KYRGYZSTANBroadcasting bill rolls back press freedom gains

New York, May 15, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to veto a bill that would reverse efforts to reform Kyrgyzstan’s state television and radio company (KTR) into a public broadcaster.

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament passed the bill on April 24. It gives the president the right to appoint KTR’s chief executives and affirms the state’s monopoly on national broadcasting. Bakiyev is expected to approve or reject it by May 24, according to local press reports and CPJ sources.

The effort to create a public broadcaster was a key gain of the March 2005 Tulip Revolution, which ousted the authoritarian regime of then President Askar Akayev. Bakiyev made pledges of reform—including the transformation of KTR into a public broadcaster—when he came to office that year.
“President Bakiyev must veto this new bill, which obliterates Kyrgyzstan’s attempt at broadcasting reform,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “If signed, this law would neuter the modest press freedom gains of recent years by giving the state total control over broadcasting.”

Previously, Bakiyev had said that KTR would become a public-service-type broadcaster, which still would have been state-funded but independently run.

Of particular concern are Article 8.1, Article 11, and Article 6.4 of the bill, which invalidate efforts to reform KTR, give broad authority to state agencies to annul media licenses, cement the state’s monopoly on broadcasting, and hamper the sustainability of non-government broadcasters.

Article 8.1 of the proposed legislation requires that half the programming carried by any television and radio station must be self-produced and in the Kyrgyz language, unlike now, when much content comes from rebroadcasts of news service reports. According to CPJ sources, the only broadcaster capable of fulfilling this requirement is KTR. Because of their small size and budget constraints, the majority of broadcasting companies—mostly based in Bishkek and Osh—would be forced to shut down.

Article 11 of the bill gives the president the sole right to appoint KTR’s general director and the company’s entire supervisory board. The article voids the current law (adopted in April 2007), under which KTR’s supervisory board—15 members appointed in equal parts by the president, parliament, and civil groups—elects the company’s director-general.

Article 6.4 enables state agencies alone to revoke, sever, or annul broadcasting licenses for various technical violations. Those penalties could be sanctioned solely by the state agencies; approval from the Kyrgyz courts would no longer be required.

“The bill simply kills the idea of public broadcasting in its infancy, Marat Tokoyev, head of the Bishkek-based Public Association Journalist, told CPJ.

Bakiyev’s party, Ak Zhol, which won parliamentary elections last December, swiftly passed the bill on April 24—four days ahead of a scheduled public discussion. Media outlets and civic organizations had developed their own proposal for a broadcasting bill, but it was never debated in parliament, Tokoyev told CPJ.