Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Anger at 'Biased' Coverage of Kyrgyz Political Scandal

State television reporting of a political dirty tricks campaign proves nothing has changed since the Akaev era, says the opposition.
By Aziza Turdueva
Leading members of parliament in Kyrgyzstan and civil society activists have criticised state television's coverage of an apparent dirty tricks campaign against opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, and renewed their calls for the channel to be removed from government control.

Tekebaev, a former speaker of parliament who resigned earlier this year after falling out publicly with President Kurmanbek Bakiev, was jailed in Poland on September 6 when airport border guards discovered heroin in his luggage. He was soon released after a Warsaw court dropped all charges.

President Bakiev was forced to sack his own brother Janysh as deputy head of the National Security Service, SNB, after parliament got hold of a document alleging he had ordered the drugs to be planted.

Not surprisingly, the incident has caused a storm of controversy in Kyrgyzstan and has been widely discussed in parliament and by the general public, with furious speculation about who is to blame and whether the government was involved.

Government critics, however, say this lively discussion has been far from evident in the output of the State Television and Radio Corporation, which consigned coverage of a key parliamentary debate on the incident to a late-night slot on its television channel KTR.

Deputy Melis Eshimkanov described the coverage as one-sided, and said KTR showed biased programmes supporting the authorities and the Bakiev family. These include sympathetic interviews with Janysh Bakiev. Programmes about Tekebaev have been unflattering, said Eshimkanov.

Another deputy, Kanybek Imanaliev, accuses KTR of “running an aggressive campaign against members of parliament”.

“I have recently seen a programme in which people were saying that deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbaev should be killed, [former prosecutor general] Azimbek Beknazarov should be jailed, and that Tekebaev himself was behind the provocative incident against him,” said Imanaliev.

KTR was traditionally a mouthpiece for the ruling regime in Kyrgyzstan and under former president Askar Akaev was used as ideological weapon against the opposition.

Hopes that this would all change were high after the March 2005 revolution, when opposition forces forced Akaev from power and put Bakiev in power.

The new president pledged to transform the state broadcaster into a public service company, meaning that it would become like western TV and radio stations that receive state funding but are run by independent management and insulated from political influence.

So far there has been little progress. On September 6, Bakiev rejected a law passed by parliament that providing for the plan to create a public television and radio service, with a watchdog board whose members would be appointed in equal numbers by the president, parliament and civil society groups.

The president said he vetoed the bill because it would require a major outlay of money that the country could ill afford. But his decision drew harsh criticism and accusations that he is reneging on his election promises.

“This will create obstacles for the development of the media sector,” said Elvira Sarieva, the Kyrgyzstan director of the media development group Internews.

Sadyrbaev doubts that Bakiev rejected the draft law for purely financial reasons, suggesting that he likes having control over state TV. “If KTR is transformed into public television, the authorities will be deprived of a major lever of influence,” said Sadyrbaev

Bakiev denied the allegations that KTR is simply a government mouthpiece, telling parliament on September 13 that there have been changes at the station.

“Kyyaz Moldokasymov was appointed to head the channel, a person who was previously in charge of the Kyrgyz branch of Radio Liberty,” he said.

Moldokasymov, too, insisted that the station “is no longer the personal television channel of one family, as it was under ex-president Akaev, but serves the people instead”.

He also denied the accusations of biased coverage of the Tekebaev affair. “We do not have one-sided broadcasts,” he said. “The incident concerning Tekebaev has been covered not one-dimensionally, but objectively. The channel has broadcast different opinions. There were many more statements in support of Tekebaev and denigrating the authorities [than those made against him].”

Moldokasymov said opposition members were more than welcome to appear on KTR.

“Many people continue to criticise the state channel out of force of habit, although we have long provided coverage of different opinions on any issue,” he added.

The head of the presidential press service Dosaly Esenaliev, who held the same job under Akaev, echoed that view. He said his office no longer told KTR which stories to cover, as was standard practice under the previous regime.

It is the idea of a watchdog to oversee a public-service broadcaster that concerns Moldokasymov’s deputy, Beishenbek Bekeshov.

“The state channel belongs to the people and to the state, so it should be controlled by those who have the right to speak on behalf of the people – the president and parliament,” he said.

Adakhan Madumarov, the Kyrgyz secretary of state, says that having a state-run channel is no bad thing. “There are independent television companies of every kind in this country. In these circumstances, we must not lose the state channel,” he said.

The state TV station Osh-3000, broadcasting in southern Kyrgyzstan, was made into a public broadcaster last year, but critics say the change is illusory since the president appoints the supervisory board that oversees the editorial output.

A former editor of the state-run Kyrgyz Tuusu newspaper, Bakyt Orunbekov, sees the hand of government in this recent turn of events.

“This demonstrates yet again that the government is not interested in reforming either the state television channel or the printed media,” he told IWPR.

Aziza Turdueva is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL in Bishkek.

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