Freedom of the Press
While Kazakhstan’s media environment presented familiar obstacles to independent reporting in 2008, including legal restrictions, self-censorship, and harassment, political events underscored the overwhelming extent of partisan ownership and presidential influence. The constitution guarantees freedom of the press but also provides special protection for the president, and in practice the government uses numerous tactics to control the media and limit freedom of expression. A new draft of the Law on Publishing was proposed in the second half of the year, but no real progress was made, and the restrictive 2006 amendments to media legislation remained in force. These provisions imposed costly registration fees on journalists, broadened criteria for the denial of registration, required news outlets to submit the names of editors with registration applications, and necessitated reregistration in the event of a change of address or editor. The 2008 draft is the second attempt at a new publishing law; a previous draft had been introduced in the parliament in April 2007. While the proposed amendments are less restrictive than the current law, media groups remain concerned at the intended level of government control over a wide range of publishing activities, which would effectively eliminate any pretense of media independence. The incidence of libel suits decreased slightly in 2008, but they continued to be a hindrance for journalists. On September 18, a judge heard libel charges against Viktor Miroshnichenko, a correspondent for Vremya newspaper, that had been brought by Sarsenbay Davetov, deputy chief of the Department of Internal Affairs. Miroshnichenko had written an article in July accusing Davetov of accepting bribes. This was the third libel case brought against the journalist; the two previous cases were dismissed after he was able to prove that his accusations were based in fact.
Journalists and media outlets willing to criticize the government continued to face harassment and obstacles to reporting, including intimidation and physical attacks. During the overnight hours on March 31, the offices of independent newspaper Taszhargan were fired upon and pelted with stones, causing structural damage but no injuries. Taszhargan is the oldest opposition paper in Kazakhstan and has previously endured harassment in the form of arson and burglary. In September a driver for the independent media group Aygakwas assaulted and his vehicle was set on fire. The most serious attack of the year occurred on December 30, when two men approached Taszhargan reporter Artyom Miusov outside a supermarket in Almaty and stabbed him three times in the abdomen. No progress was made in the case of Oralgaisha Omarshanova, an investigative reporter for Zakon i Pravosudiye who had written about ethnic clashes and dangerous conditions in mines and went missing in March 2007.
Major broadcast media are either state run or controlled by members or associates of the president’s family. The government controlled nearly all broadcast transmission facilities, and media observers believed that most of the seven nationwide television broadcasters were owned wholly or partly by the government. Kazakh law limits the rebroadcast of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a station’s total airtime, overburdening smaller stations that are unable to develop their own programs. There are well over a thousand daily and weekly newspapers in Kazakhstan. Like the broadcast media, many of them are either government run or controlled by groups or individuals associated with the president. The government controls all of the country’s printing presses, and with advertising revenue in short supply, private print media are often forced to rely on state subsidies.Freedom on the internet, which had provided a refuge of sorts for Kazakhstan’s beleaguered independent press, was increasingly contested by the state. On October 7, the country’s two largest internet service providers (ISPs), KazakhTelecom and NurSat, began blocking access to the LiveJournal blogging platform. Neither company gave any explanation, and KazakhTelecom never acknowledged that the filtering was occurring. However, it is widely believed that the authorities ordered the move in an attempt to restrict access to the blog of self-exiled government critic Rakhat Aliyev, the president’s former son-in-law. The block remained in place at the end of the year. ISPs must obtain a license from the Agency for Information and Communication, which requires that they use at least part of the state-controlled KazakhTelecom network. The internet remained freer than print and broadcast media, although even the most optimistic estimates put the proportion of internet users in the country at only 12.4 percent of the population.