Uzbekistan: Unringing The Bell

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When a government entity in Uzbekistan publishes a press release, it is not wise for news outlets to be too quick in using it as the basis for a story.

There was a neat illustration of this principle last week, when state-owned natural gas company Uztransgaz announced on its Telegram channel that it was carrying out works on pipelines to accommodate imports from Russia.

Failing to do so, the statement explained, could cause an interference in the flow of locally produced gas in the national pipeline network.

This seemed like an uncontroversial press release. Uzbekistan endured chronic gas shortages this winter and this was the authorities appearing to flag up that they were adopting measures to avoid similar events in future.

Eurasianet duly reported the story.

After that happened, however, Uztransgaz contacted outlets in Tashkent to inform them that a withdrawal of their statement was imminent. Their announcement contained “incorrect information due to a misunderstanding,” the company said.

“Works on … gas pipelines are not related to the import of gas from Russia,” the updated statement read, adding that the real purpose of the works was to “improve the efficiency of gas supply to consumers in southern regions.”

No elaboration was offered as to how this quite specific misunderstanding could have occurred. It is also not clear whether Russia will, as had been reported earlier, start pumping gas to Uzbekistan some time this month.

Communications mishaps seem to happen where matters of a particularly sensitive nature are involved.

In April 2022, a ripple of panic was provoked by reports that Islamic State militants based in Afghanistan had mounted a cross-border rocket attack on Uzbekistan.

The immediate reaction of the authorities was to deny that anything of the sort had happened. A spokesman for the president took to Telegram to suggest that claiming otherwise was tantamount to a “provocation.” The Defence Ministry backed this up and pleaded with the public not “to believe such false news and to rely only on official sources.”

Once the Uzbek government was done issuing those denials, a representative of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan admitted that suspected militants affiliated with the IS Khorasan Province group, known as ISKP, had indeed fired a barrage of rockets toward Uzbekistan.

On occasion, it is outlets that withdraw reporting, likely at the behest of officials.

In one recent such case, independent news website Gazeta.uz last month published an article about the sometimes-expensive presents given in 2021 by Uzbek officials to their American counterparts. The piece was based on data contained within information published by the US Office of the Chief of Protocol and could, accordingly, be taken as verified and credible.

“The total value of gifts given during the year is estimated at $11,485,” read the now-deleted report, whose disappearance was spotted by the BBC’s Uzbek service.

It is unclear why the article disappeared, although precedent suggests that pressure was applied to an outlet reporting accurately on what could be perceived by some as embarrassing news. 

Source : Intellinews