Four state TV channels and the state radio broadcast in Turkmenistan. Both of these are virtually the same in terms of the programs` content and quality. In practice these sources of information work as the ideological megaphone of the regime. Any viewpoint or idea different from that of the leader is taboo on these channels, not to mention any criticism of the authorities. The only alternative source of information for most Turkmen citizens who have no satellite aerials and, consequently, no access to Russian or Turkish TV programs is the Azatlyk Radio (Radio Liberty Turkmen Service). The latter broadcasts more or less correct information about Turkmenistan.
Azatlyk is also popular among those who have satellite aerials. As the situation in Turkmenistan is almost never portrayed objectively on Russian or Turkish channels, in this respect the latter are no different from Turkmen television.
Azatlyk has a broad audience ranging from shepherds in the Karakum desert and peasants to high ranking officials of the state enterprises; and reaches both young and old. This is confirmed by various categories of people.
When this or another problem is touched upon in a private conversation with some of the aforementioned categories of people, they say: yes, all this is true; we also heard this on Azatlyk. This shows that people listen to this radio.
The contingent of Azatlyk listeners largely depends upon whether people possess radio receivers or money to purchase them. Those who have the opportunity certainly listen to the radio programs. Others try to buy a radio receiver. Those who heard interesting information on Azatlyk share it with the others the next day. In this way, Azatlyk has gained the image of the source reporting on facts which are silenced by the official media in Turkmenistan.
What are people's opinions about Azatlyk's programs? Opinions vary. Here are the results of an unofficial survey conducted among the radio's listeners:
Aman ?-ov, a journalist for a velayat's newspapers: "I regularly listen to the Azatlyk programs but I don't speak much about it as I am afraid that someone will report me to the respective services and I could lose my job at the newspaper. As a journalist I would like to emphasize the quality of Azatlyk's programs. Azatlyk radio sometimes discloses the reasons underlying events that happened in Turkmenistan. When official Turkmen press informs about the dismissal of some official on the grounds of "serious shortcomings in his work", Azatlyk comments offer several opinions on the matter, certain details and additional facts. In other words, the listener gets a chance to think and to make his/her own conclusions on the basis of various viewpoints presented by the experts and commentators. Recently, Azatlyk correspondents started working in the country – this shows progress since the information received is up-to-date and directly from a person living in our totalitarian state who is also well aware of the situation. I would also like to express my thoughts to the Radio Liberty Turkmen Service. In a daily one hour program "Turkmen gundeligui" ("Turkmen diary") there are features "Zenan dunjasi" ("Women's world") and "Yashlar klubi" ("Youth club") which talk very little about Turkmenistan. For instance, the block "Yashlar klubi" has a section "Internetkafede mykhmanchylykda" - "Visiting an Internet cafe" where the speaker talks about things in the world of computers and Internet which most of Turkmenistan's population, where such things rarely exist, have never have heard about".
Alty Ya-ov, who is retired remarks: "I listen to the radio every day. Some programs are really good but sometimes I feel that the comments are made by people who have not lived in the country for a long time and are not fully aware of the situation here. They used to have a very good program "Dinleizheliremiz bize jazjar" ("Listeners write to us"), in which letters from listeners were read out which spoke of things that are never openly discussed here. Then the program disappeared. Perhaps nobody writes any more from the country. Another good program is "Turkmenchilik": this is about the history, traditions and customs of Turkmens. I also like radio dramas which portray the real life situations of the Turkmen people in an ironical form. I would like to see more information given from and about Turkmenistan, a broadening of the network of authors inside the country and an encouragement of those listeners who are prepared to write letters to the Azatlyk. One essential remark – the programs "Turkmen gundeligui" and "Khalkara gundeligui" ("International diary") are repeated each hour in the evening, whereas this is not the case on the Radio Liberty Uzbek Service".
Khakberdy O-ev, a teacher of an Ashgabat school: "Of course, I listen to the Azatlyk programs as I have no other source of information. However, I don't believe that they can improve the situation in the country or help to solve any problems here. Azatlyk broadcasts but the situation doesn't change. According to the Russian proverb, "the cat listens but continues to eat". The authorities must also be listening to these programs, in particular, the special services. The MNS officials cannot but report to the top on the content of the programs. However, for some reason the authorities show no reaction. I may be mistaken, perhaps I expect too much from Azatlyk – I don't know".
There are thus different opinions. As far as interviews with the so-called turncoats on Azatlyk are concerned there are also different viewpoints. When the former high-ranking state officials such as Khanamov, Orazov, S. Yklymov, ?.Dodonov speak on the radio, some people say: "They live a good life there: they have stolen enough and can now speak badly about others from the safety of abroad. Others, on the contrary, have great respect for the views of these people as they used to be close to S.Niyazov and know many things not by hearsay.
There is also much appreciation for the opinions of such people as Shirali Nurmuradov, Khalmurat Soyunov and Dzhumamurat Kyjasov, an expert from Moscow, as well as of some human right activists who used to clash with the regime and had to live outside the country on political or other grounds.
Whatever the case, people listen to Azatlyk and pass on the news they hear there orally. No one listens to the local radio. People often refuse to pay for the receiver. When the serviceman threatens to cut the wires, the people answer: "Do, what you want. We don`t listen to it anyway". People regularly paid for the radio when they could listen to the Russian Radio Mayak.
Turkmen television is watched by the people either on Monday or on Friday, i.e. when the Ministerial Meetings are held. If the information program "Watan" starts with the words "today the President Saparmurat Turkmebashi the Great has chaired a Ministerial Meeting ...", the people listen until the end in the hope of finding out who has been dismissed or imprisoned by the Leader this time. If the programs open with the routine congratulations addressed to the President from abroad on the occasion of a national holiday, the Leader's birthday, news of the successful operation on his left eye, etc. or glowing reports about the achievements in the economy, the TV set is immediately switched to another channel: those who have satellite aerials – to the Russian ones and others tune their TV into Tashkent, Nukus, Bukhara, i.e. the Uzbek TV channels. It is interesting to note that the Uzbek channels are preferred not only by ethnic Uzbeks residing in Turkmenistan but also by Turkmens. Uzbek programs are allegedly more interesting than those broadcast by the Turkmen TV.