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Freelance journalists for foreign media outlets kept under almost 24-hour surveillance in Turkmenistan – Open Democracy
Central Asia | analysis | 11:41, 06 June 2014 | 2002

AKIPRESS.COM - censor There is no independent media in Turkmenistan. Official journalists carefully filter the topics for their articles through an internal censorship system, editors remain vigilant, and are actively censored by the government agencies that own the various newspapers, Open Democracy reports referring to the author who has asked to remain anonymous due to “the dangers of voicing criticism against the Government in Ashgabat.”

Teacher’s Newspaper, for example, is owned by the Ministry of Education while the newspaper Spravedlivost’ [Justice] is owned by the Ministry of Justice. These ministries have a captive audience – they force all their employees to subscribe to their newspapers. No-one cares whether they read them or not, but every month a certain sum is deducted from their salary to cover subscription costs.

Freelance journalists for foreign media outlets are kept under almost 24-hour surveillance. The rare trips made by Western journalists to the country are like a breath of fresh air; it is through their reports that foreign audiences can get to see the real Turkmenistan.

In spring of last year, one such reporter was Belgium’s Tom Vaes. The Turkmen authorities officially invited him to visit the country, and to tell his audience how wonderful it is. But Vaes began to have doubts about the trip before it even began. The invitation letter he received from the Turkmenistan Embassy in Belgium included a minute-by-minute schedule for Tom and his film crew. During the trip they were forbidden from filming the President, poor people, the dilapidated buildings, and even donkeys.

In the resulting 45-minute-long documentary, these journalists showed the true nature of Turkmen state censorship: from banning the filming of an empty hotel breakfast room to the absurd control measures of Turkmen intelligence agents at an Ashgabat bazaar where they hurriedly covered up the “unsightly” stalls in green cloth. The journalists also filmed their vigilant minders, all dressed in identical black suits, as they pinched the hips of elderly women to get them out of the frame of the camera.

Foreign print media have been banned in Turkmenistan since the beginning of 2002, which is why every family has its own satellite dish, and sometimes two or even three. People pick up alternative news sources from Russian, Turkish or European TV channels, while more tech-savvy citizens manage to get around the state Internet filtering systems and find news online. As people in Turkmenistan say, too many sweeties, meaning state TV where everything is just fine, can quickly make you sick.

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