KYRGYZ MEDIA BILL GOES BACK TO SQUARE ONE  New legislation wipes out efforts to 
reform the state broadcaster.  By IWPR staff in Bishkek



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New legislation wipes out efforts to reform the state broadcaster.

By IWPR staff in Bishkek
A new law has nullified attempts to turn the state television and radio company 
in Kyrgyzstan into a public-service broadcaster, and takes the country back to 
a situation where the president has too much power over the media, say critics 
of the bill.

Another defect in the bill, they say, is that it will make it almost impossible 
for local TV channels to survive as they will now have to generate half their 
material themselves, and ensure that 50 per cent of their broadcasting is in 
the Kyrgyz language.

Parliament passed an amended law on TV and radio on April 24, reinstating the 
old arrangements for appointing the top management at the National Television 
and Radio Corporation, NTRC. 

The bill will enter into force once President Kurmanbek Bakiev signs it.

Under the changes, the Kyrgyz president appoints the chief executive of NTRC 
and nominates the entire membership of the “supervisory board” – or board of 
governors – which then goes forward for parliamentary approval. He also 
approves the company’s charter.

This represents a complete volte face on the reform efforts pursued over the 
last year, and poses the risk of having a state broadcaster which pumps out 
pro-regime propaganda. 

Concerns about biased coverage in the state media were among the main issues 
raised during the mass protests of early 2005, which culminated in the ousting 
of the then president Askar Akaev. 

Under the new administration headed by Bakiev, the plan was to turn NTRC into a 
public-service broadcaster which would be state-funded but independent of 
government, and would therefore be in a position to provide more balanced 
political reporting.

Although the reform was one of Bakiev’s key pledges, he did not sign a decree 
enabling it to start until a new round of protests in April 2007 forced his 

To begin the process of dissociating NTRC from government, the new management 
arrangement was that the supervisory board should have 15 members, with the 
president, parliament and civil society groups selecting five each. The board 
itself would appoint the chief executive and approve the company charter.

However, just before the early parliamentary election called for December 2007, 
eight board members resigned for reasons that were never satisfactorily 
explained. This made it impossible for the board to function, especially since 
parliament had been dissolved pending the ballot.

The Ak Jol party, set up by Bakiev in October, won a clear majority in the 
election, and its dominance of the legislature made it easy to get the revised 
broadcasting law passed.

One of the party’s members of parliament, Begaly Nargozuev, told reporters that 
NTRC’s board structure had to be changed as it had proved unworkable – the 
three groups of appointees were unable to find common cause. 

“An ill-matched group was created, and we faced a situation where each side was 
pulling in its own direction,” Nargozuev was quoted as saying.

However, Elena Voronina, a media expert who is one of the seven remaining 
members of the board, told IWPR that the authorities had acted because they 
feared losing their near-monopoly on information provision. 

“These amendments are a sign not merely of backsliding, but of a full stop, 
sanctioned by the president and his party Ak Jol,” she said. 

To justify the reverse, Voronina said, the authorities were now putting it 
about that Kyrgyzstan was “not ready” for public-service television yet. 

Another board member, Elvira Sarieva, said that if President Bakiev signed off 
on this law, it would mark a further decline in media freedom.

“The new legislation runs counter to international standards and destroys the 
concept of public television as such,” she said.

“If this legislation is eventually passed, NTRC’s monopoly will be set in stone 
and the rest of the broadcasters will be forced to operate under unequal 
conditions, so that half of them will close.”

Shamaral Maichiev, Kyrgyzstan’s Media Representative, a non-government position 
that functions as unofficial ombudsman for the sector, said the rapid passage 
of the bill suggested there was a strong lobby in parliament which favoured 
restoring the president’s extensive powers over NTRC, the only channel that 
airs throughout the whole country.

Ak Jol member of parliament Kabay Karabekov said that while the bill contained 
some problematic provisions, reverting to the old way NTRC was managed was the 
right thing to do. 

“There should be a clear division between state and public television. NTRC 
should be a state channel, because we already have a public one, El TV, whose 
supervisory board is elected mostly from civil society groups,” Karabekov told 

El TV was set up in 2005 on the basis of a local state-run channel in southern 
Kyrgyzstan called Osh-3000. Media-watchers say El TV cannot be compared with 
the powerful NTRC, and does not count as a national public-service broadcaster. 

At the moment, most private TV channels are based in either in the capital 
Bishkek or in the southern city of Osh. They will be hard pressed to fulfill 
some of the conditions set out in the new law, as much of their output consists 
of rebroadcasts of programmes provided by TV stations in Russia.

Nurdin Urmanbetov, programme director at the NBT channel, predicts that most 
private TV companies will be forced to shut down as they are not in a position 
to produce half of the material they air, let alone in Kyrgyz rather than 

He explained, “There are no good production studios and most channels are 
unable to produce enough of their own material. That means the authorities will 
have an instrument for exerting political pressure on the media.”

Maichiev argued that the requirement for 50 per cent original content was 
“unlawful”. In any case, he said, “Such standards should not be enforced by 
administrative means, but rather by the market. The owners of private channels 
should have freedom to decide for themselves.”

Early this year, several international media watchdogs published reports 
voicing concern at the decline of freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan, which has 
always been regarded as relatively free compared with its Central Asian 

The “Freedom of the Press 2008” report, published by the United States group 
Freedom House on April 29, spoke of a continued deterioration of the situation 
in Kyrgyzstan, exemplified by “attacks on journalists and crude government 
attempts to impose censorship”. 

This echoed the conclusions of an earlier report by Human Rights Watch, which 
placed the blame for the deteriorating media climate on the administration of 
President Bakiev.

Media watchdogs have noted in particular the still unsolved brutal murder in 
October 2007 of Alisher Saipov, a journalist in Osh who produced the popular 
Uzbek-language newspaper Siyosat (“Politics”). 

President Bakiev himself took responsibility for overseeing the investigation, 
but progress has been halting and no suspects have been brought to trial.

Media-watchers see the latest legislation as part of the downward trend, and 
note with concern that it was rushed through with minimum publicity.

The law was expected to be put to an open public debate, but this never 

“The bill was passed without a single consultation with the public,” said 
Voronina. “That shows that the authorities do their own thing and the public is 
kept quite separate.” 

“If this trend continues, one day we will end up seeing that all the relatively 
free media have disappeared.”

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