No, Press Freedoms Have Not Improved in Central Asia

On the floor, each single Central Asian state climbed in Reporters With out Borders’ just-released annual World Press Freedom rating. Kazakhstan leapt from 155 out of 180 international locations to 122, Kyrgyzstan rose from 79 to 72, Tajikistan from 162 to 152, and Uzbekistan surged from 157 to 133. Even Turkmenistan moved up, from 178 to 177.

Once you look previous the ranks, nevertheless, a unique image emerges. Each nation in Central Asia (with the exception, paradoxically, of Turkmenistan) noticed its precise rating decline at the same time as its rating rose. This permits governments to herald an bettering rank as an indication of progress, whatever the underlying decline or the stagnation of press freedoms within the area.

On Twitter, Polish journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska remarked: “Final yr was fairly nightmarish for journos in #Uzbekistan and but in your rating, it has jumped from 157th place to 133rd.” 

Pikulicka-Wilczewska (who has written usually for The Diplomat) is writing from expertise: In November 2021, after residing in Tashkent for 3 years, she was denied re-entry into Uzbekistan at a border crossing with Kazakhstan. Earlier within the yr, Uzbek authorities had denied her request to resume her accreditation after a six-month limbo wherein Pikulicka-Wilczewska stated she was subjected to sexual harassment by a Ministry for Overseas Affairs worker. After she went public with her complaints, Pikulicka-Wilczewska’s accreditation was prolonged and the ministry apologized, however it was a short lived reprieve.

In March 2021, Miraziz Bazarov, an Uzbek blogger who championed LGBT rights, was savagely crushed. His attackers had been by no means recognized, however Bazarov stays beneath home arrest and is dealing with fees over allegations of libel. In reporting on Bazarov’s case, and discussing her personal troubles with the authorities, Pikulicka-Wilczewska grew to become the goal of an internet harassment marketing campaign. Her accreditation was finally revoked and she or he was, as famous above, banned from returning to Uzbekistan.

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None of this was talked about within the transient RSF nation overview for Uzbekistan.

Though each Central Asian state rose within the rankings, their particular person scores all declined (aside from Turkmenistan). For instance, though Uzbekistan’s rank rose 24 locations, its rating declined from 49.26 in 2021 to 45.74 in 2022. Tajikistan’s rank rose 10 spots, however its rating declined from 44.48 to 40.26. (In keeping with the rating’s methodology a rating of 100 displays “good” press freedom and 0 entails a “very critical” scenario.)

There are a couple of points at play that deserve clarification, most significantly a change in methodology.

The rating modifications are significantly troublesome to evaluate as a result of for the 2022 report Reporters With out Borders (RSF) used a brand new methodology. “With a view to replicate press freedom’s complexity, 5 new indicators are actually used to compile the Index: the political context, authorized framework, financial context, sociocultural context, and safety,” RSF famous. Every indicator was assessed by RSF utilizing a mixture of a quantitative survey of violations and a qualitative examine based mostly on responses type journalists, lecturers, and activists to a 123-question survey. The rating for every indicator is then averaged to supply a single rating and the rankings are constructed from that rating.

The change to a brand new methodology complicates evaluating the 2022 rating to 2021, one thing RSF notes in its overview, however which has not made it into regional media protection of the index.

An extra concern is one in every of show and an absence of context: On every nation web page for RSF index, the 2021 rating is listed beside the 2022 rating, with a small inexperienced or crimson arrow indicating a course. The precise scores are printed in smaller textual content and displayed under the rankings. On account of the methodology shift, there isn’t a evaluating the indicator scores from the 2022 index to earlier years. The person nation pages, known as “fact-files,” additionally don’t point out the change methodology and supply solely the briefest of explanations for every indicator.

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Methodology is just not a headline buzzword, however a greater rating on a global rating is. It’s straightforward for officers to gloss over the main points and maintain up an improved rating as an indication of progress, even when the underlying rating has declined and the circumstances have not likely modified. 

On Telegram, Uzbek presidential spokesman Sherzod Asadov swiftly congratulated the Uzbek media on the rising rank, citing it because of the management of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on making certain the liberty of speech within the nation.

A little bit over a yr in the past, Mirziyoyev signed into regulation a invoice that criminalized “insult and slander” of the president on-line. That’s not an indication of an bettering press surroundings, however the brand new regulation didn’t advantage a point out within the Uzbekistan nation web page.