In Turkmenistan, modern media and totalitarianism’s towering love affair
Editor’s note: A 137 million euro television tower is set to be inaugurated in October in Ashgabat. The facility shall be incredibly state of the art — and totally hypocritical. neweurasia’s Emerson reports. “Besides the fact that it’s basically an enormous hypno-ray beaming out propaganda, who knows what technical abuses can be done with it?” he writes, “This tower is practically a dictatorship’s gift to more extensively monitor and pry into the private electronic communications of the Turkmenistani population.”
A lucrative new television tower is set to be inaugurated in October in Ashgabat. It has cost almost 137 million Euros but it appears to have been well worth the investment. Consider: the Turkish construction company Polimeks, which has been responsible for several projects in the capital, boasts that it shall stand at 211m atop the Gindivar foothill of the Kopetdag range and shall be state of the art:
The tower has viewing terraces, a restaurant, a VIP lounge and a revolving restaurant of 100 people capacity. There are 4 large TV studios and 2 small TV studios, 140 editing labs and 5 broadcasting studios. There are rooms, offices for technical staff, exhibition and conference halls, a child entertainment center, as well as teleradio broadcasting, satellite and radio communication and rooms for technical equipment of the Meteorology Department. TV broadcasting and communication antennas will be installed at the top of the tower. An underground parking structure with 189 car capacity, storage rooms for decorations, electrical rooms and other maintenance rooms will also be included in the project.
Much of the technology has been supplied by the German company Rohde & Schwarz. Back on 23 July, 2010, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) quoted* a commentator in Ashgabat that the government was “spending millions of dollars on improving the way television works, staff are on high salaries by local standards, enjoy good working conditions- high-end equipment, and separate studios and rooms.”
This is an incredibly rich media outlet, and moreover, it’s intended to be the most distinguishing landmark of Turkmenistan. Yet it is for a country that has neither democracy nor a diverse and independent media.
The government funds all media outlets and enjoys absolute power in controlling mass media outlets throughout the country. Newspapers quite literally are clones of each other. Editors-in-chief are appointed and dismissed by the decree of the president. The International Research and Exchange Board (IREX)’s 2011 Media Sustainability Report explains that the presidential administration of Turkmenistan must approve in advance all interviews with government officials. The same study states that journalists limit their coverage to issues that please officials’ ears.
However, mass media outlets of Turkmenistan fail to cover basic issues about Turkmenistan’s many economic and social problems, while in a dreadful irony the president regularly criticizes mass media officials for their low ideological standard, as well as the poor artistic standards of Turkmen television programs.
What this television tower really symbolizes is the sordid love affair that too often exists between modern media and totalitarianism. Besides the fact that it’s basically an enormous hypno-ray beaming out propaganda, who knows what technical abuses can be done with it? This tower is practically a dictatorship’s gift to more extensively monitor and pry into the private electronic communications of the Turkmenistani population.
One of the spiffy aesthetic features of the tower is that the color spectrum of windows gracing the tower shall change according to the day hour. Well, this is just a new twist on Niyazov’s statue constantly turning to face the sun…
*Quote available on p. 277 of IREX’s 2011 Media Sustainability Report.