Turkmenistan Media and Media Policy

The country’s media are all controlled by the state, and the country is considered to be the most repressive country in the world when it comes to dealing with journalists as well as freedom of the media and freedom of expression.

According to Thedressexplorer.com, the main goal of Turkmen media coverage is above all to convey a completely positive image of the present. Much space is also devoted to reporting on the President’s achievements. Reports on processes abroad are only published if they are directly related to the President’s actions; negative reports do not appear. Material from foreign news agencies is not used. Foreign print media are not legally available in Turkmenistan. In a sometimes called ” war on satellite dishes bezeichnetne” approach President Berdimuhamedov has banned new installations of satellite dishes and the dismantling of existing systems arranged. Foreign journalists are currently not (openly) staying in Turkmenistan. Blogger Tomyris, writing under a pseudonym, has published a detailed compilation of some international reactions to the Turkmen satellite dish ban.

As a result of this procedure, the Turkmen population is systematically shielded from outside influences and receives their information exclusively from the hand of the Turkmen government.

The government currently operates seven television stations, a high double-digit number of daily or weekly newspapers and magazines, and several radio channels. The differences in content between the various broadcasters and publications are minor. The focus is on full praise for the government’s policy, the folkloric portrayal of Turkmen culture and traditions, the extensive veneration of the president, the conveyance of an absolutely positive image of the present in combination with the development of expectations for an even better future, considering the achievements of the president the complete suppression of all events outside the country’s borders.

The president is the only person in the country authorized to express criticism. Critical remarks by the president to his subordinates serve to force them to be loyal to the line or to initiate their transfer, dismissal or arrest. In this respect, this form of criticism forms an important element in the system of stabilizing power. In addition, there are neither critical reports in the media (e.g. with regard to governance, social, infrastructural or other deficiencies) nor references to social challenges or disasters. Accordingly, the explosion of an ammunition dump near Abadan in the summer of 2011 with 70 to 2,000 deaths was not mentioned, as was the mudslides in the summer of 2017 with at least 30 deaths and the equally destructive mudslides in May 2018. Even car accidents are not mentioned.

Turkmenistan Newspaper

Censorship Act

In December 1991, in its first session after independence, the Turkmen parliament passed the country’s first censorship law under the name “Law on the Dignity and Honor of the President”. The glasnost phase therefore ended in Turkmenistan with the country’s independence. Since then, expressing critical views and any form of criticism of the president has been considered a criminal offense. In addition, in August 1994 it was made a criminal offense not to call the then president a Turkmenbashi. The current president bears the honorary title of Arkadag (hero or protector), officially awarded to him in 2010. According to the current wording of the law, any doubt about the correctness of presidential statements and any form of criticism of government policy is considered a threat to national security. The penalty for this is for stays in prison of no less than 25 years. The State Secrets Protection Committee and the Ministry of National Security’s censorship authority are the highest censorship authorities in the country. In December 2014 the ” insulting the president “, which was not clearly differentiated, was declared a criminal offense by law and has been punished accordingly since then.

Freedom of the press and surveillance

The most striking feature of all print media appearing in Turkmenistan is the image of the president. This appears every day on the front page of every newspaper. In the area above the picture there are quotations from the president as well as images of the flag and coat of arms of Turkmenistan, often combined with symbolic representations of important monuments. For a given day, the articles in different newspapers are very similar and partly match in every detail (see figures below). Due to the limited repertoire of current recordings of the President, archive photos are frequently used, which can be supplemented with a few details and reprinted in different ways (see illustrations below).

All reporters working in Turkmenistan are systematically monitored. They work not commissioned by the state news agency or get in contact with foreigners and especially to foreign media, they are intimidated and still again in large numbers and regardless of age and gender arrested and brutally tortured and with the threat of death. Since around 2013 there has been a clear tendency towards further tightening the already almost unprecedented surveillance, control and intimidation of journalists. The freedom of the press – already reduced to a level hardly ever achieved even in global comparison – will be further restricted.

Foreign print media are generally not available in Turkmenistan and have already been declared illegal under President Niyazov. President Berdimuhamedov cited the generally poor quality of foreign media and the sufficient supply of domestic newspapers as the reason for not lifting this ban. At the same time, President Berdimuhamedow has banned satellite dishes, ordered the dismantling of existing systems and arranged for a state cable operator to replace them.

According to the organization Reporters Without Borders, Turkmenistan has shared the bottom three places in the world with the Korea DPR and Eritrea in terms of press freedom for years. Since 2018, the country has been in last place (180 out of 180). In the Human Rights Watch index, Turkmenistan received the worst possible rating in all categories.

Radio and television

The Turkmen radio and television programs are under state control. As with the print media, the aim is to portray the personality cult around the president and to portray a positive present combined with the prospect of an even more attractive future. Foreign radio stations cannot be received due to targeted interference frequencies.

Further information on media and media politics in Turkmenistan can be found in the current Irex Media Sustainability Report.

Table 1: Central Asia: media independence 1997-2017

(1 = complete freedom of the media, 7 = absolute lack of freedom)

Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan
1997 5.25
1998 5.50
1999 5.50 5.00 5.75 7.00 6.50
2000 5.50 5.00 5.75 7.00 6.50
2001 6.00 5.00 5.50 7.00 6.75
2002 6.00 5.75 5.75 7.00 6.75
2003 6.25 6.00 5.75 7.00 6.75
2004 6.50 6.00 5.75 7.00 6.75
2005 6.50 5.75 6.00 7.00 6.75
2006 6.75 5.75 6.25 7.00 6.75
2007 6.75 5.75 6.25 7.00 7.00
2008 6.75 6.00 6.00 7.00 7.00
2009 6.50 6.25 6.00 7.00 7.00
2010 6.75 6.50 5.75 7.00 7.00
2011 6.75 6.50 5.75 7.00 7.00
2012 6.75 6.25 6.00 7.00 7.00
2013 6.75 6.25 6.25 7.00 7.00
2014 6.75 6.00 6.25 7.00 7.00
2015 6.75 6.00 6.25 7.00 7.00
2016 6.75 6.00 6.25 7.00 7.00
2017 6.75 6.00 6.50 7.00 7.00
2018 6.75 6.25 6.75 6.75 7th
2019 0 0 0 0 0

Source: Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2017, report on Turkmenistan.

Table 2: Central Asia: Number of media companies by country

Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan
watch TV > 100 10 25th 5 53
Print media 937 250 404 39 871
radio 43 404 19th 5 35

Source: Irex Media Sustainability Report, Turkmenistan.

Comment on the graphic “Freedom of the press according to the index of the organization Reporters Without Borders”: The best possible rating is achieved with zero points. The worst rating varies from year to year. Therefore, the absolute worst value in orange in the respective year was added as a comparison value. The values of the other Central Asian republics serve as a further comparison. Source: Reporters Without Borders.