Friday, February 22, 2008
30 Fired After Cockroach Scurries Across TV News Set
From the Guardian.com:
For the viewers of Turkmenistan's popular nightly news programme, Vatan, it was another routine bulletin. But as the newsreader began the 9pm broadcast, viewers across the central Asian country spotted something unusual crawling across the studio table: a large brown cockroach.
The cockroach managed to complete a whole lap of the desk, apparently undetected, before disappearing. The programme, complete with cockroach, was repeated at 11pm that night.
It was only at 9am the following day that horrified officials from Turkmenistan's ministry of culture discovered the cockroach's guest appearance. And that, perhaps, should have been the end of the matter, the mildly entertaining footage being consigned to the occasional airing by the Turkmenistan equivalent of Denis Norden on a telly bloopers show.
But the consequences of this particular cockroach's impromptu five minutes of fame were immediate and severe.
The country's president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, took news of the insect so badly that he responded by firing no fewer than 30 workers from the main state TV channel, the news website Kronika Turkmenistan reported yesterday.
Before the cockroach debacle, Berdymukhamedov had instructed Turkmenistan's minister of culture, Gulmurat Muradov, to revamp the country's Soviet-era TV channel. However, a new ministerial supervisory committee founded to carry out this task only worked 9am to 6pm - allowing the cockroach to make its audacious run undetected.
Berdymukhamedov became leader of the oil-rich former Soviet republic in December 2006,following the sudden death of Turkmenistan's longstanding and flamboyantly authoritarian ruler Saparmurat Niyazov, who also had run-ins with state TV executives. Several executives were sacked after drunken technicians failed to screen the new year's address to the nation by Niyazov.
They eventually managed to get the bulletin on air at 3am.
Those sacked in the cockroach debacle included journalists, directors, camera operators, and technical staff, the website reported. Yesterday nobody from the Turkmen embassy in Moscow was available for comment.
Berdymukhamedov has been credited with improving relations with the west, and embarking at home on a series of mild liberal reforms.
He has announced the opening of internet cafes in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan's capital, and reintroduced foreign languages to the school curriculum.
Last March the president restored pensions to more than 100,000 elderly citizens and in January he reversed another of his predecessor's more bizarre bans - on opera and ballet performances.
"Our flourishing nation should not stand separate from the world," Berdymukhamedov told state-run television. He added: "It absolutely should have a worthy operatic theatre and a worthy state theatre." The first opera would be performed in six or seven months, he suggested.
Berdymukhamedov has moved to end Turkmenistan's isolation from the rest of the world in other ways too. He has overseen attempts to attract larger numbers of foreign tourists to Turkmenistan, including the building of a multibillion pound tourist resort on the Caspian Sea. The president has also dropped in on Washington.
Berdymukhamedov's apparent dislike of cockroaches may have something to do with his previous career as a dentist. He graduated from Turkmenistan's state medical institute in 1979, completing a PhD in medical sciences in Moscow, and working as a dentist from 1980 to 1995. In December 1997 he was appointed minister for health.
· 4,500 cockroach species have been classified, but there are thought to be at least twice as many species yet to be discovered around the world
· Despite the belief cockroaches would be the only survivors of nuclear war, being 15 times more resistant to radiation than humans, other insects such as fruit flies can survive even higher doses
· A cockroach will live after decapitation for several weeks before starving to death; the severed head survives several hours
· The world's largest species is the wingless Australian rhinoceros (Macropanesthia rhinoceros), weighing up to 33.5 gms and up to 90 mm in length