Sunday, September 28, 2008

Berserk NY Times Hails Turkmenistan Shift to Democracy as Greedy, Compares New Democracy to North Korea

Eye on Image, Turkmenistan Overhauls Laws - This is a proud day for Turkmenistan, a joyful day for the Turkmens and a day of vindication for As Good As News, the official blog of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan's President, Doc Gurby, announced that a puppet legislature created by his predecessor will be disbanded, with power to be transferred to a new, democratically elected 125 member Parliament. Monitored parliamentary elections will be held in December.

Our joy is marred only by the Time's continued tawdry treatment of Doc Gurby. In this case, the Times shares the blame with Reuters. Somehow, Reuter's intrepid reporter has read Doc Gurby's mind and determined that this dramatic shift towards democracy is designed to enhance image and attract Western investment. There is absolutely no chance that Doc believes in democracy, no chance he wants to do the right thing for the Turkmens, no possibility that he wants to go down in history as the father of democratic Turkmenistan - no, it's all about attracting Western investment. Apparently the Time's is very cranky because Doc Gurby refuses to play the stereotyped role of greedy, isolationist dictator despite repeated efforts by the Time's to cast him in this part.

First, Doc is not running a secretive kleptocracy, whatever you might think from the constant battering by the Times. His well publicized approach to developing and marketing Turkmenistan's natural gas reserves makes it clear that he's getting the best deals possible for his country. Crooked leaders deal quickly and quietly, giving natural resources away at fire sale prices to the buyer offering the largest bribes.

Second, Doc doesn't need democracy or Western investment. He's already positioned Turkmenistan's natural gas reserves for sale to India and China, booming economies that are not squeamish about dealing with dictators. Doc has already lined up more than enough revenue to hold onto power, if that were his only goal. Even if one reason for democratization is the pursuit of Western investment, this is for the good of the country and its people, not Doc's personal bank account. Why does the headline scream "image" when Doc has announced a very real new constitution that includes a five year term for his own office. What facts justify treating Doc's announcement as if it were some kind of show intended for Western consumption? The story and its headline are long on presumption, short on fact.

Finally, consider the last paragraph of the linked story:

Turkmenistan retains, with North Korea, its status as the world’s worst violator of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Is there any news here? Did Doc execute an editor, raid a newspaper office, toss a reporter in jail? Turkmenistan barely has a press, much less a free press. Nothing new has happened on this front since Joe Stalin ran the USSR. Well, OK, maybe Doc's security apparatus harassed some Radio Free Europe journalists in June, but that was nearly four months ago. Doc's the guy who let the Internet into Turkmenistan, the closest thing it's got to a free press and he's an improvement over Niazov. Doc's dramatic move toward democracy might be another step toward creating a free press, but instead of hailing him as a hero the story closes with a gratuitous knife in the back. Thanks again Times, by the way, you forgot to open that last paragraph with "Reclusive".

For a history of the NY Time's take on Doc Gurby, just search this blog for "Turkmenistan". The posts are best read in chronological order. What started as a tongue-in-cheek take on a tongue twister has evolved into genuine amazement at the Time's bias.

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