“VOA broadcasts are seen by and are important to many” in Central Asia, says VOA Uzbek Service staffer Navbahor Imamova, host and producer of Amerika Manzaralari (Exploring America), the Service’s very popular weekly TV program. Imamova recently returned from a trip to southern Kyrgyzstan, where she was interviewed by VOA affiliate Keremet TV, which broadcasts her show.
Why is the host of a VOA Uzbek program travelling to Kyrgyzstan? Because, says Imamova, it “has a sizable Uzbek population in the south” and Keremet TV “has been carrying our show since 2006 and I have always wanted to go to the region and spend time with our audience."
When asked about the VOA presence in Uzbekistan, Imamova says the government tends to either restrict or bar international media outlets, particularly those based in the West, such as VOA and RFE/RL. Still, she adds, many on either side of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border are able to see her show. What’s more, with the growing access to the Internet and satellite dishes, the audience is steadily expanding too.
During her visit to Keremet, which is based in Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, Imamova got a good example of the popularity of VOA broadcasts. The Amerika Manzaralari show that was scheduled to be on was unexpectedly delayed and complaint calls and text messages began pouring in. “The experience underlined,” she says, “just how much our viewers value our program.” She also learned she is quite well known in Kyrgyzstan. She reports that everywhere she went men and women of all ages greeted her and praised VOA and Amerika Manzaralari.
Imamova’s interview with Keremet was conducted by the station’s lead anchor, Venera Abdiraimova, who asked about her career as a journalist and how she came to the United States. Imamova got her start in journalism in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where she was born. She earned her undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of Mysore in India, and then got a master’s degree in the same field at Ball State University in Indiana. She started working for VOA while in graduate school. "I always wanted to be a broadcaster,” she says, “and tell stories using sound and images to offer people a better sense of the world."
VOA’s broadcasts to Central Asia are a rare outlet for balanced news and information in a region where governments restrict press freedom. VOA reporter Alisher Soipov was only 26 years old when he was assassinated in front of his office in Osh in 2007. There is widespread speculation that the Uzbek government may have been involved.