Advocacy letter

Kazakhstan: Broadcasting draft law threatens free expression

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ARTICLE 19

30 Nov 2011

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Dear Mr President, I am writing to you on behalf of ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression to urge you to postpone the parliamentary reading of the draft Broadcasting Law of Kazakhstan until the new Lower Chamber of Parliament (Majilis) begins work after the forthcoming elections.

ARTICLE 19 joins Kazakhstani press freedom groups expressing concern over the possibility that the draft law concerning broadcasting might be passed by the Senate, skipping the Majilis. Due to the fact that Majilis was dissolved, the passage of this draft law would be possible without debate or further consultations with the representatives of the media and civil society. While the draft law is a welcome attempt to ensure the transition from analog to digital television and give incentives to the development of local TV and radio companies, many of the key proposals made by domestic and international press freedom groups and experts were left out. We call on you to postpone action on this draft law until such time as Majilis representatives are elected and able to consider it in the due course of their work.

ARTICLE 19 is confident that the draft law, if passed as it now stands, would:

  • be in direct conflict with Kazakhstan's commitment to promote and protect media freedom;
  • pose a threat to the right to the freedom to seek, receive and impart information;
  • prevent the public receiving information from a variety of sources; and
  • limit free and fair competition in the sphere of broadcasting

Among our primary concerns is that the proposed draft law imparts broad, unlimited powers related to broadcasting to the government and local administrative bodies, which in fact opens the door to arbitrary political interference and political control. ARTICLE 19 recommends that these powers be given to an independent body as a safeguard against political interference with media freedom and free expression. Further, ARTICLE 19 recommends that the draft Law includes safeguards for the independence of the broadcasting regulatory body from the government, in particular a number of exclusions or ‘rules of incompatibility’ which apply to candidates for membership in the boar.  ARTICLE 19 also recommends provisions ensuring formal accountability of the regulatory body to the public through a multi-party body, such as the legislature, rather than through a minister or other partisan body.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned about the powers of the regulatory body to exercise prior content control of foreign radio and TV channels. The content restrictions are very broadly defined and give room for indiscriminate refusals to register foreign channels or withdraw such registrations. ARTICLE 19 recommends that the broadcasting regulator should not be able to refuse registrations of foreign channels and that the broadcast law includes definitions of all content restrictions, and sets out the principle that they should be interpreted and applied in the manner which is least restrictive for freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that the draft law remains silent with respect to the obligations of the State and the broadcasting regulator to promote diversity, ensure editorial independence and ensure equal and fair treatment of all broadcasters. ARTICLE 19 recommends that promotion of diversity be recognised as a key principle of broadcasting regulation, and the principle of editorial independence, whereby programming decisions are made by broadcasters on the basis of professional criteria and the public’s right to know, be guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Additionally, ARTICLE 19 recommends that the draft law recognise the principle that all broadcasters should be treated equally and fairly.

Finally, ARTICLE 19 expresses regrets that the draft law contains no provisions transforming the State broadcaster into public service media. State broadcasters are not independent from the government and serve as its mouthpiece. They also tend to compete unfairly with private stations, threatening their commercial viability. That is why most OSCE States have transformed their State broadcasters into public service ones. The latter genuinely serve the public interest because they are governed and funded by the public and independent from the government. ARTICLE 19 recommends that the state broadcaster be transformed into a public service one.

We urge you to support our initiative and eagerly await your reply.