Draft media law stirs political controversy in
Political intrigue is swirling around a media bill
pending before Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Council. Four political
parties, including one headed by the president’s daughter, have
called for the proposed legislation to be rejected, saying it would
give government excessive control over the country’s mass media.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev sent the draft law, "On the
Media," to the Constitutional Council on March 31, after both
parliamentary houses approved the bill earlier in the month. A
Constitutional Council ruling is expected in the coming days. After
the ruling, Nazarbayev will decide to either sign or veto the bill.
On April 9, four political parties – Asar, Ak Zhol, Aul and the
Patriotic Party – issued a joint appeal that urged Nazarbayev to
veto the legislation before the constitutional ruling. If approved,
the media legislation would "strengthen the bureaucracy’s already
extensive abilities to curb journalists’ professional activities,"
the joint statement said. The fact that Asar was a signatory to the
appeal surprised some political analysts in Kazakhstan, given the
fact that Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter, heads the
party. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Ak Zhol is
viewed by Kazakhstani authorities as a moderate opposition party.
Aul and the Patriot Party wield far less political influence than
either Asar or Ak Zhol.
Kazakh and international media experts claim the law, if adopted,
will give the government broad powers to meddle in media operations.
Nazarbayev has been a consistent backer of the idea of changing the
legal framework of government news and information gathering and
dissemination in Kazakhstan. Since the bill won parliamentary
approval, the European Union, the US government and the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe, along with a variety of
media and human rights watchdog groups, have all criticized the
Prior to the publication of the April 9 joint appeal, many political
observers viewed the passage of the media legislation as a fait
accompli. The Constitutional Council is dominated by Nazarbayev
appointees, causing Nazarbayev critics to question its independence.
"The Constitutional Council will take whatever resolution on the Law
’On the Media’ that is given to it by the president. And the
president most certainly thinks that the law complies with the
constitution," Tolen Tokhtasynov, an MP who is one of Nazarbayev’s
most outspoken political opponents, said in an interview published
by the Assandi Times.
The April 9 statement has prompted some political analysts, such as
Sabit Zhusupov, to suggest that Nazarbayev may end up not signing
the media bill in its existing form. Nazarbayev created a precedent
for such a development when he announced last October that he was
withdrawing contentious legislation on non-governmental
organizations and returning it to parliament for redrafting.
Some political analysts suggest that recent developments, including
the Constitutional Council’s review of the legislation and the April
9 appeal, will have little influence over Nazarbayev’s final
decision. They believe that Nazarbayev is determined to clamp down
on independent media outlets ahead of the parliamentary elections,
and is merely attempting to create the appearance of democratic
debate concerning the bill.
"It, of course, is necessary not only for officials from the
Ministry of Information to be able to control such a profitable
business as the media. On the threshold of the ’big’ [parliamentary]
elections, the media should be under special control of the
authorities," said a recent commentary in the Assandi Times.
Editor’s Note: Olivia Allison is a researcher on a fellowship,
currently based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. She is studying media
developments in Central Asia. Ibragim Alibekov is the pseudonym for
a Kazakhstan-based reporter and analyst.
April 15, 2004.