One of Kazakhstan’s wealthiest men, Kenges Rakishev, has made a foray into the country’s media business by buying up television station Sedmoi Kanal (Channel Seven), Tengri News has reported.
The purchase will cement the channel’s transition to an all-entertainment outlet following a decision to discontinue news programming that came into effect in June.
Sedmoi Kanal is one of the slicker stations in Kazakhstan, but has struggled to compete with other private television channels like KTK and Channel 31.
Like KTK, Sedmoi Kanal produced reasonably high-quality news programming sometimes critical of authorities, albeit typically ones operating at a local level. According to widely circulated rumors in journalist circles, the channel was one of several media outlets ultimately controlled by Prime Minister Karim Masimov.
A piece published last year by Respublika, a news website with strongly antigovernment positions, suggested that the country’s media scene is effectively divided three ways. Masimov is said to control outlets including Sedmoi Kanal and, more importantly, Tengri News.
Another key figure, according to Respublika, is President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga, who is said to own KTK and Pervy Kanal Evrasia, which is 20 percent controlled by the Russian government. Nazarbayeva is also believed to control several other radio stations and websites.
Nazarbayeva, 52, has a well-established interest in the media and was behind the creation of the annual Eurasian Media Forum, which is an event intended to discuss trends in the industry.
The third behind-the-scenes media titan identified by Respublika was Bulat Utemuratov, who Forbes magazine lists as the richest man in Kazakhstan with a net worth of $2.3 billion. Kazakhstan-watchers will remember him most recently for his abortive attempt to take a selfie with President Nazarbayev. He is said to ultimately be pulling the strings at television stations Channel 31 and Tan, as well as the Kazakhstan edition of Forbes magazine.
With the acquisition of Sedmoi Kanal, Rakishev would therefore be joining illustrious company. He certainly has the pedigree and cash.
Rakishev, 36, is the son-in-law of defense minister and former mayor of Astana Imangali Tasmagambetov and is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $684 million. Tasmagambetov has at times been spoken of as a potential successor to Nazarbayev.
But Rakishev was clear that the channel he is taking over will steer clear of news — possibly dispelling notions the station could be used as public relations vehicle in any future political developments.
“Sedmoi Kanal has a good technical base. The concept of the channel will be geared toward edutainment. We will do our bit for the development of media content in Kazakhstan, which should be interesting and high-quality,” Rakishev was cited as saying by TengriNews.
That message was echoed by the head of the station.
“Research shows that our audience wants more entertainment from us. Sedmoi Kanal will from next year position itself more as an entertainment channel. This fall, we will begin to actively work in this direction,” said the channel’s general director, Kuat Bahridinov.
Despite his young age, Rakishev already has a formidable curriculum.
In August, he acquired control over the Kazakhstan’s largest bank, Kazkommertsbank. He is also chairman of Net Element, an online payment services company listed on NASDAQ, and in charge of venture funds in Israel and Russia.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.