KAZAKHSTAN - OVERVIEW
edited by Alastair Carthew and Simon Winkelmann
An attempt by the General Prosecutor’s Office to close down some 40 opposition media outlets and websites; the presentation of an “Ethics Codex” by journalists; the awarding of an award for “courageous” and “ethical” journalism to a journalist who survived an attempted murder; attacks on two journalists and the effects of a new bill on television and radio broadcasting featured in Kazakhstan’s media in the second half of 2012.
In November, the Almaty city prosecutor filed a court complaint seeking to close down almost all remaining independent and opposition media, accusing them of being “extremist, inciting discord and threatening national security.” Said David Diaz-Jogeix, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme: “Kazakhstan’s remaining independent voices are at serious risk of being silenced forever if the courts follow through on this complaint.”
The complaint covers eight print media and 23 websites owned by a single media conglomerate, as well as one other newspaper and its supporting websites and two independent television channels. In October, a court labeled several opposition media outlets that cover strikes in 2011 and investigations into violence as “political extremists” that incited “social hatred.” Under Kazakhstani law, “political extremism” is a criminal offence.
In November, the leaders of the Journalists’ Union of Kazakhstan and the Head Editors’ Club presented an ethics codex for Kazakh journalists that is intended as an “instrument of self discipline and moral and ethical orientation” to facilitate “gaining trust and respect for journalists and the mass media.” The original document was developed by the Ministry of Culture, but the journalists adopted a version that eliminated one of the worst clauses that was “satisfactory to the entire journalistic community,” according to the chairman of the Journalists’ Union, Saytkazy Matayev.
The codex covers a wide range of subjects, from social accountability, honesty and impartiality, reliability and objectivity through to respect for private life, dignity and professional reputation and protection and accountability. The code will not be mandatory or enforced in the courts, but violations would be subject to professional censure. Some journalists disagreed with the code, citing the absence of independent journalists from a conference on the codex and a lack of a referendum on the matter.
In August, Global Media Forum and Reporters Without Borders announced that Lukpan Akhmedyarov was the 2012 winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. Akhmedyarov, a reporter for the weekly Uralskaya Nedelya is renowned for his investigative coverage of corruption and human rights abuses and criticism of the government. In April, he was the victim of a murder attempt which hospitalised him for a month for treatment of a head injury, stab wounds and gun pellet injuries.
In October, Akhmedyarov was ordered by a provincial appeal court in the city of Oral to pay a high ranking local official 5 million tenges (€30,000) in a defamation case.
Also in August, two journalists were attacked within a week. Maksim Kartashov, chief editor of the sports magazine Hokkey Kazakhstana and a contributor to the news website Express-K, was beaten and an attempt made to strangle him at the entrance of his apartment in Astana, the capital. He had been reporting on alleged corruption in the Kazakhstan ice hockey federation. In a separate attack Ularbek Baitailaq, a stringer for several Kazakh-language, pro-opposition outlets, was beaten by four assailants in Astana. A motive for the attacks was unclear.
At the end of 2011, the Kazakhstan senate adopted a new bill on television and radio broadcasting. The government says the law is to improve content and increase access to products featured in the national media. It will also regulate the relationships that arise in television and radio, defining the rights and responsibilities of its main actors and providing a strong impetus to the development of domestic TV and radio services. The law also includes provisions to eliminate low quality content that “inflicts psychological or emotional damage on viewers,” according to the Vice Minister of Communications and Information Lyazzat Tanysbai.
Kazakhstan was 154th on the world press freedom index 2012. It had 7.8 million Internet users and 596,000 Facebook subscribers at 30 June, 2012.