Communications / Off Mic
Service Snapshot: Alisher Sidikov
It was under these trying circumstances that Sidikov joined RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Radio Ozodlik, which had been forced by the government to shut down its bureau in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in late 2005. The move left Radio Ozodlik, and now Sidikov, with a tough problem: how do you report the news for a nation of 28 million without being allowed to set foot inside its borders?
Fortunately, Sidikov and Radio Ozodlik have turned this tremendous hurdle into an advantage.
“This was a chance to find other ways to report and in fact our chief editors said that we were working better without the bureau in Uzbekistan,” explains Sidikov. Instead of despairing, Sidikov and the rest of the team at Radio Ozodlik turned to new sources and new methods of gathering information, relying as never before on citizen journalism.
Looking for Loopholes
“Radio Ozodlik is a pioneer in the new media technology in Uzbekistan,” Sidikov says, and begins to discuss the radio station’s SMS service, which allows ordinary people and governmental officials from all over the country to send in news tips to Radio Ozodlik via text message or phone. SMS is the easiest way for Uzbeks, 58% of whom have a mobile phone, to reach Radio Ozodlik.
Just recently, Radio Ozodlik added a new media platform: Skype. The feedback and groundbreaking reports they have already started receiving have astonished Sidikov.
“We receive at least one contact request every hour,” he says.
Virtual Hunger Strike?
The platform Radio Ozodlik provides for Uzbek activists can sometimes take unusual turns.
Sidikov tells the story of two journalists from an Uzbek TV station who went on hunger strike to demand an end to media censorship, but were denied a permit to protest publicly.
“This is when we stepped in and opened up a Twitter account for them. We changed the rules of the game and brought the message out. These two journalists were able to go on a ‘virtual hunger strike’ and go on a direct debate with other Twitter users as well as discuss their conditions and demands on this public media platform.”
Despite the dangers to, and sacrifices of, Radio Ozodlik’s sources within the country, Sidikov still believes firmly that Radio Ozodlik is necessary now more than ever in Uzbekistan. “It is the response from people that tells us that we are on the right track.”
— Deana Kjuka