First Eurasian Media
Almaty, 25 - 27 April 2002
Ambassador Heinrich Haupt
Head of the OSCE Centre in Almaty
Almaty, 27 April 2002
Freedom of expression prominently figures in many
All 55 OSCE participating states, including
Kazakhstan, have committed themselves not only to tolerate media
freedom, but also to actively defend it.
Freedom of expression was a major issue at the
Regional Conference on Mass Media in Central Asia chaired by the
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media here in Almaty last
However, many local media representatives affirm
that their working conditions are constantly deteriorating.
Authorities keep imposing more and more controls and restrictions on
the media to the extent as to seriously threatening their ability to
play their vital role of providing broad information and fostering
democratic debate. Let me evoke some examples:
Systematic Concentration of media ownership or
corporate control is continuing, primarily to the benefit of
groups or individuals close to the political leadership, above all
the presidential family.
Ministries, state security organs, fiscal police,
and other administrations, as well as law courts, whose
independence is not always guaranteed, tend to impose technical
restrictions or excessive financial burdens on critical media,
thus obstructing their work and inducing them to practice
Politicians and public officials, when criticized
in the media, regularly turn to the courts demanding compensation
for "libel", instead of entering into a public debate on facts or
Cases of physical harassment by the police and
violent groups have also taken place.
Although the Constitution of Kazakhstan guarantees
the freedom of expression and prohibits censorship, new legal
restrictions, like limitations on the retransmission of foreign
electronic mass media or blocking the access to opposition
internet web-sites, are aimed to restrict the work of journalists,
often under the pretext of safeguarding national security.
The “Code of Administrative Violations” of January
30, 2001 introduced about 40 administrative violation structures
in the sphere of Mass Media. This Code gives the Ministry of
Culture, Information and Public Accord the right of systematically
registering Administrative Violations. According to amendments to
the "Law on Mass Media”, from January 2002 on, retransmission of
foreign television production is not to exceed 50 % of the whole
transmission sessions, and, starting January 2003, will be limited
to 20%. The amendments have defined web-sites as "mass media".
They effectively turned the media registration system into an
“allowing” system, which contradicts the Constitution.
The "Almaty Declaration on Freedom of the Media in
Times of Anti- Terrorist Conflict", adopted at the OSCE Media
Conference last December, stressed i.a. that:
- The Central Asian States should not take the new
conflict situation as a justification for repressive steps against
- The media should be free to exercise their corrective function
…especially in times of conflict and
- They should be free to play their fundamental role as society's
watchdog against corruption.
As a result of restrictive policies and measures
taken in the last months:
almost all critical media, have now been silenced
others are subject to an effective
self-censorship, which precludes objective coverage of taboo
topics like corruption scandals on high political levels.
The most disturbing aspect is that there seems to be
a tendency to further tighten controls and restrictions.
I see no justification for such a mistrust of the
authorities in the free media: Neither security concerns, nor the
global fight against terrorism can justify them; nor can the alleged
lack of democratic experience of the young republic: Kazakhstan has,
in fact, in the very first years of independence shown a high
potential for reform. She has been in the forefront of economic,
ecological, financial, and social reforms. She has paved the way for
key disarmament and non-proliferation policies, and has practiced a
new degree of international cooperation and openness.
Kazakhstan thus would have the potential to be in
the forefront of media freedom in Eurasia, provided her leaders had
the political will to play this vital role.
The OSCE is offering the political framework, the
legal instruments and the professional assistance to help
politicians, parliamentarians, administrators, media
representatives, non-governmental organizations and other civic
society structures advance in the stated common aim to strengthen
the freedom and the professionalism of the media.
On June 13-14, in Almaty, the OSCE Centre in Almaty
will hold a seminar to discuss new сhallenges for Kazakh mass media.