Media and Internet
Now that the controversial media law has been signed by the President, Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev plans to tighten control of the World Wide Web’s Kazakhstan part, according to Reuters.
Internet journalism and other loosely regulated media could harm Kazakhstan’s national security.
Yertysbaev promised to develop the state policy on Kazakh web by the end of this year. Last year they closed Sasha Baron Cohen’s website in .kz domain (back then, Dariga Nazarbayeva defended him, and this year she appeared as an advocate of media freedom too) saying that sites in .kz domain can only be maintained from Kazakhstan. It seems that this year the content of the sites will be watched more closely. This will reach out to independent or opposition newspapers that operate online, such as mizinov.net, which already moved to zonakz.net.
Together with national security, Yertysbaev is concerned with the lies in the Internet. It is now a criminal offence to libel the officials and insult the honor and dignity of the President and many journalists have been sued for that. In the past the access to some websites such as navigator.kz, kub.kz, and eurasia.ru was blocked from within Kazakhstan, through the only one Internet service provider, the state-run Kazakhtelecom.
Those who think it’s impossible to control the Internet can continue living in the world of illusions,
said Yertysbaev in an interview to Kazakhstan’s Vremya newspaper.
Now that Dariga Nazarbaeva seems to have lost the battle, Yertysbaev will surely help Kazakhstan to wake up into reality.
This entry is a translation of Dmitry’s post, originally in Russian.
While Mazhilis of the Parliament of Kazakhstan is reviewing the draft media law proposed by the Ministry of Information and Culture, the discussions revolve around freedom of speech and freedom of media. Not attempting to provide the full analysis of the issue, I would just single out two things from the observer’s point of view. The first is that we need the exact statistical information on media outlets. The second is that we need to combat the abuse of freedom of speech.
First point echoes the minister of information and culture Ermuhamet Ertusbaev, who said that
70% of media outlets provide wrong data about their circulation at registration. Only 2.5 thousand out of 7.5 thousand registered media is circulating regularly. The Ministry does not have any or has little information about other media
In the heat of the debate on freedom of speech few spoke about correct statistics and exact information on what is being issued, by whom and what is its circulation. This is important for attracting the funding of both the investors and the advertisers. Without this exact information no sensible businessman is going to cooperate with media, which would then be financed by some anonymous magnates who will also sponsor campaigns.
When discussions of similar problem occured in Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, they spoke about creating common electronic database of newspapers, journals, and periodicals, and providing access to it to everyone. Without information – there is no interest, no business and no money. No money – no competitive environment, and only those who managed to get to a crib would survive. I do not think Kazakh journalists are in favour of this scenario.
The society needs to have a way to protect itself from the abuse of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, Kazakh opposition produced certain personas, well known to everyone. They are ready to use any plot and gossip for the sake of political campaign and present it as true information. Campaigns around the murder of Nurkadilov and Sarsenbayev showed what they are able to and what conspiracy assaults they can have. These people cannot be called journalists.
If there are problems, they should be discussed contructively, based on facts. You can also criticise the government and the president, if they deserve it. But hysteria of some journalists only causes resentment.
Learn how a marshrutka gets you around, about Kazakh food and its Central Asian – USSR influence…
I run a podcast called Kazakhstan Stories:
“Life in Kazakhstan – from first hand accounts to the sounds of life (via minidisc) we will discover the joys, ingenuity and challenges from everyday life in this part of Central Asia.”
Access it via my blog www.kazakhstanstories.blogspot.com or paste into a podcatcher (ex. iTunes) the RSS feed http://www.switchpod.com/users/kazakhstanstories/feed.xml
According to the latest survey of the Freedom House a year after the revolution the freedom in the press in Kyrgyzstan remains restricted.
This announcement makes us feel a little odd wondering why, on earth, this long awaited process of democratization of mass media in the country never overcame a period of stagnation.
It’s really hard to explain why revolution that seemingly contained a promise for all mass media suffering from oppressions under Akaev’s government never brought real and long awaited freedom to journalists in the Kyrgyz republic.
As an executive director of the TV channel NTS that strives to survive and retain its right on the independent opinion and coverage Andrey Tsvetkov, for instance, admits that old practices of intimidating phone calls and indirect threats from officials are again very much in place. He emphasizes: “Authorities keep interfering into mass media business trying to manipulate journalists. Regretfully we still have this small group of people who are being in power or close to power consider themselves the smartest and the most sophisticated ones. They feel that they are in charge of defining our way of work and thinking. As a journalist I simply cannot stand that. It seems that these new spin-doctors think that all journalists are idiots as if we ourselves are not responsible for what we cover and how we do that.”
Can there be any remedy in this case? This question was addressed by the participants of the media forum “Advanced mass media or corrupt journalism” that was initiated by Internews Kyrgyzstan in cooperation with Bishkek Business Club.
In the course of the discussion participants were trying to come up with the solution in order to reconcile two main functions of journalism – being an unbiased carrier of information and being a player at the financial market in the country where only the fittest can survive.
Different options were suggested in this case with forum’s panelists emphasizing that the shift in the public perception of the role and abilities of mass media to serve its audience and to get profits simultaneously should be made.
As media experts kept emphasizing the notions of “bad” and “good” journalism are to be replaced with notions of efficiency and inefficiency in mass media. The idea here is to turn journalism into a profitable business thus contributing to the Kyrgyz press becoming independent in terms of finances. The financial independence will supposedly lead to the potential ideological independence of journalism in Kyrgyzstan. To back up their opinions participants of the forum were using different examples media units that turned into successfully functioning business structures. But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of generalization here.
It’s still arguable whether mass media functioning as successful businesses can still carry the functions of “pure” journalism with its orientation on unbiased reporting. The main fear is that the bias based on economic reasons can even be stronger than the ideological one.
Welcome to another roundup of news on press freedom and censorship in Central Asia and the Caucasus. To start us off, here’s a useful primer from RFE on the region’s bureaucratic controls on journalists.
May 3rd marked World Press Freedom Day, and the Committee to Protect Journalists released a report to mark the day, listing the world’s 10 most censored countries. Unsuprisingly, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan make the list – the report features the fact that Turkmen newsbroadcasters, “…begin each broadcast with a pledge that their tongues will shrivel if their reports ever slander the country, the flag, or the president.”
Also in Turkmenistan, two RFE journalists who had been jailed for ‘hoolinganism’ have been freed, but only on the condition that they stop working for the station. RFE has a useful chronology of the arrests, and the intimidation of their other local journalists.
In more positive news, the Turkmen novelist and journalist Rakhim Esenov has been awarded a PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Esenov’s novel The Crowned Wanderer was banned after the Turkmenbashi found it to be ‘historically inaccurate’, and Esenov himself remains under virtual house arrest in Ashgabat.
Meanwhile, one year after Andijan, the suppression of independent media in Uzbekistan continues. Sobirdjon Yakubov, a journalist jailed a year ago on subversion charges, has been released for ‘lack of evidence’. His imprisonment was widely condemned at the time, moving one English writer to poetry.
In Kazakhstan, opposition journalist Kenzhegali Aytbakiyev has been severly beaten by unknown attackers. The newspaper he worked for, Ayna-Plus, was recently closed by the authorities because of its coverage of government corruption. In addition, Kazakh Minister of Culture and Information Yermukhamet Yertysbayev has attacked two local news stations, accusing them of putting “the national leadership under pressure” by asking unwelcome questions over the assassination of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev.
Across the border in Kyrgzystan, the director of the country’s oldest independent TV station, Pyramid TV, has been receiving death threats, possibly related to a dispute between the channel and associates of the ousted President, Askar Akayev. Pyramid TV has had similar threats in the past, and in December 2005 its offices were attacked by a 20-strong gang.
Moving on to the Caucasus, two leading Georgian TV journalists have been jailed, supposedly for trying to extort money from a ruling party politician. Reporters Without Borders calls the evidence against them ‘thin’, while the journalists claim they have been the victim of a set-up.
Pressure on independent media has been increasing, both from the authorities and from business tycoons. The recent news that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is buying a large share in the Georgian TV channel Imedi has provoked a mixed reponse. One local expert pronounced, “that professional standards in Georgia are so low, that any possible bias, real or perceived, introduced by News Corp. could not make things worse.”
USAID has recently made an interesting development decision by combining computer training with religion. Going through the contractor CHF International, a local mosque will now be coordinating a new computer center.
In Istaravan, the Imam of central mosque has been particularly active with ACTs Economic Opportunity Center (EOC). Concerned over the growing influence of an Islamic group that rejected modernity and sought to re-establish lifestyles of bygone eras, the Imam actively guides and promotes EOC activities to demonstrate the compatibility of religious and modern economic tools. The Imam and the EOC collaborated to establish a computer center as part of the madrassa serving the Istaravan community.
It is unclear from the article, USAIDs website, or CHFs whether or not this represents a broader policy initiative to bolster moderate Islam on the part of USAID, or whether this was an isolated decision made by CHF as a result of realities on the ground.
If it isnt an explicit strategy, maybe it should be. Islam has proven itself extremely adept at filling political vacuums of the variety currently manifesting in Central Asia; strengthening moderates could go a long way toward providing an alternative to more extreme elements in society. According to the project website, however, this initiative is designed to strengthen small businesses and entrepreneurship instead of as a counterbalance to Islamism.
Welcome to the second roundup of news on press freedom in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
We’ll start in Kazakhstan, where the radical opposition newspaper ‘Juma Times’ has been ordered to close. The paper was charged with insulting the ‘honour and dignity’ of President Nazarbayev in the run-up to last year’s elections.
Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, the editor of another opposition newspaper, Svoboda Slovo, has been jailed for holding an ‘unsanctioned demonstration’ on the death of Altynbek Sarsenbayev. Yergaliyeva has gone on hunger strike to protest against her imprisonment.
On the Turkmenistan blog, Peter reports on the March 7 arrest of two RFE/RL Journalists. As of March 10, their whereabouts are still unknown, and the telephone lines to all other RFE/RL correspondents in the country have been blocked.
The Tajik Ministry of Communications is aiming to tighten control over internet service providers and international telecoms, through a plan to route all telephone and intenet traffic ‘Unified Communications Center and Information Resource Unit’. However, there are doubts as to whether the Government’s plan is feasible.
Nick discusses a new resolution from the Uzbek Government which strenghtens the regulations on foreign journalists on the Uzbekistan blog.
Meanwhile, in further bad news for RFE/RL, two former Uzbek employees have attacked the service. Rakhmatzhan Kuldashev, the ex-head of the Tashkent bureau, is demanding $20,000 compensation from his former employer, claiming that ‘Humiliation and poverty are all I got for my faithful service’. Another ex-correspondent, Khusniddin Kutbiddinov, has written an open letter in which he states that the Uzbek Government is ‘much more humane’ than RFE/RL.
In Azerbaijan, an opposition journalist was brutally attacked. Fikret Huseynli, who has been threatened in the past for his work on exposing corruption in the Azeri Governemnt, was left in a critical condition. The attack came almost a year after the still unsolved murder of journalist Elmar Husneyov.
Journalists in Georgia suffer from a different type of threat to their work. The media owners who control many major outlets appear uninterested in encouraging investigative journalism, fearing that it may damage their market position and relations with the Government.
Finally, here’s an interesting report on RFE/RL on increasing coverage of previously-taboo religious issues by non-traditional media sources, including the internet, in Central Asian countries.
Welcome to the first of what will be a semi-regular roundup of news on press freedom and freedom of expression in Central Asia. We’ll start with the recently-published Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2005, which provides some useful background on the subject. Out of 167 countries surveyed, none of the ‘Stans manage into the top 100 – Kyrgyzstan leads in 111th place, followed by Tajikistan at 113, Kazakhstan at 119 and at Uzbekistan at 155, with the ‘black hole’ of Turkmenistan scraping in at 165. Only Eritrea and North Korea fare worse.
As if to prove the point, the Turkmenbashi has just personally sentenced a journalist to eight years in prison – apparently for ‘treason’. In brighter news, the OSCE has recently been making efforts to encourage journalism in Turkmenistan, but so far only in the environmental field.
In Kyrgyzstan, the independent media have been suffering from a “wave of threats and intimidation”. There’s evidence for this from IWPR’s report that the Bishkek prosecutor’s office has warned newspapers which criticise President Bakiev may face legal action. In addition, journalists have rallied to support the editor of the newspaper ‘Kyrgyzstan Flag’, who was sacked for being too independent. His replacement? The head of the Government’s PR department.
Kazakhstan’s main printing company, which happens to be owned by President Nazarbayev’s sister-in-law, Svetlana Nazarbayeva, has refused to publish seven opposition newspapers. Kazakh television viewers will also soon have a new channel to watch. However, don’t expect huge ratings – it will be run by Otan, the main pro-government party.
In Tajikstan, James recently discussed how the Communications Ministry has been cracking down on local independent broadcasters. That has now been followed up by the suspension of BBC FM broadcasts, supposedly for ‘administrative reasons’. More on this from James and Tajik Boy here and here.
The IREX Media sustainability report on Uzbekistan has already been covered by Nick in detail. In a further blow to what remains of the free Uzbek press, journalists have not permitted at trial of the opposition leader Sandzhar Umarov.
Finally, RFE/RL recently carried an interview with the head of Reporters Without Borders’ post-Soviet section, regarding the rather dim prospects for press freedom in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in 2006.
Obviosly the authorities of Uzbekistan have found another explanation to Uzbekistan’s problems and are about to announce the Internet a dangerous tool to â€œdehumanizeâ€? people.
Uzbekistan’s national newspaper “Halq Suzi” (The People’s Word) has an interview with the chairman of the committee for information and communication technologies of the Legislative Chamber, the lower house of the Uzbek parliament, Xurshid Dostmuhammad who said:
“Any parent warns their children against playing with bad boys, but now this â€œbad boyâ€? is entering their homes in the image of the Internet. Now, our innocent sons and daughters have an opportunity to be dehumanized at home even without going outsideâ€?
Would love to hear what “the innocent sons and daughters of Uzbekistan” think about all that.
MOSCOW, Jan 18 (Prime-Tass) — Russiaâ€™s second-largest mobile operator VimpelCom has purchased two mobile operators in Uzbekistan, VimpelCom said in a press release Wednesday.
VimpelCom signed an agreement with Germanos SA, Panos Germanos and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to purchase Unitel LLC, the second largest cellular operator in Uzbekistan, for U.S. $200 million plus assumption of debt. Unitel is expected to have approximately $13.4 million in debt at closing, VimpelCom said, adding that the closing of the purchase of Unitel is subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions, including necessary governmental approvals, and is expected to occur by mid-February.
VimpelCom also purchased 100% of Bakrie Uzbekistan Telecom LLC, or Buztel, the fourth largest GSM operator in Uzbekistan, from Altimo for $60 million plus the assumption of approximately $2.4 million in debt. Altimo, a subsidiary of Russia’s Alfa Group, is also a key shareholder in VimpelCom with a 32% stake. Read the full story »