The press was established in November by the international organization Freedom House with funding provided by the US State Department's office for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor. The Kyrgyz non-profit organization Media Support Center Foundation was charged with operating the press. Its main aim was to create competition with the state-owned press house, Uchkun. The state-owned press has in recent months refused to print newspapers critical of the government.
The Freedom House press suffered a serious blow in early December, when Victor Zapolskiy, editor of the private weekly newspaper Delo No., announced that he was resigning from the board of directors and that he would shift his business back to Uchkun. He laid out his reasoning for the moves in a public letter addressed to the press' board chairman and to US Senator John McCain, and published in his newspaper's December 10 issue. In all, Delo No. published only one issue using the Freedom House press.
The letter, entitled "The Role of a Faceless Bystander is Not for Me," accused the Freedom House press of poor management and staff and sub-standard printing. In the letter, Zapolskiy claimed he was told prices would be half the level of prices at Uchkun, and when he received the bill, they were much higher.
"Thus, there is an objective problemwhat media [will the press work with], and how is does the foundation plan to support it, putting commercial concerns above public issues?" the letter stated. "And can it, in general, execute its declared high mission?"
Project Manager Mike Stone dismissed the accusations. He insisted that he only quoted one price to Zapolskiy, and that price was similar to Uchkun's prices. "I deny each and every one of the allegations, categorically," Stone said. "They're just false, and some of them are so absurd I wouldn't know where to start to defend them."
Stone indicated that local private newspapers mistakenly believed the new press' prices would be heavily subsidized, or they believed Uchkun's prices were too high. Stone went on to say that he believed Uchkun's prices were in line with the cost of paper, ink and printing.
"Apparently the non-state-owned press here believed not only would there be a printing press here, but it would be heavily subsidized by the United States government," he said. "If you have these expectations of getting a subsidized product on top of something that's already cheap
Olivia Allison is a researcher on a fellowship, currently based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. She is studying media developments in Central Asia.