Freedom of Speech and Access to Information
In the past ten years, Uzbekistan implemented large-scale organizational and legal measures to ensure the freedom of speech and liberalizing of mass media. Over this period, ten acts of legislation have been adopted to provide an effective functioning of information space, and dynamic and free development of mass media.
Print media grew 1.5 times, while electronic media grew seven times, contributing to approximately 1,200 mass media outlets. Nearly 53 percent of all television channels and 85 percent of radio channels are non-state. Mass media in Uzbekistan is broadcast in seven languages (including Uzbek, Russian, and English). The number of Internet users now exceeds 7.5 million. The Uzbekistan domain is approaching a threshold of 12,000.
The Government is currently implementing a program for the transition to digital broadcasting. A new media center is currently under construction in Tashkent to produce television movies, serials, and advanced broadcasts.
Today, the national system of telecommunications has 28 direct international channels, with access available from 180 countries worldwide. Online broadcasting is also available. About 53 percent of all television and 85 percent of radio channels are nongovernmental.
The National Association of Nongovernmental Electronic Mass Media was founded in December 2003, gathering 50 nongovernmental TV and radio studios under its aegis.
The Uzbek media has been supported by the Government and certain nongovernmental foundations, such as the Public Fund for Support of Independent Press and Information Agencies, NAEMM, and the Public Fund for Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions, under the parliamentary commission of Oliy Majlis.
The Government pays special attention to priorities regarding the relations between the mass media and state authorities. This includes addressing such problems as elimination of economic leverages to control the mass media, a lack of access to information sources, and eliminating pressure on editorial boards by authorities and administrative structures. In this regard, the President of Uzbekistan has established the following priorities:
The adoption of the law “On the transparency of activities of state and government bodies” would eliminate bottlenecks in realizing the constitutional rights of citizens to access information, while increasing the responsibility of authorities and governing bodies for their decisions. The law shall clearly define procedures for state bodies to inform the public about their activities, while ensuring that the people and public associations have access to information regarding their decisions; most importantly, their decisions regarding the rights, freedoms, and lawful interests of citizens. Implementation of the law must provide for the transparency and openness of the activities of executive bodies while strengthening national, domestic, and foreign policy reforms undertaken in the country with due consideration to political pluralism and the diversity of opinions about events taking place both in the country and abroad.
It is proposed to adopt the law “On television and radio broadcasting” to develop further the extremely important role of the country’s communications, which play an increasingly significant role in the processes of democratization. At the moment, these activities are regulated by a plethora of laws on the mass media, radio frequency spectrums, telecommunications, and the Internet. Upgrading the nation’s television and radio broadcasting networks into an independent and powerful industry – along with the emergence of new forms and types of television and radio broadcasting – make it necessary to pass an integrated and comprehensive law that will regulate on a systematic and thorough basis the interrelations that occur in creating and disseminating television and radio programs.
The adoption of this law will create conditions that will further extend competition in the sphere of making and disseminating television and radio programs; introduce new and perceptive broadcasting technologies, such as mobile and digital television; and encourage the establishment of new and promising sectors of the television industry. The law defines the mechanisms for the legal regulation and principles for the activities of national broadcasting systems, such as creating independent financial sources as well as making provisions for transparency and democracy in bidding to obtain broadcasting radio frequencies. This will create conditions for fair competition while avoiding monopolies in electronic media markets.
The further strengthening of the independence of the nation’s mass media is intimately connected to reinforcing legal guarantees and mechanisms to ensure the reliable protection of copyright and intellectual property, as well as the introduction of market mechanisms in the nation’s information space. In order to undertake these tasks, the government proposes to adopt several laws, including “On economic foundations of activity of the mass media” as well as “On the guarantees of state support of the mass media.” These are designed to promote the efficient activity and protection of economic interests of informational market participants, as well as to create additional economic incentives to implement organizational and legal measures to ensure the progressive development of the nation’s Internet presence.
In order to establish effective legal mechanisms aimed at extending the role of the mass media in expanding public and parliamentary control over the activities of state and governing bodies, and to improve the close links between the government and society, it is expedient to adopt amendments and additions to the laws “On the mass media,” including “On the principles and guarantees of freedom of information,” as well as other legislative acts, stipulating a set of measures to regulate the press services of state bodies and public associations along with the country’s media structures. It is necessary to develop legal mechanisms to expedite the requests of the mass media for information, while reinforcing the accountability of judicial entities and officials who impinge upon the law as regards to access to information, along with other measures.
It is also necessary to thoroughly implement the latest information and communication technologies for issues regarding state and social construction, as they play an increasingly more important role in the processes of political modernization. Implementing this task can be facilitated if we further revise the law “On telecommunications,” elaborating a state program to adopt a digital television and radio broadcasting infrastructure, while developing an effective system of legal regulation of broadcasting for the new digital format.
At the present time, a set of measures is being developed through 2015 on the support of prospective projects and initiatives to strengthen the economic independence and financial stability of the print media and news agencies. These measures are also aimed at the development of market relations in information services, modernization, and strengthening the economic-technical base of print media and news agencies.