Kyrgyzstan: Revolution Revisited
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BACKGROUND

Kyrgyzstan's 2005 Tulip Revolution came with a huge promise for change in media rights. Shortly following the overthrow of President Askar Akayev, the new government affirmed the need to eradicate any state practice that could curb freedom of expression.

Nonetheless, more than one year after the revolution, local journalists and some international monitoring organizations charge that freedom of the press in Kyrgyzstan remains restricted.

"Prosecutions and acts against journalists represent a very disturbing recent trend of increasingly severe methods being used to restrict free speech in Kyrgyzstan," reported a 2006 media survey by the New York-based non-governmental organization Freedom House. "These acts and the continuing criminalization of libel will have a chilling effect on independent media and others who are reporting on violations of political rights and civil liberties."

In 2006, considerable controversy surrounded the curtailment of independent television company NTS's ability to broadcast to audiences outside of Bishkek. The decision was later reversed. The re-privatization of a host of media outlets, including popular newspaper Vecherny Bishkek and television station KOORT, however, has fueled speculation about media outlets' political affiliations. A longstanding squabble over ownership of Pyramida television station has furthered these concerns. Although print news outlets critical of the government do exist, their reporting is often tainted in favor of individual politicians. Internet news sites provide a broader range of analytical news stories, but Internet penetration is relatively minimal outside of the capital, Bishkek.

In addition, many journalists report that officials continue to try to intimidate media by indirect threats or phone calls in a bid to curb coverage of sensitive topics. Self-censorship by media outlets is common.

Government officials, however, maintain that they are ready to reverse that record. A May 4, 2006 decree issued by President Bakiyev calls for revised legislation to "support mass media and eliminate any kind of pressure on journalists and media outlets from local and state authorities." Punishment for violation of freedom of speech would be "severe," the edict continues.

Among the areas targeted for reform: the transformation of the State Television and Radio Corporation into a public television company. In June 2005, after a public information campaign by local non-governmental organizations, parliament voted for this change to proceed. President Bakiyev, however, has yet to sign the measure into law.

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