Astana spends millions of dollars a year on media subsidies, with the lion’s share used to promote the administration’s messages through powerful state media outlets. Much of the subsidized coverage is aimed at generating a “feel-good factor” among Kazakhstan’s public, a new study has found.
State media subsidies have shot up in recent years, the research by the Legal Media-Center, an NGO, found, almost tripling from 8.8 billion tenge (some $57 million) in 2005 to 22.7 billion tenge ($147 million) in 2012. This year state subsidies will reach 35 billion tenge ($233 million) nationally, with a further 2 billion tenge ($13 million) allocated in the regions.
A total of 98 media outlets benefited from state subsidies in 2012, yet they were spread thin. Over half (51 percent) went to just three outlets: the two main state-owned national newspapers, the Kazakh-language Yegemen Kazakhstan (360 million tenge, or $2.3 million) and its sister publication, Russian-language Kazakhstankaya Pravda (290 million tenge, or $1.8 million). News agency Kazinform received 245 million tenge ($1.6 million).
The research, based on an analysis of official information received from ministries, found that much funding went on communicating information about the work of the state: 39 percent was spent on publishing material such as texts of laws and decrees and job vacancies, and another 37 percent on material covering domestic government policy and the work of the president, cabinet, and law-enforcement agencies.
A lesser but significant amount – 6.5 percent of the total – was spent on material aimed at “creating a feeling of patriotism” and “civic identity” and boosting interfaith and interethnic accord – central pillars of the nation-building efforts of the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Another 6.4 percent was spent subsidizing coverage of national holidays and celebrations, which the administration has harnessed to foster a sense of nationhood in multiethnic, multi-denominational Kazakhstan.
Keynote speeches by Nazarbayev always receive blanket media coverage, and the study found that 1,600 pieces had been published or broadcast on his state-of-the-nation address in 2012 – over 30 per week. His article Social Modernization of Kazakhstan: Twenty Steps to a Society of Universal Labor fared almost as well, with 1,300 articles.
The government denies pressuring the media with its state subsidies. “If you are actively covering the progress of the country’s political, economic, and social modernization, where your and our opinions totally coincide, why wouldn’t the state offer support?” Culture and Information Minister Mukhtar Kul-Mukhammed asked journalists last month.
“We do not say: Change your editorial policy,” he added. “Absolutely not. We purchase from you a ready product.”
The study by the Legal Media-Center, an NGO researching the media and offering legal support and training to journalists, was supported by Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan. [Editor’s note: The Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan and EurasiaNet.org are separate entities within the Open Society Foundations network.] It was presented at a round table entitled State Financing of the Press: Analysis of Kazakhstani Practice and International Experience, which also debated the benefits of subsidies to the press and the impact on freedom of speech.