Such established liberties as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of self-expression are non-existent in Turkmenistan
Respecting freedom of the press and of speech is a norm for self-respecting countries. Non-compliance with these priorities testifies the inefficiency of the government-in-power and its weakness since powerful authorities should not fear independent mass media.
The Turkmen mass media including 23 newspapers and 16 magazines (according to the subscription list for the first 6 months of 2008), 4 TV channels and 4 radio programs, are committed to achieving one goal: providing a positive coverage of government policies and embellishing reality.
As twin brothers, all print media look alike. Their distinctive features are a pompous pathetic style of writing, glorification of insignificant events, praise to the country's leaders and no coverage of burning topics.
The Committee on protecting state secrets in the press and other mass media under the Cabinet of Ministers closely checks that all materials available in the print media, on TV and radio are "painted in bright colours" and "sugar-coated" to avoid any negative hints in the content of the materials. Furthermore, the Committee is quite successful in pursuing this objective since it is not by chance that its editor was recently awarded with the medal "Edermenlik" (bravery award).
Yet, there are many issues of social significance in Turkmenistan, among which impoverishment in rural areas, declining birth rates, a high mortality rate, unemployment and related to this the mass emigration of young people looking for jobs abroad. However, these topics are not covered in the print media.
All mass media publish and give coverage of the same events. The text, read by a news anchor in TV channel 4, follows word-for-word the statement published in the newspapers "Neitralny Turkmenistan", "Turkmenistan", "Vatan" and others. These are the statements drafted by the TDH information agency. Comparing five regional newspapers issued in velayats, the Mary newspaper "Mary-shahy-djahan" and the Lebap publication "Turkmen gundogary" they all have surprisingly common contents. Only the names of the characters and the names of the localities are changed. Among the editorial staff of the velayat newspapers there are almost no professional journalists. In the majority of cases the newspapers employ people with degrees in Teacher Training or Philology. Notably, the editor-in-chief of the Lebap newspaper "Turkmen gundogary" Abdurashid Tashev is a playwright and a poet. Consequently he hires only people with the same poetic gift as his staff members. "If one is capable of writing poetry he/she will get a job in the newspaper", is his guiding principle. The readers' section in the editorial offices both in the central and velayat newspapers have no longer been working with readers' letters, as they know in advance that these will only be complaints. At the same time, journalists make up letters on behalf of readers who joyfully praise, sometimes for no particular reason, what is happening in the country. For example they get excited at the following news: "During last week 26 deals for a total amount of 66,417,000 USD and 22,865,000,000 manats were registered at the trading in the Turkmenistan State Commodity Exchange", or they are happy that "946 thousand tons of raw cotton have been produced in the country".
In earlier times, the Soviet press used to cheer when the USSR took the lead in the volume of cast iron and steel produced per capita. However, this "leadership" contributed to the collapse of the Soviet economy and the Soviet Union. Yet, window dressing and praising the authorities led to the break up of the huge country.
Despite great leaders, Turkmenistan is a country far from being great. In the small Turkmenistan everything and everybody are plainly visible. People prefer to trust their eyes and rumours rather than newspapers.