Millions of people in Tajikistan have read, watched and listened to an extraordinary social media campaign which has clearly shown the population’s hunger for stories about their lives and their communities.
The campaign has so far attracted more than 2.1 million views and garnered almost 20,000 reactions and shares on social media platforms. All this in a country with a population of just 9.75 million people. The content creation project which tells stories about marginalised people and communities, is the culmination of a two-year programme to bolster independent media in Tajikistan.
Righting the Balance: Building the Resilience and Relevance of Independent media in Tajikistan was run in conjunction with our local partner the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT).
More than 60 pieces of social media content were produced by journalists and leaders from civil society organisations (CSOs) who worked in pairs to produce 35 digital videos, talk shows, podcasts and TV documentaries. With themes ranging from disabled women in the workplace, domestic violence, military conscription and young, male unemployment levels, the stories told came from across the country, including hard-to-reach rural areas as well as larger, urban centres.
Thomson Media’s managing director, David Quin says: “The unprecedented engagement figures on social media and the scale of the outreach involved prove that relatable, engaging and previously untold human-interest stories are high in demand among Tajik audiences.“
The successful social media campaign was part of a larger initiative to foster cooperation between media and civil society in the country. Training was provided through bespoke self-paced online courses, as well as in-person workshops with local trainers and an international trainer who joined remotely.
As we reported in 2020, particular focus was on challenging the lack of public information being made available to the media with training provided around the right to information (RTI) procedures. During the project’s lifespan, journalists submitted 280 RTI requests. Of those, 57.1 per cent were successful, a rise of more than 12 per cent from before the start of the project. Although accessing information remains difficult, NANSMIT is continuing to work on its platform to help journalists navigate the process.
“Working together, journalists and representatives of NGOs can more effectively seek solutions to particular social issues.” Lawyer Khurshed Kurbonshoev, who was paired with journalist Abdullo Gurbati, whose hard-hitting social affairs coverage earned both public praise and state criticism.
Abdullo is currently appealing against a seven-and-half year sentence after being convicted of assaulting a police officer and participation in a banned extremist group, charges he denied.
Pressure on media and civil society intensified during the two years of our programme with complaints that the authorities have used vaguely worded criminal legislation on “extremism” and other offences to stifle dissent.
Self-censorship is now a reality for some journalists and CSO workers. But the door has been opened and the huge public response to stories on conflict-sensitive subjects indicates a growth of trust in journalism in Tajikistan.