and international organizations. We work closely with the EU, the Open Society Institute Tajikistan Assistance Foundation, UNDP, UNDEF, USAID, UNAIDS, OSCE, DFID, Internews, the American, British, Dutch embassies, and other international organizations. Besides, we have experience in conducting media research,” adds Shakhlo. Khoma has a training center for media specialists and is a member of the Public Council under the President of Tajikistan.

In recent years, Khoma has completed three major educational projects. First, the “New Opportunities in the Information Space” project with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan. The organization held six 10-day Khoma Journalism Schools, and local journalism schools were created in cities across the country. Second, several projects on the development of economic journalism. Third, the project “Supporting the Transition to Digital Broadcasting in Tajikistan” was implemented with the support of Internews in Tajikistan. The goal is to inform independent TV companies and to lobby for the requirement to switch to digital broadcasting in TV legislation. 

Now Khoma is finalizing a project on data journalism, the results of which are available on YouTube and the Khoma website. “We’re working on analyzing media legislation for compliance with international standards, continuing to teach basic journalistic skills to young journalists, supporting the production of quality content in the country,” says Shakhlo.

There remain many challenges for media advocacy organizations, but it is inspiring and encouraging to note that steps towards freedom of speech are being taken in Central Asia. Most importantly, people in general, not only journalists, are concerned about access to information, about the possibility of voicing problems. World Press Freedom Day offers us the opportunity to recognize the work that lies ahead and how quickly there can be democratic backsliding. 

 

Last updated: June 17, 2021

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