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Kazakstan: Dariga Joins in Media Law Clamour

Journalists’ group linked to president’s daughter leads criticism over planned tightening of media legislation.
By IWPR Central Asia
Media outlets and journalist organisations are stepping up their protests over the proposed introduction of tough press restrictions, which they believe will further squeeze freedom of expression in the country.

The changes appear so prohibitive that even President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s daughter Dariga, whose relations with her father have reportedly cooled, has lent her voice to the criticism, albeit indirectly.

More than a thousand people demonstrated in Almaty on June 24 against the planned amendments to media legislation – presented to parliament late last month – that both requires outlets to re-register with the authorities when they undergo important changes and expands the list of people who cannot be editors.

At the demo, Tamara Kaleeva, director of the media NGO Adil Soz, said, “ The media laws are getting worse from year to year. Now they practically allow [the authorities] to ban any publication if they find something wrong [with its registration].”

Under the bill, the media will have to re-register with the authorities when there’s a change of editor; address; circulation/audience figures; and language medium. And they will be required to pay a fee to do so. At the same time, journalists barred from taking up editorships will include those who’ve edited publications that have been close down by court order.

Kaleeva says if the bill become law the government will have the power to regulate and control every step of editorial production.

Press anger over the proposed legislation is all the more acute because it’s being introduced by the minister for culture and information Ermukhambet Ertysbaev, a former presidential media adviser, who in his short term in office has sought to undermine several prominent media players.

Nazarbaeva has seemingly been particularly exercised by Ertysbaev’s tactics as she reportedly has a stake in two of the three outlets he’s targeted.

In recent weeks, the minister sacked the head of the state television channel Kazakstan-1 for allegedly unbalanced coverage of Islamic issues, after which dozens of staff resigned in protest.

He’s also threatened to withdraw the license of Commercial Television of Kazakstan, KTK, believed to be controlled by Nazarbaeva and her husband Rakhat Aliev, for breaking laws relating to state language usage and exerting “strong pressure” on the executive.

And he’s announced the state’s intention to take over the semi-privatised Khabar television channel, with which she is thought to be linked.

Some observers have speculated that the attacks on KTK and Khabar may be linked to an apparent fallout between the president and his daughter over a controversial article she wrote in the March 10 issue of the daily Karavan.

In the piece, she expressed outrage that the National Security Committee chief allegedly told the president that either her husband or two other Nazarbaev family members were behind the murder of the leading opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaev in February.

Ertysbaev’s actions, meanwhile, have condemned by the country’s two leading press associations, the Congress of Journalism, which was set up by Nazarbaeva, and the Kazakstan Journalists Union.

The former group demanded that the minister resign because of his attempts to toughen media policy, censor television stations and intimidate awkward journalists.

According to the Kazakstan National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters, which represents 52 outlets, the proposed changes will hinder freedom of speech, slow down democratic reforms, undermine the development of independent media and allow monopolies to flourish.

“The bill will not bring anything positive for the media at all. On the contrary, it will create new reasons for stopping publication. The minister’s initiative is a knot around the throat of the media,” the association’s executive director Sholpan Jaksybaeva told IWPR.

Observers say the proposed amendments will throw media development in the country back ten years. The US ambassador to Kazakstan, John Ordway, said they “would not help” the country advance its bid for the chairmanship of the OSCE.

Ertybaev’s has maintained that the changes are solely intended to protect national security and denied claims that they will undermine freedom of speech, “This is impossible in Kazakstan, which has 15 years of experience of media development.”

But journalists groups are unconvinced and are threatening to mount a protest campaign and urge the president to veto the amendments.

“Bureaucrats and deputies are using the sacred concept of national security as a fig leaf to cover their own shame – corruption and lawlessness. They are trying to ban glasnost and criticism. We elected them, they live off us but they work against us, against society,” said Kaleeva.

Gulmira Arbabaeva is a journalist with the Panorama newspaper.

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