Kyrgyz MPs introduce bill to increase control over media

20/05/2016 13:56
Asia-Plus
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 DUSHANBE, May 20, 2016, Asia-Plus – EurasiaNet.org reports deputies in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament have proposed legislation that would ban foreigners from setting up media outlets and restrict the proportion of non-local funding for news organizations to 20 percent.

The authors of the bill — a group of MPs led by Kojobek Ryspayev and Iskender Matraimov, both of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK) — say the legislation is aimed at bolstering what they term “information security.”

Sponsors of the bill have preventatively sought to dispel possible criticism by pointing out that it has been drafted in accordance with international practice.  Examples offered are Russia and Kazakhstan, where foreign participation in media outlets is restricted to 50 percent and 20 percent, respectively, according to EurasiaNet.org.  Both countries place toward the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index, with Russia in 148th position and Kazakhstan coming in at 160th.

The MPs note also somewhat disingenuously and inaccurately draws parallels with legislation in the United States, Australia and France, although media ownership regulations there are not quite as simple as a limitation of 20 percent to 30 percent in foreign ownership, as claimed.

If passed, the law would affect not just traditional platforms like newspapers, radio and television, but also online media.  There are no laws in existence in Kyrgyzstan regulating online media, so this initiative could set a precedent.

EurasiaNet.org notes that a large number of online news websites could end up being targeted, in effect striking a blow at outlets that provide a balance in the overall national news output.  That would include websites like those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk, the country’s oldest and largest news agency, AKIpress, and KyrTAG, a branch of Kazakhstan-based news agency KazTAG, all of which have foreign founders or operate on grants provided from abroad.

Supporters of the draft bill argue that local media should fund themselves through paid services and “other sources not forbidden by law.”

Kyrgyzstan was the only country in Central Asia to be listed in the top half of the latest RSF Press Freedom Index — in 85th place out of 179 countries.  While this might place Kyrgyzstan far from the top of the league, media researchers nonetheless describe this an “exceptional case” for the region.

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