Kyrgyzstan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 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

Despite constitutional guarantees of press freedom, Kyrgyzstan's media environment in 2004 suffered from significant constraints in the form of imperfect and selective enforcement of existing laws, targeted lawsuits, and the undue influence of media ownership and control on content. In June, the parliament rejected amendments that would have decriminalized defamation and raised the fee for libel lawsuits. Libel suits acted as a brake on journalists, especially outside of the capital, where judgments of US$1,000-$2,000 can have a chilling effect on local reporters with limited financial resources. Overzealous and selective enforcement of laws to the detriment of independent media was a continuing problem. A September decision by the Ministry of Economics Antitrust Department charged that the newspaper MSN, printed with the help of a U.S.-funded printing press (operated by Freedom House), was being sold below cost with the aim of establishing a monopoly. The case raised suspicions that the newspaper, whose articles frequently angered officials, was being unfairly targeted for its content.

In the run-up to the 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections, the government tried to crack down on opposition and independent media. Unequal conditions existed for state-controlled media outlets and independent media. Journalists from independent newspapers were sometimes barred from attending official functions, and a report from Issyk-Kul province indicated that teachers there were compelled to subscribe to state-owned publications. In a worrisome development, President Askar Akayev lashed out at independent media at an October 23 meeting of the Security Council; he lambasted the opposition and independent media for "ideological extremism," warning that destabilization would be a risk in the lead-up to the 2005 elections. Extralegal intimidation and physical violence against journalists were less prominent constraints, although several assaults on journalists were recorded and an independent media support center in Osh suffered an attack in February 2004. Despite an independent inquiry by human rights organizations that revealed that journalist Ernis Nazalov of the daily Bishkek Ruhu (whose body was discovered on the bank of a canal in September 2003) was stabbed and beaten, the prosecutor's office closed the investigation in 2004 and ruled the death an accidental drowning.

The U.S.-sponsored printing house broke the printing monopoly held by the state-owned printing house, Uchkun. As a result, some of the independent press were able to publish more freely. There are approximately 40 to 50 regularly printed newspapers and magazines, most of them private but not all independent. The president has control over most television stations. The chairman of the state-owned Kyrgyz National Television and Radio Broadcast Corporation is appointed by the president, and his son-in-law owns Kyrgyz Public Educational Radio and Television. In the spring, the main independent television station, Pyramida, was taken off the air by the National Communications Agency (GAS), the government broadcast regulator, for 40 days in an incident that began with a technical problem but developed into a politically tinged dispute with the authorities. The station's journalists argued that Pyramida's weekly political show, which invites opposition leaders, had angered the authorities. In August, the acquisition of a stake in Pyramida by a company with possible links to the family of President Akayev raised fears that the station's independence could be compromised. After claiming that the channel was interfering with state TV transmissions, GAS also forced Osh TV to broadcast on a weaker frequency, drastically cutting down the station's audience.