In August 2015, ARTICLE 19 analysed Tajikistan’s Law on Television and Radio Broadcasting in the light of international standards on freedom of expression and information.
Given Tajikistan’s commitment to switch from analogue to digital TV and Radio broadcasting in 2015, it is important to assess the existing law on television and radio broadcasting in order to propose recommendations that can both improve existing legislation and ensure the success of the digital switchover in a democratic society.
ARTICLE 19 acknowledges that the Law has a number of positive features. In particular, it explicitly declares that its aim is to implement “freedom of expression and the rights of the citizens to receive full, reliable and operative information, to open and free discussion of social processes.” It also provides for some protection of the editorial independence of television and radio companies and also refers to the right to information.
Nonetheless, the Law fails to meet freedom of expression and information standards in a number of areas.
ARTICLE 19 believes that Tajikistan’s current preparations for the digital switchover of radio and television broadcasting present a good opportunity for updating legislation in this area. We therefore urge the Government of Tajikistan to consider our recommendations to bring the Law into conformity with the country’s international obligations. In particular, the creation of an independent regulatory authority would constitute a major step towards stronger protection of freedom of expression in Tajikistan. ARTICLE 19 believes that the creation of such an authority is a necessary condition for the success of the digital switchover.
We also urge the Government of Tajikistan to initiate open, transparent, and participatory consultation processes regarding all aspects of the digital switchover, including radio spectrum management, allocation of licenses, universal access, digital dividend, pluralism and media concentration, and the remit of public service media.
Summary of recommendations
- The Law should include a specific and detailed provision declaring that the regulation of television and radio broadcasting must occur within the framework of international laws, and that any restriction must comply fully with international freedom of expression standards;
- The Law should state that the right to information belongs to all people in Tajikistan, and not just to citizens;
- Article 3, which prescribes the principles which should guide broadcasting activities, and Article 6, which protects ‘the creative activity’ of radio and television companies from interference by national or local public bodies of the Law, should be amended so as to further promote respect of the freedom and editorial independence of media companies, including from commercial influence, and to refer concerns regarding the quality of information and professional ethics to an appropriate regulatory framework.
- The ‘Committee on Television and Radio’ should be replaced with a truly independent regulatory authority, established in conformity with all international standards. In particular, legislation should provide that this authority is fully independent of both the Government and commercial interests. The Law should also guarantee the independence of the regulatory authority in legal status, remit, funding, composition of the Board, and its accountability;
- The legislation should ensure the consistency of independent regulation of broadcasting activities among responsible authorities, or assign all responsibility for the regulation of broadcasting sector to one independent regulatory body;
- Instead of listing a series of principles regarding journalistic ethics, the Law should provide an independent regulatory authority with the power to prescribe administrative codes of conduct for broadcasters. These codes should be adopted through an open, transparent, and participatory consultation that includes all stakeholders. Furthermore, these codes of conduct should not impose criminal or civil liability;
- Alternatively, the Law should provide for a transparent, open, and participatory process to prepare and set up a system of self-regulation;
- The Law should list the general principles applicable to broadcast media during elections, leaving the adoption of more detailed rules to an independent regulatory authority.
- Article 28 of the Law, which lists categories of content prohibited by law, should be revised in accordance with international standards;
- The Law should provide for the complete transformation of state media into independent public service media, and provide a clear definition of its remit and funding;
- The Law should specify that the planning and allocation of frequencies should allow for a balanced, three-tiered media landscape composed of public service media, commercial media, and local and community media;
- Article 10, which requires the registration of media houses, should be removed from the Law in its entirety;
- The Law should provide a more accurate and detailed procedure for use by media houses of different types of communication networks, and, where relevant, provide for a unique licensing process;
- Article 34 of the Law, on the accreditation of foreign journalists, should be amended. Accreditation should be required only if, due to limited space, not all interested journalists can attend a meeting, or follow the activities of a particular body. The legislation should provide safeguards against arbitrary refusals of accreditation, such as clear accreditation rules. Accreditation should be overseen by an independent body, such as a journalists’ union, and journalists should be granted a right to appeal refusals of accreditation to a court.