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Case #389

Woman Journalist Fights on the Media Frontiers of Uzbekistan


Natasha Shulepina was born with journalism in her blood. A dynamic, upbeat Russian, single and energetic, she is on almost all counts an anomaly in the highly traditional society of Uzbekistan - a society that is 80 per cent Uzbek and Muslim. She works for the paper Pravda Hostoka (Truth of the East), where her beat is economic, health, environmental and social matters. She is a thorn in the side of the authorities, yet was awarded last year's government-sponsored Shuhrat (renown) award.

Her exposes - at least those that get past the ever-vigilant censor - provide a fascinating look at how the wheels get greased in a society where the press must serve the state. Controversial material -sometimes even whole articles - are removed, but if a controversy does make it into print it often appears the same day on the appropriate official's desk for corrective action. Writing in this Central Asian country has an impact that journalists in the West might well envy.

While nominally democratic, modern Uzbekistan's political culture is in fact shaped by traditional clan-based hierarchies with strong unopposed leaders. President Islam Karimov rules with no public opposition to the political and economic direction of post - Soviet Uzbekistan. Natasha is careful to steer clear of party politics or criticizing the president.

Natasha states: ?It is vital to act as a watch dog. After the years of stagnation, we are faced with a situation where the rules are constantly changing, where money can lead us down a slippery slope. It's very easy to grease a bureaucrat's palm, and then do whatever you like.?

One of Natasha's main tasks is to expose the Soviet-era environmental skeletons. While the disastrous Aral Sea situation gets all the headlines, Tashlak, in the Fergana valley, recently got national coverage thanks to Natasha's efforts. The petrochemical industry there was the pride and joy of the Soviet era. But an oil spill at an old refinery dumped 300,000 tons of oil over a fifteen-year period. The water has been undrinkable ever since. Natasha's expose resulted in the Deputy Prime Minister issuing a resolution the next day demanding a clean-up and assistance to the local population.

`We have to fight to get some articles published because of the toes that get stepped on, but actions are taken immediately as a result. The press is the only vehicle for alerting the bureaucracy that things are not as they claim. Without us, the risk of instability and social crisis would be much higher.


The power of one woman?s determination to unmask corruption and environmental degradation through use of her position as a journalist is clear in this story. Working under censorship conditions that should prevent her from exposing the situations that she does, she has managed to apply the power of her words to make changes on appropriate government levels. Natasha?s skills as a journalist, her personal determination, and her dedication to the betterment of her country serve as inspirations for others. One person can make a difference. Downsides: She can be censored more severely for her outspokenness and there might not be someone else to take on her crusades should she be silenced.
Location: Uzbekistan
Setting: Third World
Extent of Action: National
Issues: Environment, Human Rights, Worker Rights
Year(s): 1999
Outcome in progress
Source: New Internationalist, September 1999, p. 31


Prepared By: sl 1/02
Rating: 1
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