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Uzbek Officials Consider Imposing Taxes on Bloggers

The latter are fine with it, but they doubt the initiative will be implemented effectively.

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On June 14, the head of the office of the State Tax Committee of Uzbekistan (NGK), Akhmadzhon Suyunov, said bloggers in Telegram, Instagram and Facebook should pay advertising sales taxes.

The statement was immediately disseminated by bloggers and civil activists both in Russian and Uzbek-speaking segments of popular social media in Uzbekistan. The key question is how the payment system and suggested penalty for non-payment of taxes will be implemented?

Key issues in the statement

Citizens who earn an income from social media advertising and don’t pay taxes to the state can face seizure of facilities (phone, laptop, tablet, PC) according to article 176 of the Administrative Responsibility Code (carrying out business activities without state registration is subject to penalty: 5 to 7  MRZP (minimum wage rate) and forfeiture of the subject matter of offence).

The statement has caused many questions. One of them is who can be considered a blogger? The national law does not have a notion of a “blogger” and it’s absolutely unclear who can be considered a blogger. If a person runs an account in social media and publishes some related content, which the audience likes, can they be treated as blogger?

The second question is what is advertising and how to prove that any given post contains advertising of a service or a product? If the user’s audience is more than 5-6 thousand, but the user likes a certain brand and tells why he/she likes it, is it advertising? Even if it is advertising, how the fact can be proved?

Grey income is widespread in the country and the majority of funds are not reported in legal contracts and documents. There’s no clear definition of advertising in blogs; however, tax authorities think they can seize a PC or a mobile phone in case of zero tax payments.

The tax committee of Uzbekistan has commented on its decision and suggested that bloggers should receive an authorisation for business activities as “sole proprietors”. This status ensures fixed taxation scheme and registration requires a package of documents to be submitted to the district administration.

When registered as a sole proprietor, the blogger will pay 502,730 Uzbekistani sums (59 dollars) on a monthly basis. If a certain level of income has been reached, the taxation scheme will change to percentage-based scheme, and the payment rates will be different.

What kind of blogosphere is in Uzbekistan?

The blogosphere of Uzbekistan is at its origin. There are more than 120 Instagram accounts that could be fit to the definition of a “blogger”. The most popular ones are singer Munisa Rizayeva’s with 1.9 million followers, and actress Zarina Nizomutdinova’s.

Aside from media personalities, other popular accounts belong to models, make-up artists and popular activists. For example, a model with a nickname Leo can boast 660 thousand followers, make-up artist Renata Iskandarova — 416 thousand, and model Nargiss — 393 thousand.

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Telegram is another popular app. Messenger is generally one of the most demanded communication vehicle in the country, and Telegram channels are one of the most popular ways to convey one’s thoughts to the audience.

It’s difficult to say the exact number of existing channels as almost every marketing expert/journalist/designer, etc. has their own channel to share their thoughts. Among the most popular are channel “Nobody cares but” (5789 followers), channels of Shukhrat Kurbanov — kurbanoff.net (5455 followers), Nikita Makarenko  — 5793 followers. In fact, a list of the most popular channels is available in Telegram Analytics; however, the rankings show either the channels of news aggregators, or brand or media channels. Personal blogs are not covered in rankings.

In fact, private Telegram channels don’t advertise, until recently, when paid posts from Aviasales appeared in Uzbekistan. However, these posts are marked as advertising. In all other cases, advertising posts are very difficult to distinguish from ordinary recommendations.

As to the advertising on Instagram, it’s easier to understand if the post or video is promotional; but the users not always mark posts as sponsored. For example, as in model Leo’s account – she posts energy drink without any signs of promotion, but in comments she doesn’t hide it’s an ad.

Ads on Instagram are posted once a week, and advertisers are not yet really interested in selling their services via personal blogs. Usually, the advertisers are either major and youth brands, or foreign companies.

YouTube is generally not the most popular platform in the country. Until recently, the internet had been expensive and had limited traffic, so while bloggers in other post-Soviet countries made videos, Uzbekistan had nothing to do with it. The only blogger who is worth mentioning is Alim Anarkulov — 47,802 subscribers, which is quite a big number for Uzbekistan.

Channels and video blogs become popular due to high profile newsworthy events – reflections on reforms, thoughts about the events in the country or a city, individual insights on the developments – they all contribute to the number of subscribers. However, travel bloggers or personal accounts of models or actresses develop purposefully on Instagram.

Among popular entertaining video blogs that update regularly are the project “Grazhdanin gorozhanin”, vlog “Khorosh” and project “Alter Ego”

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Uzbek-speaking bloggers are another point to be discussed, but as the gap between the Uzbek- and Russian-speaking populations is critically large, the audiences of these projects never intersect. One of the most popular persons here is Mukhrim Agzamkhodzhaev with his project Muhrim — 8,899 followers. The most popular personal Telegram channel both in Uzbek and in Russian language is the project of Umid Gafurov Troll.uz — 41,810 followers.

What bloggers think about GNK’s initiative

The author of the project “Grazhdanin Gorozhanin”, Feruzkhan Yakubkhodzhaev, thinks in fact everything is fine, bloggers just like everyone who gets profit should pay taxes.  Every market entity taking money for providing services must pay taxes – this is an axiom. However, it’s unclear how it will be working in reality.

In fact, an ad can be identified in a blog, but it’s more difficult to prove it’s an ad.

“I don’t think the project will be implemented in the short term as our tax authorities have not implemented it in full. In fact, an ad can be identified in a blog, but it’s more difficult to prove it’s an ad. I agree with the statement that taxes should be paid. Yet I want to see a convenient and working mechanism of implementation. However, all I see is the statement that everyone will be forced to pay,” Yakubkhodzhaev said.

According to him, despite the fact that the state has not assisted in developing the blogosphere, it still has a right to demand an income tax. Everything but charity should be taxed, according to him.

The author of project “Khorosh”, Rustam Makhamadzhanov, also thinks taxes per se are not a problem. The problem is it’s clear as mud why this segment is taken into account all of a sudden:

 – If we take this law apart from other laws and actions of our tax service, the law is good as we want to be a part of the developed world and it’s normal. But if we see the whole picture, it’s clear as mud why such low-profit segment (on a nationwide scale) as bloggers has been suddenly taken into account. There are other segments of economy and business, which should be taken under control in terms of taxes.

If we see the whole picture, it’s clear as mud why such low-profit segment (on a nationwide scale) as bloggers has been suddenly taken into account.

I am not sure about today, but in the past the checks in MAKRO supermarket contained such endorsements as “Sole proprietor so and so” (unknown contractors of the supermarket – editor’s note). Why haven’t they dealt with that issue? After all, they make more money per day than all bloggers a year. That’s when I have caused discontent of many people. By the way, I have a registered limited liability company, I pay taxes, and little will change for me.

Most likely, it will be implemented very poorly because even I cannot define a blogger in Uzbekistan, and people of pre-retirement age who work there [in the GNK] will not be able to say anything sensible about this issue. For example, I do not consider myself a blogger. The law is likely to be so that any person who writes anything in social media will become taxable.

In general, while not considering himself a blogger, he is not going to argue with the tax committee or prove something to it. First, he agrees that paying taxes is a normal think, and secondly, in Uzbekistan, it takes eternity from commenting on the law to its adoption; therefore, there is no point in wasting time and efforts on discussing this situation.

How blogging taxes are regulated in other countries

In some countries, blogging is considered a taxable business activity. This year, Russia has discussed a special tax on blogging.  According to their plans, the tax should be 1 per cent of income. However, now many of them fall into the category of self-employed people. If income is not regular, they pay taxes as individuals; if income is regular, tax authorities recommend registering as sole proprietor, when a blogger may choose a taxation system and calculate their taxes.

In Kazakhstan, the tax committee is also concerned with “shadow revenue in the blogosphere”. Just like in Russia, the majority of bloggers fall into the category of “self-employed” citizens, but the state seeks to make them change their status to sole proprietors.

In the interview to abctv.kz, quoted by inbusiness.kz, director of the Republican Centre of Assistance to Entrepreneurs Dmitry Kazantsev said, bloggers didn’t need a cash register, they could work on the basis of a patent instead, by paying 1 per cent of their income. Thus, they attract more advertisers as legal entities seek legal income.

Can taxation influence the sphere?

Feruzkhan Yakubkhodzhaev said blogging in Uzbekistan could be lucrative and some bloggers, especially in Uzbek-speaking segment, are already earning money. Anyway, the blogosphere will lead to the fact that people will start earning money on blogs – internet is developing, the number of participants increases, and advertisers understand they should work on the internet. Over time, they will be paying money, offering various “goodies” and goods for tests.

People refer to him and suggest advertising – almost every day someone asks to post an ad, which encourages registering as a sole proprietor. He doesn’t think this decision can affect the interest of people to such form of earning, but it can be considered as an additional leverage:

I don’t think this decision can discourage people from blogging, but it can complicate everything. Besides, it can be used as leverage – an economic issue can prevent a blogger from writing because he/she doesn’t pay taxes. Thus, undesirable bloggers could be neutralised. This is actually our common practice – health inspection service visits unwanted businessmen and closes down their businesses, etc. So, this decision can be used as an additional leverage.

Rustam Makhamadzhanov also thinks this initiative won’t have a significant impact on the blogosphere.

“In the short-run, this newsworthy event is quite good. Many people have written about it – media, bloggers, etc. So this issue has been widely covered. Moreover, there are few government-based sources where one can earn money. They are natural resources or benefits. But it doesn’t mean taxes should not be paid. The most important thing here is to attract people’s attention, to have audience, so that they [bloggers] could make enough money not to care about taxes,” he said.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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