The Death of VOA Uzbek Service

by Nathan Hamm on 8/16/2004

VOA’s Uzbek language radio broadcasts have ended after 33 years. On the face of it, the decision might seem sensible. They only broadcast on shortwave and few people listen.

Thankfully, IWPR brings up an important and difficult to measure aspect of how news spreads in Uzbekistan.

Yuldoshboy Ubaidullaev, a listener in the eastern Andijan region, said, “Those who closed the Uzbek service of VOA wanted to hide the truth from us…. I used to tell friends and family in my village about what I’d heard on Voice of America.”

Cassandra Cavanaugh, the Advocacy and Grants Director with the Open Society Institute in New York, and familiar with Uzbekistan, agreed that word-of-mouth is an important means by which information can be shared in an information-starved society. Even if the actual audience, is limited, “a lot of people talk about what they hear”, she said.

There are problems inherent in a rumor and gossip bases system, but it doesn’t change that news does spread this way. Before Uzbekistan officially announced that US troops would be allowed to base in Uzbekistan, I heard about increased C-130 landings through the rumor system. It may not be perfect, but it works.

Radio Free Europe will continue to broadcast in Uzbek. I honestly can’t tell you what I think of the broadcasts of either because I’ve never listened to or seen what the Uzbek services covered. The only experience I had with an Uzbek who knew anything about them wondered why our government “lies about Birlik.” But then again, he was young and he’s since learned to be skeptical of the Uzbek media.

For more discussion, check out riting on the wall and Brian Ulrich.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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