Protests Over New Kazak Media Curbs

Journalists protest over proposed tightening of Kazak media restrictions

Protests Over New Kazak Media Curbs

Journalists protest over proposed tightening of Kazak media restrictions

Kazak media are currently campaigning against a slew of draft amendments to the country's media law due to go before parliament at the end of January. The amendments were announced at the end of October last year but were only made public after pressure was applied by Internews journalists who had managed to get hold of details of the changes.

Kazak media and NGOs have been joined by vocal public opposition to the changes to the Mass Media Law passed in 1999. However, journalists remain sceptical about their ability to influence deputies.

"I think that the amendments will be adopted," said head of Internews-Kazakstan, Oleg Katsiev. "But, I just hope that our deputies will not be so silly as to keep all the dubious proposals and will at least consider modifying them."

The best that can happen according to President of the Kazak Foundation for the Protection of Free Speech (Adil Soz) Tamara Kaleeva is that they can provoke open discussion before the proposals go before the upper house of parliament.

Some deputies have already expressed their opposition to the proposed legislation. Communist Party chairman Serikbolsyn Abdildin said that " the proposals are very controversial and I'm not going to support them as they stand."

Fellow deputy and businessman, Bulat Abilov, agreed, "I am against these amendments and will try to put forward changes to make them more flexible."

The amendments effectively tighten restrictions introduced between 1997 and 1999, according to which media can be closed down on the nebulous grounds of 'undermining national security'.

The measures are the latest in a series of government attempts to suppress criticism of the authorities in the media. Following the culling of dozens of opposition and independent media over the past three years, more than 90 per cent of the press are now loyal to President Nazarbaev.

The authorities are keen to clamp down on information which has managed to filter through from Russian and Western media outlets.

An amendment pruning Russian re-broadcasting to 20 per cent of media output provoked the loudest press reaction. "Down With Re-broadcasting!" the non-state Delovaya Nedelya pronounced ironically.

Heads of non-governmental broadcasting companies believe this proposal could finish them off - especially those based in the provinces - as they will be denied a vital source of revenue.

Another proposal prohibits the dissemination of foreign media articles which are deemed to violate the constitution or the legislature.

In addition to tightening restrictions on traditional media, the amendments clamp down on Internet journalism.

The global network may be impossible to regulate but the Kazak government has gone far in stifling use of the Web as a vehicle for criticising the government. Anti-regime sites have been blocked and the creation of a central billing network has effectively left the state as the sole national Internet provider - giving it a practical monopoly over the Web.

One of the amendments extends registration of media entities to websites, which some government critics say will effectively destroy the newborn KazNet.

And after registration comes re-registration. This requirement is set to be applied to mass media outlets undergoing changes. The proposal obliges proprietors to notify the authorities in writing within 15 days of their implementation.

Leaving the worst till last, it is the final amendment to the law which seems to be the most odious. It shifts the legal responsibility for published material from its author to the editor and owner of the media outlet.

Evidently, the main purpose here is to kill any desire among journalists, editors and especially media proprietors to provide the leaders of the opposition and other critics of the existing regime with a forum for voicing dissent.

The wider intention is to try to turn mass media owners and publishers into allies of the authorities.

Andrei Sviridov is a regular IWPR contributor

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