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Kyrgyz Media Council 'Flawed'

Authorities' creation of press watchdog triggers alarm among independent journalists.
By Leila Saralaeva

Media organisations and leading Kyrgyz journalists have criticised the government's decision to form a regulatory body to deal with the press disputes.


The credibility of the new media council has been strongly questioned by participants at a two-day conference held in Bishkek on September 17-18, which was supported by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.


Kuban Mambetaliev, chairman of the Journalist foundation, told IWPR that the majority of the Kyrgyz press was opposed to the new body, which he said was first proposed by President Askar Akaev at a public gathering in July.


Freimut Duve, the OSCE's press freedom representative, said he believed such a council should have been formed "by journalists themselves, without interference from state bodies", rather than as a result of presidential orders.


The new authority, whose creation was announced at a September 13 conference in a Lake Yssykkul holiday resort, comprises six journalists and three well-known public figures and will aim to arbitrate in conflicts involving the media.


Evgeny Denisenko, a member of the authority who works for the pro-government newspaper Vecherny Bishkek, told IWPR, "I view the role of the council as an advisory body which will give a journalist advice and help in any difficult situation."


The president's press secretary Abdil Segizbaev said the council was necessary because the large number of lawsuits issued against journalists and newspapers were damaging the image of the republic as a whole.


Council member Vadim Nochyovkin, of the independent Delo No newspaper, which has been repeatedly sued over articles its published, said the council could help defuse such conflicts.


Local journalists acknowledge that a lack of professionalism has led to the surge of lawsuits, but they say they have little faith in the council.


Alexei Sukhov, a journalist based in the southern Osh region, expressed particular concerns about the manner in which the authority was formed, "I think the media council was created in a secretive way, mainly by representatives of government mass media. The majority of independent journalists from the south knew very little about the idea, they did not take part in discussions."


Prominent journalist, Rina Prizhivoit, who works for the opposition newspaper MSN - formerly Moya Stolitsa Novosti closed down this summer - said, "I will be against any organisation which is going to control the media and will have powers to penalise and regulate its work."


She believes that talk of the council defending the media and lobbying for its interests is just an attempt to wrong foot journalists, "As soon as we fall into this trap, we will find the council is an instrument in the hands of authorities to keep us under their thumb." Prizhivoit added that the absence of members with strong independent views does not bode well for the institution's future.


Oleg Panfilov of the Centre of Extreme Journalism - a Moscow-based media non-governmental organisation - was also among those who questioned the government's motives. "Nothing good will come out of this idea, as those in power have always had their own agendas," he warned.


Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.


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