A partly Russian-owned television station controlled by Kazakhstan’s government has waded into controversy once again with an inept and widely mocked attempt at an exposé on the recent land protests.
In a report aired over the weekend, First Channel Eurasia broadcast brief footage showing what they claimed were organizers of the demonstrations being paid sums of up to $150 by unnamed parties. No faces can be seen or voices heard in the footage, which is filmed in a way that is intended to suggest the images have been captured with a mobile phone.
Reprising a theme that his employers have been supporting since the height of the land protests, one of the First Channel Eurasia expresses indignation at the currency being used.
“And that is how they are selling us off. And please note that they are not even doing this with Kazakhstani tenge, the national currency, but in dollars. You understand who is behind this?” the anchor asks rhetorically in a less-than-subtle suggestion that the United States has for some reason fomented the recent political turbulence.
First Channel Eurasia, which has been on the air since 1997, is jointly owned by Kazakhstan state television channel and Russia’s government-run First Channel, which holds a 20 percent stake. The combination of inflammatory accusations and shoddily produced would-be evidence presented by the broadcaster indeed betrays many similar features with now-regular smear attacks by Russian state on Western governments and opposition figures.
The exposé has drawn a barrage of exasperated ridicule.
“What is this? This is so unprofessional, so low… They sat there for half an hour convincing one another what a ‘sensation’ this is,” said Gulzhan Mukusheva, director of news at privately owned Channel 31.
This type of reporting raises an important question about what approach the freshly instituted Information Ministry, which has been headed up by former presidential spokesman Dauren Abayev, intends to take in addressing surges of public discontent.
“It seems to me that Dauren Abayev should be watching this [report],” Dinara Satzhan wrote on her Facebook account.
As it happens, Abayev has already watched the report and offered only fairly lukewarm remarks so far.
“This is the opinion of the editorial team, this is the opinion of the journalists. But I understand why this has created such an outcry. I will find out the details and let you know more,” Abayev told Informburo.kz.
It may not be a good omen that the minister running dissemination of official information is unable to distinguish between an editorial opinion and the airing — on state-run television at that — of incendiary and patently manufactured allegations.
Muhtar Taizhan, a nationalist activist who was involved in the rallies and has now been enlisted in the government-led commission on land reforms, said that the First Channel Eurasia reporters should be punished for libel.
Political analyst Dosym Satpayev argued in a piece on his Facebook account that First Channel Eurasia’s report raises serious questions about the ability of state-directed media to guarantee stability in the country.
“What we are dealing with is a total breakdown in information security in Kazakhstan,” he wrote. “You get the impression that somebody up high is intentionally turning our country into an information prison. First Channel Eurasia needs to think about its role in providing information security in Kazakhstan and preserving social stability.”
Indeed, while crude smear jobs may have once been enough, this episode has shown how politically engaged Kazakhstanis who rely on the Internet for information more readily than television have begun to view state media with greater suspicion and scrutiny.