Kazakhstan’s government is seeking to complicate media access to state-organized events, prompting journalists to cry foul about additional limitations on their work.
The Information and Communications Ministry, which is sponsoring the changes to existing media legislation, has posted details online for public feedback until February 27.
In substance, the legal amendments will require journalists to provide additional paperwork documenting their affiliation with the outlet they represent. What is more, government-accredited reporters covering any given department will be obliged to sign a document agreeing to abide by rules laid down by that department.
Even going through the motions of filing paperwork may not be enough. If a reporter “discredits the honor and dignity of the state bodies, public associations and organizations that provided accreditation,” this too could be ground for pulling accreditation.
Diana Okremova, the head of the Legal Media Center foundation, told Eurasianet that the proposal could give the authorities more power to sift out “unwanted” journalists when discussing sensitive topics.
“It is a common practice in the provinces where state press secretaries invite only the media outlets that participate in the state order,” she said, referring to the government’s program to subsidize media outlets.
Seitkazy Matayev, head of the Kazakhstan Union of Journalists, stressed that “such rules with absurd demands on journalists have never before existed in Kazakhstan.”
This kind of policy looks like a ham-fisted attempted to stem the tide of negative publicity. It is hard to see how this bureaucratic burden would have helped temper the critical tone in coverage of one the most high-profile recent events, however.
Earlier this month, a blaze in the home of a low-income family in the capital, Astana, claimed the lives of five small girls. The public response was overwhelmingly hostile and centered on the perceived lack of state support for the poor.
The carriers of the official message are determined to keep shooting themselves in the foot over this issue.
Nurgul Mauberlinova, the deputy Information and Communications Minister, said on February 7 while addressing the upper house of parliament that her department “was working with chief editors and media outlet managers to reduce negative content.”
“All of them are following our suggestions,” she said.
That provoked yet more squawks of outrage that required her boss, Information Minister Dauren Abayev, to explain that Mauberlinova had been misinterpreted.
“We are combating destructive information, not negative content,” he said.
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Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.