Kyrgyz TV Reform Falters Ahead of Polls

After most board members resign from the new-look national TV station, critics say the Kyrgyz leadership is obstructing the emergence of an independent broadcaster.

Kyrgyz TV Reform Falters Ahead of Polls

After most board members resign from the new-look national TV station, critics say the Kyrgyz leadership is obstructing the emergence of an independent broadcaster.

Kyrgyzstan is going into a parliamentary election this month without the long-promised reform of the country’s state-run television station in place.



As a result, civil society groups and media experts predict that the authorities will again be able to count on overwhelmingly favourable coverage from the only station that covers the entire territory of the republic.



In October, President Kurmanbek Bakiev set up a new group called the Ak Jol People’s Party which he clearly hopes will sweep the board in the December 16 election, in which the winning party will for the first time be allowed to form a government.



Reform of the state-run broadcaster was a key pledge made by Bakiev when he was elected president just over three months after street protests forced a change of regime in March 2005.



The plan was to turn the TV branch of the National Television and Radio Company, NTRC, into a public-service broadcaster which would be state-funded but independent of government, and which would therefore be in a position to provide unbiased coverage of political events.



Last year, President Bakiev signed a decree outlining the transformation of NTRC into a public TV corporation, vesting control in a new 15-member supervisory board which was to elect a director general and exercise overall control of editorial policy.



Shortly afterwards, parliament approved the 15 candidates nominated for the board, five of whom were picked by the president, five by legislators and the rest by civil society groups.



It was hoped that the board would get down to the business of drawing up editorial policy and electing a chief executive. In the event, nothing of the sort occurred.



Procedural and policy wrangles triggered the resignation of eight of the 15 members at one of the board’s first meetings, held on October 25 this year with the intention of selecting NTRC’s head.



The resigning members did not explain why they had stepped down, but their dramatic action left the body paralysed as it cannot take decisions without a quorum.



Gulnara Ibraeva, one of the surviving members, said the outcome was frustrating.



“We need to continue our work on such documents as the NTRC’s regulations and developing an editorial strategy for the channel,” she said. “But unfortunately, we are unable to make valid decisions on these two issues”.



Ilim Karypbekov, director of the Media Representative Institute, a non-government watchdog organisation, concurred. “The supervisory board is not working at the moment. The remaining members can work, but their decisions may not be recognised,” he said. “The board is today is a moribund institution; it has been disabled.”



Karypbekov blamed the defectors for deliberately causing this disruption, and hinted at behind-the-scenes political manoeuvring to derail the emergence of an independent TV station.



“It is the fault of those people who’ve resigned from the board. I think they have acted irresponsibly as citizens,” he said. “Their action means that Kyrgyzstan will never get a public television station now. The authorities have realised they made a mistake, and they will do their best to bring the NTRC back under their jurisdiction”.



Elvira Sarieva, another member who is still on the board, agreed that the mass resignation was a deliberate ploy to subvert public-service television. “Those who left were followers of Bakiev,” she said. “This was the only way to hold up the board’s work during the election campaign.”



Bakiev’s administration has denied any role in the resignations. Presidential spokesman Dosaly Esenaliev told IWPR he was not aware of why the board members had departed, but said they were within their rights if they had personal reasons for doing so. “It seems the board members were guided by this provision when they decided to resign,” he added.



Media experts remain puzzled over the explanation for the apparently inexplicable resignation of eight members at once. But many take the same line as Karypbekov.



“Today we see the authorities ignoring the laws that they themselves drafted for the board,” said media expert Elena Voronina.



Supporters of a reformed NTRC fear that if the board continues without a quorum, the authorities will try to discredit it entirely with a view to watering down the legislation governing public-service broadcasting.



To make sure this does not happen, the remaining members have urged President Bakiev to permit new nominations to fill the vacant seats.



Karypbekov doubts this will take place before the December 16 election, and it will be the new parliament that approves any future board members.



Gulnara Mambetalieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan
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