The mass media is the most important institution of a democratic society and in Uzbekistan over the past five years, significant work has been carried out to ensure freedom of speech, the information and mass communications management system has been transformed and the role of the media as one of the most important factors for the effective development of society and the state has been increased.
In this direction, 12 regulatory and legislative acts have been adopted over the past 5 years. In particular, in April 2018, amendments were made to the laws “On Mass Media” and “On the protection of the professional activity of a journalist”. Mechanisms have been created to support the media by the state, including the provision of preferences, state subsidies, grants and social orders. Web resources have been defined as media. The process of registration of mass media began to be carried out in electronic form. In 2018, the country’s first University of Journalism and Mass Communications was established to train journalistic personnel.
In February 2019, the Agency of Information and Mass Communications under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (AIMC) was established, whose tasks are to ensure the rights of citizens to freedom of speech and information, create equal conditions in the media market, protect the rights of journalists, and promote the strengthening of the role of the media in the development of the country. And in September 2019, a Social Council on the development of the information sphere and mass communications was formed under the Oliy Majlis (Parliament) of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Much attention is paid to increasing the information openness of public authorities and management, which previously had certain problems with it. Currently, more than 600 press secretaries work in state bodies in Uzbekistan, and more than half of the news information flow is formed through their dynamic activities.
Cardinal changes have taken place in the field of Uzbekistan’s openness to foreign media. The country has restored full access to such foreign websites as BBC Uzbek, Voice of America, Amerika ovozi, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Eurasianet.org, Deutsche Welle, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders, RWB), AsiaTerra, Fergana Agency, etc. For foreign media, the mechanism for passing accreditation has been simplified, which correspondents of the Uzbek service of BBC, Voice of America, Fergana Agency and other agencies that previously could not work in Uzbekistan have received.
Significant changes are taking place in the activities of national television. The new modern platform (“Over-the-top”) of the National Television and Radio Company of Uzbekistan (NTRC), combining 26 television and 16 radio channels with round-the-clock broadcasting, allows central TV channels to broadcast programs throughout the country and in more than a hundred countries of the world.
The participation of representatives of the media and civil society in the process of developing mechanisms for self-regulation of the information sphere has become more active, on the initiative of which the national Code of Professional Ethics of Journalists was adopted.
Due to all these changes in the May press freedom rating of RWB for 2022, Uzbekistan improved its position by 24 positions, receiving 45.74 points out of 100 possible.
Media in the dynamics of recent years
The ongoing reforms in the field of liberalization of media activities have ensured the dynamic development of the media sector. Over the past 5 years (2016-2021), 448 new media have been registered in Uzbekistan.
In the non-governmental sector, the largest growth is observed in the category of electronic media. In five years, there have been an increase of them by 194 sites, and the number of private magazines has grown by 132 units. Also, during this time, 7 new non-state TV channels and two radio stations were opened. The number of state electronic media has grown from 32 to 120 websites. Among the printed state media, the largest growth is observed in the category of magazines, which have increased by 85 publications. Three new guest channels were opened on television. As of April 2022, there are 1,981 publishers registered in Uzbekistan, of which 82% (557 units) are non-state media. At the same time, there are more than 1.3 thousand users who identify themselves as bloggers and are actively engaged in media activities. To the date, there are four news agencies: Turkiston-press, Dunyo, Uzbekiston milliy axborot agentligi (UzA) and Turon 24.
Speaking about the dynamics of the media in Uzbekistan, it should be noted that one of the qualitative indicators – the media intensity coefficient per 1 million people of the population is increasing. This coefficient for the total number of media outlets over the past 6 years has increased by 8.5 points (an increase of 17.9%) and amounted to 56.0. Including non-state and state media, respectively, increased by 4.6 (15.0%) and 3.9 (23.0%) points.
Fig.3. Dynamics of changes in the intensity coefficient of the media for 2016-2022.
Media market trends
The media market of Uzbekistan with the largest population in the Central Asian region is of interest to investors who are opening new private TV channels and online media. However, large-scale studies of the media market in Uzbekistan have not been conducted in the last 20 years, there are only local and segmented studies of various media groups. Thus, according to the results of the review of the Ledokol Group company, the media market of Uzbekistan shows moderate growth. In 2021, advertising prices increased by 13%, net market growth was 12%.
A large share of the media market is occupied by television, which accounts for almost 2/3 of the entire media budget. There is also a rapid growth of the Internet in the total budget from 3% in 2017 to 19% in 2021. Radio remains the most stable segment of the media market. To the date, there are more than 35 operating radio stations in Uzbekistan. Its market share is 2%.
Television in Uzbekistan is represented by local private and state channels of NTRC, as well as foreign cable TV channels. Nineteen out of 74 available TV channels and 7 out of 37 radio stations broadcast throughout the country, the remaining 55 TV channels and 30 radio stations broadcast at the regional level. At the same time, 36 of them are state TV channels and 38 are private, and the number of radio channels of state broadcasting has been reduced to 5, the remaining 32 radio channels are private.
In November 2018, Uzbekistan switched to placing TV ads based on television ratings, which made it possible to place ads depending on the popularity of broadcasts, rather than buying airtime. Over the past three years since the introduction of rating TV viewing, the inflow of investments in TV, including foreign ones, has increased. Since 2021, the TV advertising market is recovering after quarantine, so the increase in advertisers’ investments is 2%. The TV market share in Uzbekistan in 2021 is one of the largest in the world. Every year, the number of advertisers, including foreign ones, is growing.
Despite the fairly rapid development of the media market of Uzbekistan, it still occupies a rather modest role in the country’s economy compared to developed countries, where the media sector accumulates significant resources. Thus, the share of the media industry in the GNP of the USA and the UK reaches approximately 3%, and the media sector significantly outstripped the growth of the economy as a whole. That means the potential for further development of the media sector in Uzbekistan is quite high.
Financial support of the media
Until recently, regardless of the volume and legal status, all media paid the same taxes as business entities. Such a situation with taxation had a negative impact not only on the financial condition of the media, but also on a decrease in the level of use of mass media services by the population due to their high cost.
Based on foreign experience and in order to strengthen the financial stability of the media, a Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan was adopted in June of 2022, according to which, from July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2025, the media pay income tax at a tax rate reduced by 50% (7.5% instead of 15%), with the exception of the media advertising, as well as the import of equipment and paper not produced in Uzbekistan, necessary for the media, are exempt from customs duties. This decision will not only strengthen the financial independence of the media, but also stimulate the inflow of private investment in this sector.
Prospects of the media market
Today, the media sector of Uzbekistan is experiencing rapid development, non-state media are opening up, the process of transformation of the media market is underway, in which the private sector, independent electronic media, as well as blogging are gaining the highest growth rates.
The initiated reforms in the media sector continue, first of all, in the process of establishing the media business as one of the main conditions for the development of pluralism of opinions and freedom of speech.
It should also be noted that the Development Strategy of the New Uzbekistan for 2022-2026 provides for further strengthening the role of the media and the protection of the professional activities of journalists, as an important factor in influencing public opinion on the policy and deepening reforms, which will certainly contribute to the further influx of private investment in the development of the media sector.
Head of the Public Relations and Media Sector, Center for Economic Research and Reforms under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan
The Center for Economic Research and Reforms (CERR) under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan is both a research center and an Accelerator of socio-economic reforms. CERR provides comments and advice on suggestions for socio-economic programming and policies by the Ministries to solve the main development issues in a swift, operational and efficient way. CERR is in the Central Asian Top-10 by the «Global Go To Think Tank Index Report 2020» (USA).