In the some eighty remaining days before the prematurely called January 10 Kazakhstani elections (see the Monitor, July 13 and October 19), mass media will play an important part in shaping public opinion.
Relative to other Central Asian states, Kazakhstan’s media is relatively free. Nevertheless, in comparison to 1995, when Nazarbaev prolonged his rule by referendum, the media’s independence has been sharply curtailed. With the state purchase of the major independent TV and radio station, KTK, this year, almost all audiovisual media is state owned. The largest state TV station, Xabar, is run by Nazarbaev’s daughter, Dariga Nursultanovna. “Karavan,” the republic’s most popular tabloid newspaper and the only publication in possession of its own printing press, was sold this year almost certainly to a presidential supporter, though the buyer remained anonymous (see the Monitor, July 14).
The sale of Karavan might have already formed part of a presidential strategy to tighten state control of the media in the run-up to the elections. Kazhegeldin alleges recent attacks on his publications (see the Monitor, October 19). One of the newspapers he partly finances, “Twenty-First Century,” is now forced to print in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, as several small publications) have already been doing, including “All Over the Globe” and Kazakhstan’s version of “Argumenty i fakty.” Nevertheless, these publications still exist, as does the generally oppositional “Delovaya nedelya”–though this last publication does generally refrain from direct criticism of the president. The launch this month of another critical newspaper, “451 Degrees Fahrenheit,” would indicate that authorities are keen to give at least the semblance of media diversity.
In his September 30 speech on democratization (see the Monitor, October 1), Nazarbaev did indeed promise some privatization of the state media, but details of the program have yet to emerge. Kazhegeldin is equally keen to portray himself as the champion of the free press, as he did at the October 3 meeting of the movement “For Free Elections.” Media representatives present, however, were quick to point out that it was Kazhegeldin’s own government which had introduced exorbitant registration fees, provoking mass closure of local independent radio and TV stations (Delovaya nedelya [Almaty], October 9).–SC
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