Under pressure, Kyrgyz stations halt RFE/RL programming

New York, March 16, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by reports that the Kyrgyz government has pressured several radio and television stations to stop carrying programming from the Kyrgyz service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

At least four private radio stations and one television channel in northern Kyrgyzstan—including two outlets in the capital, Bishkek—halted RFE/RL programming on March 10, said Tyntchtykbek Tchoroyev, director of the Kyrgyz service. The service, also known as Radio Azattyk, provides both radio and television programming.

The stations had been transmitting the programming since December 2008, when the state broadcaster, the National Television and Radio Corporation (KTR), stopped carrying RFE/RL programs. At the time, KTR said it would resume the broadcasts if RFE/RL agreed to clear its content with the government in advance. RFE/RL would not agree to that condition.

Kyrgyz authorities have recently warned local stations that they may face additional hurdles in their license renewals if they continue to carry Radio Azattyk programming, RFE/RL said in a statement. Some local stations in southern Kyrgyzstan are still carrying RFE/RL programs, Tchoroyev said.

“We are deeply disturbed by reports that Kyrgyz authorities have threatened local stations’ licenses should they continue to carry RFE/RL programming,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Media outlets must be free to carry whatever content their listeners, not state regulators, demand. The government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev must uphold its commitments to press freedom and curb its knee-jerk reaction to criticism in the media.”

Radio Azattyk’s Web site has also been inaccessible for a week, Tchoroyev told CPJ.

Tchoroyev told CPJ that Radio Azattyk recently carried a report on money laundering charges filed in Italy against a businessman with close ties to the Kyrgyz government and Bakiyev’s family. The report led to calls for Bakiyev’s resignation. Radio Azattyk’s extensive coverage of recent anti-government rallies could also have prompted retaliation, he said.

The stations that halted the RFE/RL programming are Radio OK, Radio Most, Radio Royal, Radio Almaz-Naryn, and the television channel Ekho Manasa. All are privately owned. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov told RFE/RL on Monday he was not aware of the issue but promised to look into it, the broadcaster reported.