Foreign media banned from covering Kyrgyz election
Kyrgyzstan, Media and Internet, Politics and SocietyOne Comment
A week and a half away from Election Day and one of the front runners in the act of international campaigning is, and has been, banned from participating – the media. How can elections be called free and fair if the media is bound? They can’t – and especially not in Kyrgyzstan these days.
Back in August neweurasia noted that in the following the country’s October 2011 elections, 11 online medias were denied accreditation during the campaigning, while traditional medias were indeed approved. The reason: according to Kyrgyz Law, web-based new agencies are not recognized as legitimate media outlets. To read more into the story, check out: “Internet barred from covering Kyrgyzstan’s electoral campaigns”.
Online media aside – officials have been attacking traditional media, too. Radio shows have been interrupted, TV programs jammed – and so on. From BBC and CNN to Euronews, K+, Russia’s RBK, Rossiya-24, Russia’s Channel One and beyond – international media has fallen victim to a Kyrgyz national media-misdemeanor.
Just as the ban was being instituted last month, regarding the various blocked medias, Tengeri News said:
“The ban affects all foreign news broadcasters — including the best-known Western names — but seems aimed mainly as pro-Kremlin Russian channels that have troubled the authorities in the past.”
From winning the hearts and minds through a few simple but powerful words to humiliating spoof ads that have the power to ruin a trusted image in 30 seconds or less – media can make or break an election campaign – and the Kyrgyz politicians and parliamentarians are doing everything in their broadcasting power to make sure the latter won’t stand a chance.
On September 27th, Omurbek Tekebayev – “Ata Meken” party leader – said:
“Censorship in Kyrgyzstan should be and censor, on behalf of the state should act as editor in chief of Media“.
“…if there is no local media specialist, who will monitor the content and sift information, such media should not even exist. As a specialist, this is called the editor”.
Tekebayev’s words perfectly introduce the notion that there has been a law put in place that bars the direct transmission of all foreign TV stations, during this pre-election time. The implementation of the law, which happened at the end of September 2011, has been causing chaos.
About the law, “On the election of the president and members of parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic”, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) said:
“Article 22 § 16 of the law stipulates that retransmission of foreign broadcasts must be delayed in order to ensure compliance with another provision in the same paragraph banning retransmission of any electoral propaganda and any content in the foreign broadcast media “attacking the honour, dignity and reputation of candidates.” Local broadcasters and cable TV companies are held responsible for any violations.”
Earlier this month, Central Asia Online informed:
“Kyrgyzstan has a law that requires foreign news and information programming to be taped during election campaigns, and any derisive information about political candidates to be deleted before broadcast.”
“A number of Russian and Kazakh TV and radio channels, have already been blocked, with either taped news programming broadcast with some delay, or music and films replacing news programming, Fergana reported.”
On September 22nd, just 3 days before the law was instated – marking the beginning day of campaigning, Septebmer 25th – EurasiaNet.org quoted Vasily Goncharov, of Bishkek’s Ala-TV cable company, saying:
“Under the new law “we must record all programs of foreign TV channels, filter them for campaigning for any of the candidates … and then release the recorded programs, but we just do not have such equipment.”
“Above all, under contract with foreign channels, we have no right to make changes to their programs.”
RT News explains the playing-ground:
“Prior to deciding whether the video is suitable for being aired or not, Kyrgyz broadcasters will have to watch and record international TV channels’ programs. Then, if no untoward messages are detected, they will be shown to the republic’s viewers. Programs and reports that discredit presidential candidates will be cut out.”
“Essentially, the legislation called for filtering of the news broadcasts containing pro or con campaigning messages coming from outside sources.”
“Although the Kyrgyz government has strongly denied any claims that it’s instituting censorship citing the length of the ban for only the duration of the election campaign, accusations have been flying and complaints have been filed. It claims that foreign news reports are still available via internet and satellite channels.”
Mentioning two points that avert the international media ban, Turkish Weekly said:
“According to the Headquarters of Public Control member, Tatu Mambetaliyeva, the airing of the channels has been stopped because the relevant companies do not know what kind of information to block.”
“According to the Russian agency Interfax, in reference to OSCE report, the Venice Commission and OSCE members consider these limitations to be illegitimate.”
In addition to being illegitimate, the media scuffle has indeed been an expensive act of media censorship. In late September, the Associated Press informed:
“The country’s two cable television comapnies said the suspension in the rebroadcasting of international stations by Kyrgyz television companies could cost them $100,000 ((EURO)73,335.29).”
In addition to dollars and Euros – also back in September – RT News highlighted some major problems this anti-media move has caused:
“Now the vexed problem that chiefs of Kyrgyz channels are facing is how exactly the new rules can be followed. First of all, there are no clear criteria for what is suitable or not for being shown on TV. Secondly, there are no professionals who would be able to deal with the task. And, finally, the majority of Russian TV channels are being broadcast through cable networks.”
On October 13th, RWB stated:
““Under the pretext of combating foreign interference, parliament is restricting the right of Kyrgyz citizens to diverse news and information, and is creating unprecedented chaos on the airwaves and TV screens. With two and a half weeks to go to the elections, the authorities must scrap this unworkable, unfair and dangerous law.””
Well, the anti-fireign-media-folk in Kyrgyzstan still have a week and a half to free themselves and the media – or has the damage already done by the Kyrgyz officials been too profound to look back now?
It’s clear who the real propagandists are here in this election, and it goes without saying, they are certainly not the media, as the Kyrgyz officials would like to have the public believe.
Election day is on October 30th and international stations are set to resume business directly after voting day, which coincidentally falls of the scary and vulnerable day of Halloween. But one wonders if the stations will really be allowed to air right away. Maybe the international criticisms that may very well surface in response to this tale of first-hand electoral media censorship will have the Kyrgyz officials simply too-spooked. Regardless of when the stations re-air in Kyrgyzstan, this story will resonate as a media-nightmare that won’t be forgotten with sweet Halloween candy.