Wednesday, 27 March 2002

THE FIRST CONGRESS OF JOURNALISTS OF KAZAKHSTAN

Published in Field Reports

By Marat Yermukanov, Kazakhstan (3/27/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Expectations were high among the more than 400 journalists of state-owned and independent media of Kazakhstan when they gathered for their first Congress in the capital city Astana on March 12. It was the first time that such an event of nationwide scale brought together journalists from pro-government and oppositional media. Although many questions remained unanswered, the congress at least demonstrated the essence of the media policy of the government at present stage.

Expectations were high among the more than 400 journalists of state-owned and independent media of Kazakhstan when they gathered for their first Congress in the capital city Astana on March 12. It was the first time that such an event of nationwide scale brought together journalists from pro-government and oppositional media. Although many questions remained unanswered, the congress at least demonstrated the essence of the media policy of the government at present stage. The main speaker at the congress, president Nursultan Nazarbayev, outlining the official attitude towards the mass media said that much had been done by the state in the course of the last ten years to ensure the freedom of the press. His speech dwelled on the "civic responsibility of journalists, on whom the fate of democracy depends". At great length, he criticized media people for, as he put it, "incorrectness, inaccuracy and insulting attacks". In the same breath, he called on journalists to defend themselves from arbitrary acts of \state officials who constantly create obstacles for journalists under various pretexts. Many speakers at the congress, predominantly the editors of the pro-government papers clearly showed that they are willing to toe the official line for financial support from the government. And this support for state-owned media was promised by no other person than president himself. It can be assumed from his remarks that many unlawful acts, such as the license of the popular TV-Channel "TAN' were committed by the Ministry of information, culture and social accord without his knowledge. Indeed, there had been plenty of examples to lead one to believe so. Official figures say that there are more than 1600 registered print and electronic media in Kazakhstan. Roughly 80% of them are regarded as independent. Recent amendments to the Media Law adopted last summer make it mandatory for television and radio channels to allot 50% of their air-time to broadcasts in the Kazakh-language, which is the national language in the country. Besides, new regulations demand that broadcasting stations should reduce the volume of foreign programs rebroadcast by local channels to bring it down to 20% in 2003. This hasty decision produced a long chain of protests among journalists. Just a few days before the congress of journalists, the president of the International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech "Adil Soz" Tamara Kaleyeva, the director of the Kazakhstani office of the human rights department Yevgeniy Zhovtis and the president of the Association of the Independent Electronic Media Rozlana Taukina filed an open letter to the information minister Mukhtar Kulmukhamed saying that the Ministry of Information had turned into a repressive body. They also expressed their concern over the recent closure of the "Irbis" TV-channel for allegedly showing a pornographic film. On the background of the worsening media situation, the idea of holding a congress of journalists was taken by independent journalists with a certain amount of skepticism. Indeed, not very much was achieved at the congress. And even less was promised to free journalists from the straitjacket of the existing absurd regulations. The declared aims, such as fostering constructive interaction between media and government, setting up a Foundation for the Support of Journalists, working out a Code of Journalistic Ethics, participation of journalists in law-making process and other goals, need a closer and more open cooperation of government bodies and NGOs. Marat Yermukanov, Kazakhstan

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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