Kazakhstan: Astana Restricts Critical Media Coverage of Emergencies
Kazakhstan’s government is moving to prevent state media outlets diverging from the official line when covering emergencies -- from terrorist attacks and accidents to earthquakes and, it seems, labor unrest.
New agreements with editors of state media would prevent “the dissemination of alternative information through all distribution channels – TV, newspapers, the Internet,” Minister of Culture and Information Darkhan Mynbay said in comments carried by Tengri News this week.
That would include flagship TV channels Khabar and Kazakstan, which play a major role in forming public opinion, as well as radio stations like Kazakhskoye Radio and newspapers such as Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.
The minister said Astana was in the process of reaching agreements with editors of state media outlets “on not permitting the distribution of unofficial information and a negative interpretation of official information which casts doubt on the veracity of information, or the competence of the speaker, or calls on citizens to commit some actions.” He did not specify what actions he had in mind.
Mynbay added that the government was forming a pool of approved journalists to which it would pass information during emergencies.
The term “emergencies” could cover a wide range of contingencies, including terrorist attacks, security operations against suspected extremists, earthquakes and accidents.
It could also include labor unrest of the kind that led to violence last December in the oil-rich west, when 15 people were killed in clashes between police and demonstrators.
It may also cover incidents such as two mysterious mass murders which occurred in Kazakhstan this summer, one at a border unit in which 15 people were shot dead and one in a national park in which 12 people were stabbed to death in a frenzied attack. A conscript confessed to the border unit murders but has since recanted his confession; in the second case one park ranger has been arrested for illegal possession of firearms – although the victims were stabbed.
Several media outlets in Kazakhstan have expressed incredulity over some of the official statements made over these bizarre incidents. Most vociferous, however, have been the few independent or opposition-linked outlets that exist in Kazakhstan. They will not be affected by the new ban on state-owned media questioning the official line.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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