Speaking at a roundtable dedicated to the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) that took place in Dushanbe, Asia-Plus editor-in-chief Umed Babakhanov talked about how hard it was for journalists during the April 28-29 unrest on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border: no one government agency contacted, each information was worth a lot of nerves and titanic efforts.  

“When the unrest began, we immediately created a round-the-clock group of journalists on duty, who were collecting information bit by bit and disseminating it in three languages on all platforms with a total audience of more than 500,000 people,” noted Asia-Plus editor-in-chief.  

As a result, more than 100 foreign media outlets quoted Asia-Plus information in their materials.  

According to Babakhanov, it was not easy for his team.  

“Each information was worth a lot of nerves and titanic efforts,” said he.  “We had to call the conflict zone, find friends, double-check the same information in several sources.  Colleagues called their friends, hospitals, local governments, asking again whether the first shot was actually fired from the Kyrgyz or Tajik side, where did the refugees flee to run and so forth.” 

He noted that in the days of conflict, some representatives of the authorities urged the public, journalists, bloggers and scientists, to cover events at the border more actively. 

“They believe that our republic is allegedly losing an information war,” Umed Babakhanov said, noting the strangeness of such an appeal.  “But how can we win the information war, if the country’s leading news website is blocked and officials do not give information to journalists?” 

Babakhanov considers that such a policy goes against national interests.

He noted that access to information is a big information in Tajikistan.  

“This problem becomes especially evident during crises,” said Asia-Plus editor-in-chief.  “And the state itself loses from this, because mass media is a partner for the authorities.” 

Babakhanov gave the example of an effective partnership between media and authorities in the 2000s and in the recent past.  

“During his latest visit to Vorukh, the president allowed independent journalists to accompany him on his trip.   The whole group that went there commented on how free the atmosphere was, they were allowed to communicate with other people, enter any territory, communicate with representatives of power-wielding structures.  As a result of extensive coverage of the visit, thousands and thousands of people learned about Vorukh's problems,” Babakhanov said, expressing hope that partnership between the authorities and journalists will be restored.  

The roundtable discussion brought together journalists, mass media experts, representatives of public organizations, state institutions as well as the UN Resident Coordinator and UN agencies.

The event was aimed at commemorating the global Press Freedom Day and discussing issues around the media viability in times of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It also explored joint actions among participants to ensure access to verified, factual, and credible information as a public good to all COVID-19 recovery efforts to build back better and more resilient societies around the globe. 

Several thematic presentations were provided during the meeting around this year’s topic, such as human rights mechanisms and access to information; access to the official information and sharing verified content and media preparedness to operate in times of COVID19.  Participants concluded that the shift to online media and the wide expansion of social media should not create barriers to the right to access information.