Kyrgyzstan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

Freedom of the Press 2004

2004 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

71

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

27

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

21

Freedom of expression and of the press is guaranteed by Articles 15 and 16 of Kyrgyzstan's constitution. Nonetheless, press freedom was severely curtailed in 2003, both through a number of government libel lawsuits and through physical attacks against journalists. The end of the year, however, did register bright spots on the media scene as the media community welcomed the opening of the country's first full-service independent printing press in November and as the parliament began debating legislation in December that would introduce a fee on lawsuits filed against the media and decriminalize libel. The law decriminalizing libel, if passed, would require defamation cases to be tried in civil courts. However, many local journalists and international observers remain skeptical that it would reduce government influence over the independent media, as financial pressure would remain an effective tool for stifling critical voices. A number of lawsuits were filed against independent media outlets in 2003. The independent newspaper Moya Stolitsa was particularly hard hit. The newspaper, which has been critical of the government and has conducted investigative reports on corruption, has been named as defendant in 34 lawsuits since November 2002. It had received judgments against it amounting to almost $100,000, causing it to close in early summer of 2003. However, it shortly reopened under the new name of MSN. Kyrgyz Ordo, a Kyrgyz-language paper, also closed down due to the financial burden resulting from court judgments. Government subsidies to a number of print, radio, and television outlets afford them a distinct advantage in competing for advertising revenue. Authorities in the state-controlled distribution system favor state-owned or -controlled press, delaying and often simply refusing to pay independent publishers for copies distributed and sold. In addition to economic pressures, journalists critical of the government faced continued physical harassment. In January, a Moya Stolitsa reporter was assaulted, while the car of another journalist from that paper was set on fire. In September the body of investigative journalist Ernis Nazalov was found floating in a canal, and in October an Osh-based reporter was attacked by two assailants. Internet media remained free from legal restrictions and have proven an effective means of transmitting news, although access to the Internet is limited outside Bishkek.