Starting Sunday, September 25, the Kyrgyz government introduced a ban on all foreign news broadcasting for the duration of the presidential campaign – until election day on October 30, 2011. During the five week moratorium, Kyrgyzstan’s television stations and cable operators are barred from rebroadcasting foreign news bulletins, reports EurasiaNet.
The motivation behind the law passed by the Kyrgyz Parliament on the eve of the start of the presidential campaign is to reduce foreign influence on the voter.
Essentially, the legislation called for filtering of the news broadcasts containing pro or con campaigning messages coming from outside sources (read Russia). Obviously, this kind of editing is a hefty task in terms of manpower and logistics and in addition it violates the contracts with foreign channels as was explained by a representative of the cable company Al-TV.
Hence, the channels stopped broadcasting foreign news altogether including Russia’s Channel One, RTR, Rossiya-24 along with the CNN and the BBC. Normal programming is scheduled to be resumed after October 30.
Media and rights advocates have expressed concern, and the law is also proving to be costly for cable operators. The country’s two cable television companies said the suspension in the rebroadcasting of international stations could cost them $100,000 in losses.
Others have already turned to the Constitutional Chamber with a request to recognize the law as unconstitutional on the basis that it violates the public’s right to free access to information.
According to a deputy of the Kyrgyz Parliament who supports the legislation, over 60 TV cannels will be cut during the presidential election campaign.
In the past, during the run up to the October 2010 parliamentary election, Russian NTV channel broadcasted a sex video featuring a man resembling a pro-Western Ata Meken’s party leader Omurbek Tekebayev.
Although the Kyrgyz government has strongly denied any claims that it’s instituting censorship citing the length of the ban for only the duration of the election campaign, accusations have been flying and complaints have been filed. It claims that foreign news reports are still available via internet and satellite channels.
As EurasiaNet has pointed out, in Kyrgyzstan, television is the most popular source of news. And perhaps it is television that has the most power to influence and sway the public through projecting audio-visual images, more so than election slogans, election campaign programs and promises or well-written newspaper articles.