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Uzbekistan strengthens reforms for access to independent and free media

Uzbekistan strengthens reforms for access to independent and free media
President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Promoted by The Embassy of Uzbekistan in Brussels

Over the years of independence, Uzbekistan has implemented comprehensive measures aimed at building a democratic State based on the rule of law, a strong civil society, economic development, the creation of conditions for a peaceful and prosperous life for the people, and the attainment by Uzbekistan of its rightful place in the international arena.

On the basis of the requirements of our time to identify the most important priorities and clear guidelines for further deepening democratic reforms and accelerating the country's development, the Presidential Decree on the Action Strategy for the Further Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan, which provides for the adoption of the Action Strategy for the Five Priority Development Areas of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2017-2021 (hereinafter, the Action Strategy), was adopted.

The Action Strategy is based on the conceptual issues of the country's socio-political, socio-economic, cultural and humanitarian development, as outlined by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

In particular, the document defines 5 priority directions of the country's development:

  • Improvement of state and social construction.
  • Ensuring the rule of law and further reforming the judicial and legal system.
  • Development and liberalization of the economy.
  • Development of the social sphere.
  • Ensuring security, interethnic harmony and religious tolerance, the implementation of a balanced, mutually beneficial and constructive foreign policy.

In the context of the above, it is necessary to emphasize the commitment of the Republic of Uzbekistan to democratize the information sphere, which is entirely aimed at ensuring freedom of speech and access to information. These principles are also contained in the Action Strategy and are reflected in the following key areas:

  • Establishing an open dialogue with the population and introducing accountability of officials to the public.
  • Ensuring openness and evaluation of the performance of public authorities.
  • Improving public oversight and strengthening the role of the media in this process.
  • Ensuring information security and timely countering information threats.

In Uzbekistan, the legislative framework is being systematized to ensure the stability of the legal regulation of the activities of the media, as well as to ensure freedom of speech and information, reviving the legal framework of activity and protecting the professional rights of journalists.

At the annual Address of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the Oliy Majlis, it was noted that the media, along with objective coverage of large-scale changes taking place in our country, attract the attention of government departments and the public to urgent problems on the ground and encourage leaders at all levels to eliminate these problems. Today the mass media are increasingly becoming the "fourth estate".

The head of state also said that fair criticism of objective journalists and bloggers points out the mistakes and shortcomings of the old-fashioned leaders, forcing them to change their style of work and increase their responsibility.

In addition, the statements of the Head of State "Openness and freedom of speech are the demand of the times, the demand for reforms in Uzbekistan!" form the country's legal policy aimed at supporting freedom of speech and the development of the media.

In order to strengthen the legal framework for ensuring freedom of speech and effective operation of the media, more than 20 regulatory legal acts have been adopted in the country, including the laws “On the openness of the activities of public authorities and administration,” “On the media,” “On guarantees and freedom of access to information,” “On the principles and guarantees of freedom of information,” “On the protection of the professional activity of a journalist,” “On informatization,” etc.

In general, in a fairly short period, a large-scale work has been done to ensure freedom of speech, access to information and the development of the media.

Thus, as part of the further liberalization of the media and the protection of journalists' rights, amendments and additions were made to the laws “On the mass media” and “On the protection of journalists' professional activities” on 18 April 2018.

In particular, the websites were defined as mass media, mechanisms for the support of the media by the state were created (provision of tax benefits, other mandatory payments and tariffs, preferences, government subsidies, grants and social orders, as well as social support for editorial staff).

In May 2018, the country's first University of Journalism and Mass Communication was established by presidential decree and opened its doors to students the same year.

By the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan dated February 2, 2019 No.5653 “On additional measures for the further development of the information sphere and mass communications,” the Agency of Information and Mass Communications under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (Agency) was established on the basis of the Uzbek Agency for Press and Information.

Since the inception of the Agency 's activities, it has effectively ensured the implementation of the constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of speech and information, promotes the strengthening of the role of the media in the socio-political and socio-economic development of the country, pursues an active policy to create equal conditions for them in the media market, and also protects the rights of journalists.

In 2019, the President made a decision on the development of the activities of the press services of state bodies, ensuring their openness to the people, close interaction with the media, journalists and bloggers, promptly informing the media and society on topical issues, as well as raising the status of press secretaries to the level of deputy head of organization.

It should be noted that currently more than 600 press secretaries carry out information activities in Uzbekistan. The measures taken made it possible to saturate the information field of Uzbekistan with information about the ongoing reforms and the work of state bodies in this direction. Hence, today more than half of the news information flow on the Internet is formed through the active work of the press services of state bodies.

On September 14, 2019, a Public Council for the Development of the Information Sphere and Mass Communications was formed at the Parliament of the country in order to increase the importance of public organizations in shaping public opinion on topical issues in the information sphere. It includes representatives of the media, public organizations, science and culture, as well as deputies, independent experts and specialists from other institutions of civil society.

On December 25, 2020, the Law “On Amendments and Additions to the Criminal, Criminal Procedure Codes of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan On Administrative Responsibility” was adopted, according to which of the sanctions of Articles 139 (Libel) and 140 (Insult) of the Criminal Code were penalties in the form of imprisonment are excluded.

As a result of the policy pursued, there has been a dynamic expansion of Uzbekistan's information space. In particular, over the past five years the number of registered media outlets has increased by 352 to 1,866, of which 630 are Internet media. At the same time, there are more than 1,300 users who identify themselves as bloggers and are actively engaged in media activities.

It should be emphasized that the national media began to actively perform the functions of public control, they began to pay attention to the coverage of the ongoing reforms, helping to identify and resolve issues of concern to the population, which favorably affects the activities of state bodies, local executive authorities when taking operational measures to eliminate significant shortcomings in their work.

In conclusion, it can be noted that the modern agenda of Uzbekistan includes active measures to further ensure freedom of speech and development of the media, and also remains open for fruitful and constructive cooperation with foreign countries and international organizations in this area.

Today it is clear that media activity and freedom of expression have a strong place in the new Uzbekistan's policy of openness.

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