Kyrgyzstan Opens Election Season with Foreign News Ban
Television viewers in Kyrgyzstan will say goodbye to foreign news this weekend for the duration of the country’s presidential election season. Between September 25 and the October 30 ballot, Kyrgyzstan’s televisions stations and cable operators are forbidden from rebroadcasting foreign news bulletins that could affect the election’s outcome. Most operators have no choice but to suspend foreign news programming altogether. The move is clearly designed to limit the Russian media’s ability to influence Kyrgyz voters, but media-rights watchdogs are outraged that parliament has passed a bill endorsing censorship. Television is Kyrgyzstan’s most popular source for news.Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev, himself a presidential candidate, first proposed the ban this spring after he experienced a thorough bashing by Russian media during last year’s parliamentary polls. His party’s fifth-place finish, by most accounts due to the Russian pressure, was the season’s biggest political upset. The author of Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 constitution and one of the “revolutionaries” who came to power after street riots ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev that spring, Tekebayev is often called “pro-Western” and is said to have angered Moscow by endorsing a parliamentary form of government. Local television stations often rebroadcast foreign news programs, primarily from Russia. Stations will have the option of cutting segments concerning Kyrgyz politics, or face a $100,000 fine. However, local cable providers, who rebroadcast multiple channels to hundreds of thousands of subscribers, say they cannot afford the manpower to monitor every program and thus will have to axe news from Russia, as well as the BBC, CNN, and other international feeds. Cable executives say their companies face huge losses.Under the new law “we must record all programs of foreign TV channels, filter them for campaigning for any of the candidates ... and then release the recorded programs, but we just do not have such equipment," Vasily Goncharov of Bishkek’s Ala-TV cable company told reporters on September 22. "Above all, under contract with foreign channels, we have no right to make changes to their programs," he added.On September 22, Tekebayev dismissed charges the ban is a form of censorship, calling it instead “a question of information security,” the 24.kg news agency quoted him as saying.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.