Turkmenistan is bracing for major economic reforms, which include pulling all state funding for the country’s television channels and radio stations.
In June, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow ordered the government to find ways to abolish utilities subsidies that have provided Turkmenistani households with free electricity, gas, and water for a quarter of a century. Berdimuhamedow, who won the presidency in 2007, believes that the subsidies, introduced by his predecessor in 1993 shortly after Turkmenistan was created after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, are "ineffective."
After searching for ways to further reduce costs to the national exchequer, earlier this month Berdimuhamedow announced the government would cut all funding for the country’s seven state-owned television channels and four radio stations by 2022.
“On July 8, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow ordered an end to the funding of Altyn Asyr public TV, Yashlyk entertainment TV, Miras culture TV, Turkmenistan News TV, Ashgabat city TV, Turkmen Ovazy musical TV, Turkmenistan-Sport television channels, and Char Tarapdan, Miras, Ovaz and Vatan radio stations from the state budget after 2022,” read a report in the official Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper.
Turkmenistan’s government has a monopoly of the media, and authorities monitor all outlets, control printing presses, and set editorial policies. It funds almost all of the country’s newspapers, and any outlet not reflecting official views are not permitted.
Because state funding is being pulled for TV and radio, the State Committee for Television, Radio Broadcasting and Cinematography will be permitted to market and advertise in order to finance the channels and stations.
Television first came to Turkmenistan over 50 years ago and remains the most popular form of media. According to data compiled by Turkmenportal.com, although Turkmenistan has a population of just under 5.3 million, view- and listenership of Turkmen television and radio stations reportedly exceeds 30 million, mostly due to ethnic Turkmens living abroad. In addition to broadcasting in the Turkmen language, TV channels also carry programing in English, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Persian and French.
Broadcasting falls under the purview of the Turkmenistan Television Broadcasting Center, which operates seven national television channels. Programs are generally considered to be of low professional quality, however, and only positive news is reported. Criticism is allowed to come only from the president.
Berdimuhamedow is known for criticizing Turkmenistan’s media outlets, however, usually at the start of the new year and in cabinet sessions where he expressed his unhappiness with production quality and how the state is being portrayed, often lamenting that “the successes and achievements of our country are not sufficiently reflected in the media.”
"Once again I want to draw your attention and the attention of the heads of the TV channels to the low quality of television programs. The level of program making is low. The same refers to the work of the editors-in-chief of newspapers and magazines,” Berdimuhamedow complained to the Deputy Prime Minister for Culture and Media at a cabinet meeting in January.
Television executives have been known to resign after the president’s round of criticism, but program quality does not improve.
“The more the president scolds journalists, the more they praise him and his merits,” Turkmen journalist Atajan Nepesov said. “The more the personnel reshuffles are made in the media sector, the more ardently the new appointees try to please Arkadag,” Nepesov said, using honorific title Berdimuhamedow prefers, which means “the protector” in the Turkmen language.
“There is no way out of this vicious circle,” Nepesov added.
Despite chastising the media for what he sees as boring and dull journalism, “he has never demanded that they stop, or at least slow down, efforts for glorifying his personality and praising his activities as the president,” Nepesov said.