Foreign Policy Blogs

Dariga Nazarbaeva and Kazakhstan's Media

"more than words can wield the matter"

 Dariga Nazarbaeva, the eldest daughter of Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, continues to be the most influential word-wielder in Kazakhstan.  Ms. Nazarbaeva is the Founder, previous President, and Chairperson for Khabar, Kazakhstan's media conglomerate.  According to BBC, Darigha Nazarbaeva and her husband, Rakhat Aliev, own a media empire that includes the couple's part, major, or full ownership of the KTK Television station; radio stations Europa Plus, Russkoye Radio, Hit FM and Radio Karavan; the newspapers Karavan and Novoye Pokolenie; and the Kazakhstan Today news agency.  In a 2004 interview, Altanbek Sarsanbaev mentoned other media outlets controlled by the Khabar conglomerate include the El Arna television company, KaspioNet, NTK, and Alma TV; and Radio Retro. 

Dariga Nazarbaeva and Kazakhstan's MediaLast year, as reported by Kazakhstan Today, Ms. Nazarbaeva was re-elected Chairman of the Congress of Journalists of Kazakhstan; she is also a prominent member of the Eurasia Media Forum Foundation, which annually convenes to discuss regional and international media issues.  Over the next few weeks, Ms. Nazarbaeva is going to be very busy with media matters: the Congress of Journalists plans to meet at the end of March, 2007.  Shortly after that, around April 20, the Eurasia Media Forum Foundation will have its convention.  Her media savvy has been instrumental in the Nazarbaev administration's low-key reception of the Borat phenomenon.

The free press
Allegations concerning Kazakhstan's unfree and unfair media market periodically erupt in international relations discourse.  On July 18, 2001, the U.S. Congress heard testimony that the U.S.-funded Franklin Press was forcibly sold to a company owned by Dariga Nazarbaeva.  The privately held Caravan was likewise forcibly sold, giving Ms. Nazarbaeva and Mr. Aliyev control over most of Kazakhstan's electronic media.  That same year, the International Press Institute conceded Kazakhstan's relative tolerance with respect to some other Central Asian Republics, yet deplored the new media laws that had recently come into effect.

Media law
Kazakhstan's constitution provides for a free press.  Nevertheless, many restrictive laws have been introduced.  In 2001, a draft law passed by the Kazkhstani legislature, the Mazhilis, made illegal any broadcasts in violation of the Constitution, or that impugn the dignity of the presidential office.  The Internet was specifically defined as part of mass media.  The law also provided for fees and fines for newspaper, Internet, and broadcast media who use unproved information; since libel is considered a criminal rather than civil offense in Kazakhstan (as well as other post-Soviet states), the penalties for journalistic mis-steps can be dire.  In 2003, a new mass media law restricted journalistic rights to one: that of receiving information.  Journalists and media outlets were given a number of duties related to permitting and licensing, disadvantaging the smaller business operator and reinforcing monopoly conditions.  

Excessive permitting also allows for administrative denial to operate for alternate media outlets.  In the case of libel, evidential rules place the burden of proof on the broadcaster or journalist.  Such a climate induces self-censorship in journalist's investigation and writing of news and reports.  The tight media climate has also allowed those who take issue with the press to commit depredations against individual journalists or media outlets, further limiting transparency and news variety.  The list of journalists who have been harrassed, beaten, and/or killed in Kazakhstan under suspicious circumstances includes Nuri Muftakh, Alexsei Pugaev, and Sergei Duvanov, (2002); Askhat Sharipzhan (2004);  and Batyrkhan Darimbet (2005).

Her own Road?
Interestingly, Dariga Nazarbaeva resigned the Presidency of Khabar in March of 2001, at approximately the same time that many of these media laws were enacted.  She has gone onto a political career, to use words as the main tool of another profession:-founding and leading her own political party, Asar.  And it appears that this move, announced at the opening of the new Astana office of the Khabar agency, apparently surprised President Nazarbaev at the time.  On Khabar TV, he told the presenter: "Many people have done a great deal of work to set up this channel and put it on its feet. . . .she has done a lot for her homeland.  I heard yesterday that she was going to resign, and this is her own decision, and I cannot. . ." He did not finish his sentence.

Photo: Otan Party Web site