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Insiders, Dissidents Agree: Kazakh Officials Seek To Influence Media

(Washington, DC -- July 27, 2001) Journalists still working in Kazakstan's privately owned media agreed with dissident journalists and opposition members that the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev uses a variety of methods to influence and control print and electronic media in the country.

Speaking at a separate briefing following a presentation by dissident journalists last week at RFE/RL, Oleg Kviatkovski, the executive director of Almaty's Channel 31 television channel, described a system whereby Kazakh officials use the country's tax police and other economic levers to "closely supervise" the media. He noted that open censorship of the media is outlawed by Kazakhstan's constitution, but he acknowledged the Kazakh law which prohibits persons "publicly insulting the dignity and honor of the President."

Kviatkovski said he considers his own station an "oppositional channel", but he "does not allow live coverage, particularly with members of the Kazakh opposition" because "live reporting is a minefield" and he "doesn't want to risk violating the laws." He said that government officials monitor media programs and take action against media outlets.

Kviatkovski said the national security organization, the KNB, is also involved in leaking stories to media in Kazakhstan. For example, he said, in May 2001 KNB agents provided video to his station that showed almaty police discovering 88 kilograms of drugs in the car of the Tajik Ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Both Kviatkovsky and Serguei Kharchenko, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Kostanai News," said that the primary problems of media in Kazakhstan are a lack of money, a lack of equipment and what they termed a "lack of professionalism" on the part of many journalists.