New York, March 23, 2021 – Kazakh authorities should revise new amendments to the country’s journalist accreditation policies to ensure they do not restrict the freedom of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On March 11, the Ministry of Information and Social Development adopted amendments to the 2013 Rules of Accreditation of Journalists, which include a requirement for journalists to work with a loosely defined “host” when covering government events, according to news reports and Tamara Kaleyeva, head of the Kazakh press freedom group Adil Soz, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
According to Kaleyeva, the regulations do not define how the “host” would be selected; she said that the state organizations organizing such events would most likely be in charge of appointing the host, and that person would therefore be a “guard, a censor.”
The amended rules will go into effect on March 27, according to those reports.
“Kazakh authorities should immediately revise the new amendments to the country’s journalist accreditation policies to ensure that they do not limit press freedom,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “These regulations could prevent journalists from asking questions that are inconvenient for authorities, which deeply contradicts the very concept of a free press.”
The amendments, which CPJ reviewed, state that the “host” would be in charge of ensuring that all the participants of an event follow the event’s “theme (content), time limitations, and maintain public order.”
“The new regulations establish the responsibilities and rights of a host which are so big that, practically, they limit the rights of the journalists and introduce censorship,” Kaleyeva said.
In Kazakhstan, journalists are required to possess accreditations to cover press conferences or other events hosted by any state institution, and the procedures for issuing such accreditations are regulated by the Rules of Accreditation of Journalists, according to reports and Kaleyeva.
Saniya Toiken, a Kazakhstan correspondent for Radio Azattyq, the local service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told CPJ via phone that the new regulations will “protect the state workers from [answering] the uncomfortable questions.”
“Now, if a moderator tells us to shut up, we will have to shut up. They have turned us into a herd of sheep,” she said.
Kazakh Minister of Information and Social Development Aida Balayeva was quoted in Radio Azattyq as saying that the amendments are “necessary so that the participants are following the theme of the event, the time restrictions, and the public order, so that the topic discussed could be explained most effectively.”
“This is by no means an attempt to limit the rights of the journalists,” she said.
CPJ emailed the Kazakh Ministry of Information and Social Development for comment, but did not receive any response.