Turkmenistan Bans Sex, Drugs and Violence on TV

The government says the rules are intended to protect children, although none of the offending content currently makes it to the country's screens anyhow.

Turkmenistan has adopted broadcasting legislation that in effect bans the depiction on television or in film of sex, violence and content encouraging bad habits.

The law approved by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, which was posted on the government website on January 13, states that it is intended to protect underage children from content that could have a “negative influence on physical, mental or moral development.”

It is not exactly as though TV in Turkmenistan is currently full of much offensive content though. There are seven channels available to the broader population and the broadcasting schedule is invariably jam-packed with craven adulation for Berdymukhamedov and reports on the many purported achievements taking place under his rule.

In the wake of Berdymukhamedov coming to power, at the turn of 2006, there was a microscopic opening-up to the world that led to foreign movies being broadcast on local television stations, but these were typically selected for their blandness. Saccharine Hollywood fare aimed at children and Indian movies are favored genres.

The intensely crushing boredom induced by Turkmen state television drives most people to invest in satellite dishes, which are used to receive content from places like Russia and Turkey. But the authorities routinely embark on campaigns to force people to dismantle their dishes on the grounds that they constitute an eyesore.

Turkmenistan has been in the news for other quirky bans recently, although the reliability of such accounts is questionable. 

Some international media have latched feverishly onto reports that the government has imposed an outright ban on black cars and impounded the vehicles of noncompliant motorists. Without the remotest basis in evidence, it has been suggested that this rule has been implemented in accordance with Berdymukhamedov’s supposed superstitious dislike of the color black.

Reports in an even more sensational vein more recently claimed that women are being banned from driving.

Turkmenistan very rarely responds officially to such allegations appearing in foreign-based opposition media, but on this occasion the job appears to have been farmed out to an officially sanctioned online news outlet called Orient. An article featured on the website expresses exasperation at the woman driver ban claim and argues its case with multiple photos of the female reporter at the wheel. Just for safe measure, the photo report also includes many images of black cars.

While the credibility of such state-approved debunking should normally be taken with a pinch of salt, a Eurasianet.org correspondent in Ashgabat indeed confirms that black cars and female drivers are still regularly to be seen on the city’s roads, suggesting the prohibition neither exists officially nor is as universal as is being claimed.

The moral of the lesson will be ignored by the government, of course. And that is that wildly indiscriminate censorship and strict restrictions on media content and the work of journalists does not stem the flow of embarrassing reporting. Instead, it creates a vacuum in which exaggerations and misreporting may flourish.

The puritanical drive behind bans on sex and violence on TV and film are likewise doomed to failure.