BBG-VOA-The Washington Post, Editorial: False information

“Voice of America’s half-hour of radio and half-hour of television programming in Uzbek, says a VOA staff member, provide about the only direct contact Uzbeks have with the United States and the only unvarnished news in the region.” (The Washington post, Silence of America, Cutting the VOA’s presence in Mr. Putin’s neighborhood. (Friday, February 16, 2007; Page A22)I’m an Uzbek-American, and I am concerned that the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the management at the Voice of America need to deal with a problem much more fundamental than the possible termination of operations in their Uzbek Service.

On May 11, 2006, at a conference in Washington D.C. held on the anniversary of the events that took place in Andijon just one year earlier – a conference attended by Senator John McCain and Congressman Christopher Smith – Bahodir Choriev, a member of Uzbekistan’s democratic bloc and leader of the Solidarity Movement of Uzbekistan, brought to light a worrisome situation that has recently emerged among those who work broadcast news in Uzbek at the behest of the BBG.

Prior to this meeting, Choriev had held a hunger strike to protest what he perceives to be censorship within the Uzbek Service at the VOA. In particular, he wanted to draw attention to the fact that broadcasts have lately became pro-Uzbek government, supporting and even legitimizing the authoritarian regime of President Islom Karimov. A simple review of recent broadcasts and publications can confirm this.

The Uzbek Service has also, he said, given the Uzbek democratic opposition less than equal treatment in their coverage. As a result, many prominent members of the opposition boycott the Uzbek Service altogether, neither listening to them nor granting them interviews.

I find it troublesome that certain members of the Uzbek service are permitted to continue their work at VOA in spite of their apparent loyality to Islom Karimov’s regime, a loyalty which shows in their writing and their programs.

Discussions on this matter at the websites of the Congress of Democratic Uzbekistan and a group known as Birlik, the Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, indicate that many – if not most – have come to the conclusion the Uzbek Service is wasting US taxpayers’ money, suppressing democracy and supporting a dictatorial regime. To make matters worse, the people who listen to the radio programs and who watch the television shows in Uzbekistan are few and far between – they simply have no access to them.

I call upon the US Congress to launch a serious investigation of VOA’s Uzbek Language Service. I strongly believe that it is no longer an important tool of the US foreign policy, and that it neither serves democracy, nor promotes freedom or an open society in Uzbekistan. The Broadcasting Board of Governors made the right call this time, and I fully support the elimination of the department. Now that the BBG has closed the door for Uzbek at VOA, they would do better to improve Uzbek language programming at Radio Liberty.

US Citizen.

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