Ensuring freedom and rights of citizens in information sphere, including such components as freedom and rights to receive, disseminate information and ideas, is the cornerstone of building the democratic society.
In Uzbekistan, more attention is paid to the development of the media, increasing transparency of public bodies. In this regard, today creating all necessary conditions for the activities of the independent media, including democratic legal framework is a very important component. In particular, the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan establishes the basic guarantees of freedom of expression, speech and information. In accordance with Article 29, everyone has the right to seek, receive and disseminate any information, except information directed against the existing constitutional system and other legally provided restrictions.
Furthermore, the Constitution (Article 67) provides freedom of media, the need to conduct their activities in accordance with current law, and the absolute inadmissibility of censorship. Thus, a number of other legal acts introduced rights and powers of media, as well as guarantees of their activity have been developed on the basis of this provision. So, such laws, as “On the Guarantees and Freedom of Access to Information”, “On Protection of Professional Activities of Journalists”, “On Media”, which outlined the legal basis of national media, have been adopted during 1997.
In turn, the development of the media sector in Uzbekistan can be divided into several stages, each of which is pursuing its goals and objectives. During the 90’s the main goal was to create the basic conditions for the functioning of the legal, organizational, financial factors, as well as conditions for the emergence and development of non-state media.
After 2000, the government gradually liberalized the system of media regulation. It stimulated a significant increase of the number of non-state media. In particular, institutions and procedures associated with the prior approval of materials for printing (censorship) were abolished, as well as government regulation was implemented in the form of monitoring the compliance of distributed informational materials with legislation.
Creation of non-governmental institutions for development of mass communication was also supported. It allowed both print and electronic media to get “umbrella” structure for conduct a dialogue with public authorities on the problems and prospects of the sector. National Association of Electronic Mass Media of Uzbekistan was established in December 2003. Public Fund for Support and Development of Independent Print Media and News Agencies of Uzbekistan was founded in November 2005.
Nowadays, 1,372 media outlets has been registered in Uzbekistan including 1,016 press outlets (709 newspapers, 289 journals, 14 bulletins, 4 information agencies), 95 electronic media (63 TV channels, 32 radio channels), and 261 news websites. 62% of TV and radiochannels and websites are non-government media. Media outlets publish and broadcast in 11 languages of the ethnic groups living in Uzbekistan. In 198 newspapers (26.4% of all newspapers nationwide) chief editors are women. It should be noted that the number of Internet resources registered as media outlets over the past five years increased by more than 2 times. Thus, as of January 1, 2014 the number of Internet media has reached 261, out of which 255 (98.1%) are private. Internet media provide information in Uzbek, Russian, English, French, German and other languages.
Apparently the increase of Internet resources specialized in news coverage in the .uz domain is directly linked with the increase in the number of Internet users. Thus, according to the State Committee for Communications, Information and Telecommunication Technologies of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the number of Internet users in the country increased from 1 million people in 2007 and reached 10.9 million people by the end of 2013.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2013 Uzbekistan occupied 40th place in the number of Internet users (out of 212 countries). In turn, according to the rating of «Internet World Stats», the country takes 11th place (among 35 countries) in the same category in Asia and the first place in Central Asia.
Grant competitions annually organized for the media by the Public Fund for Support of NGOs and other civil society institutions under the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan play an important role in increasing the efficiency of the independent media, the transparency and openness of the reforms. The amount of grant funds allocated for the development and support of the media also increase every year. Thus, if the amount of allocated grants in 2012 was UZS 507.1 million, in 2013 this figure reached UZS 803.5 million.
Tax incentives and preferences applicable to the media in accordance with the Resolution of the President of Uzbekistan “On Granting Additional Tax Benefits and Preferences for Further Development of Media” dated 30 December 2011 contributed significantly to the strengthening the financial stability of the media. In this regard, a new stage in the development of media sphere was a joint session of both Chambers of the national Parliament in November 2010. During this session the President of Uzbekistan I.A.Karimov put forward the “Concept of further deepening democratic reforms and formation of civil society in the country”. This Concept designated tasks in the development and adoption of new laws, on ensuring the freedom and rights of citizens in the information sphere, where media have become an arena where people can freely express their thoughts and ideas.
In recent years a great attention has been paid to increase transparency of public authorities. Organization in 2013 of law experiment in Bukhara and Samarkand provinces to test the norms of the draft law “On the Openness of the Activities of Government and Management Bodies” (adopted in May, 2014) became a milestone event in ensuring freedom of expression and information. According to experts, the involvement of the media, NGOs and citizens in the law experiment demonstrated the efficacy of a new method of using the potential of civil society.
Nowadays, the Laws “On economic foundations of activity of the mass media”, and “On the guarantees of state support of the mass media” aimed at increasing the efficiency and protection of the economic interests of the information market’s participants, creating additional economic preferences, the implementation of other organizational and legal measures to ensure the progressive development of the national information space are actively discussed.
Today, one of the most important tasks of media activities is protection of the interests of the public. Analysis of the monitoring data indicates significantly increased role of media in identifying and highlighting topical issues at the local level, implementation of public control over the activities of state and government structures.
Carried out in 2013 a survey of the content of 393 newspapers (156 district, 87 city, 25 regional and 125 central) showed an increase in the number of analytical materials in media containing objective criticism of the local authorities and raising pressing issues of socio-economic development in the provinces. Thus, in 2012 the number of the most significant critical and analytical materials in the domestic press was 659, while in 2013 this figure increased up to 2,159 articles, of which 1,256 are of critical content. 24.3% of the total number of critical articles are on the activities of public authorities and local governance. The articles cover such topics as neighborhood improvement, preparing for autumn-winter seasons, performance of post offices in delivering of pensions and other social benefits. The articles are critical of public utilities (22%), problems of traffic security (13%), country education system (10%), and healthcare (7%).
The analysis shows growing confidence of readers to media as an effective means of expressing their opinions on various issues of social importance as an instrument of public control over the activities of state and government structures in addressing existing problems. In particular, out of 1,256 critical articles were published in national press during 2013, 261 (21%) of the materials prepared on the basis of citizens’ appeals to local newspapers. In general, it can be argued that today Uzbekistan has a deep understanding of the fact that there are not democracy, political activity of citizens, their real participation in political and public life of the country without ensuring freedom of information, turning media into an arena where people can freely express their thoughts and ideas.