Tired of violence on the nightly news? Try Uzbek TV

Official Uzbek TV offers a parallel reality here that many deride mockingly as 'News from Paradise.'

Uzbeks who rely only on state media may be forgiven for not being up on last week's news about some of the bloodiest terror attacks to hit Central Asia. Official Uzbek TV offers a parallel reality here that many deride mockingly as "News from Paradise."

A full 24 hours after militants launched a series of explosions and suicide attacks in Uzbekistan, the station broadcast a statement from President Islam Karimov. But Mr. Karimov's declaration - coming after a day of typical broadcasting, of nature films and mountain vistas set to the floating saxophone music of Kenny G - left many Uzbeks dumbstruck and subject to rumor.

Though 20 people had already died by Tuesday, the lead story on state- controlled Uzbek TV was about the visit of former Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus. Much further down the line-up was the fact that Uzbek suicide bombers were killing themselves in the capital. No footage of the attacks or details about the events were broadcast; just the authoritarian president's say-so that "it is clear" that the violence was orchestrated from abroad, and fits the pattern of other global terror attacks.

Uzbeks are hardly surprised. After all, on Sept. 11, 2001, while television viewers worldwide were riveted to live coverage, Uzbek TV limited its report to a mere mention of the attacks and a few seconds of footage. The next day, a one minute report ran, and on the third day a broader report with a few more pictures. After that, Uzbek TV received the instruction: "Don't show the twin towers collapsing, or the planes flying in. Don't analyze anything."

Despite the censorship, many Uzbeks do have access to Russian news, satellite TV, and the Internet.

But Channel One is known as the "President's Channel," and its sole purpose, Uzbek journalists say, is to serve as his propaganda arm. Karimov has been known to telephone at once, if anything he sees on screen angers him.

Uzbeks joke that "if you want to be in paradise, watch Uzbek TV. If you want to experience hell, live in Uzbekistan."

By Sunday night, a week after the four-day spree of violence began, Uzbek TV's weekly review was on message: Uzbekistan had been victimized by terrorists, just like the US, Spain, and Russia. The police, who were targeted, are heroes. Now all is quiet and normal, "trees are blooming, children are playing."

The Uzbek TV news presenter Sunday spoke lyrically about how "we were all very happy" during the Navrouz holiday a couple weeks ago, "but we didn't know that in some deep corners, dark forces were planning to realize their evil ends."

Only brief, innocuous images of shattered glass and security forces on guard illustrated the horror of the suicide bombings. They were interspersed with far lengthier, graphic images of the Twin Towers aftermath, the Madrid train attack, and the Moscow theater siege.

The presenter pointed out that reform in the health system and hospitals started by Karimov "proved to be very timely." Throughout the week, a parade of on-the-street interviews with Uzbeks made clear their willingness to die defending their president.

No mention was made of criticism from the UN, Western governments, and rights activists that Uzbekistan's tough crackdowns on independent Muslims may have encouraged Islamic extremism - a link the government rejects.

However, before a eulogistic segment about a policemen killed in a market, the correspondent did note that "we know the [normally poor] relations between vendors and police."

"We realize, for us, peace is the most important thing," said the anchor. "We should note that stability does not come from the sky, like manna [from Heaven]. We have to struggle for that."

Official details of the events from the general prosecutor's office - and the array of explosives, suicide belts, and other terror paraphernalia displayed Friday - have been broadcast in full. Foreign press, though - especially Russian media - have been singled out for "manipulating" the news.

With a face engraved with seriousness, the anchor Sunday told a cautionary tale about "different ways of making conclusions."

There was once a king who had a dream that he had lost all his teeth, the presenter intoned. The king summoned a dream interpreter, who said it meant that "Soon all your relatives will die." The king punished him for that, the presenter said. The king then called in another dream diviner, who changed the tune - and received a reward: "That's very good! [The dream] means you will live longer than your relatives."

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