Kazakhstan 4014
Photo by: Ilya Postnikov

Basic Data


Official Country Name: Republic of Kazakhstan
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 16,731,303
Language(s): Kazakh (Qazaq), Russian
Literacy rate: 98.0%
Area: 2,717,300 sq km
GDP: 18,230 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 12
Number of Television Sets: 3,880,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 231.9
Number of Radio Stations: 86
Number of Radio Receivers: 6,470,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 386.7
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 100,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 6.0

Background & General Characteristics

General Description

The Republic of Kazakhstan ( Qazaqstan Respublikasy ) is the largest Central Asian republic of the former Soviet Union. Four times the size of Texas and covering a greater geographic expanse than all of Western Europe, Kazakhstan was settled by nomadic tribes who migrated into the region five hundred years ago. The country's name comes from the Russian version of qazaq, meaning "renegades," from the country's tribal history. During the early eighteenth century, Russian tsars gradually took over in ruling the original peoples of the khanate—a blend of Turkic and Mongol (Moghol) ethnic groups. By the mid-19th century, Russian rulers dominated Kazakhstan, though the Kazaks themselves continued to be the largest nomadic group and included about two million people at that time.

As of July 2001 Kazakhstan's population numbered 16.7 million, composed of a diverse array of ethnic groups in the following proportions, according to the 1999 census: 53.4 percent Kazakh, 30 percent Russian, 3.7 percent Ukrainian, 2.5 percent Uzbek, 2.4 percent German, and 1.4 percent Uighur, with the other 6.6 percent consisting of such peoples as Chechens, Koreans, Kurds, and other Central Asian ethnic groups. About 20,000 refugees from other parts of the former Soviet Union reportedly were living in Kazakhstan as of June 2002, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Members of most ethnic groups reportedly were getting along relatively peaceably together in 2001, although the Uighurs have been the targets of harsh discrimination, ill-treatment, and violence in recent years. Additionally, many ethnic Russians purportedly dislike their inability to claim dual citizenship and the requirement that they must pass a Kazakh language test to qualify for government employment.

Coming from a patriarchal tradition, Kazakhstan continues to struggle with authoritarian rule, even in the post-Soviet period. In early August 2002, Kazakhstan's political future as a viable, multi-party democracy was seriously being called into question. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been head of state since 1990 when he was elected president and has dubiously been chosen twice again by the people since then—in 1995, by a referendum to extend his mandate and in 1999, through an election where the main opposition candidate was outlawed from participation.

Allegations of government corruption involving the president and other political figures and of a secret Swiss bank account opened in 1996 or 1997 containing US$1 billion in public monies from Kazakhstan's sale of a large share of its lucrative oil fields to the Mobil Corporation, coupled with the ruling party's domination of politics and the media, threatened the country's political stability and prompted the government to wield increasing pressure selectively against the media. As Peter Baker of the Washington Post Foreign Service stated in June 2002 regarding Nazarbayev, "His relationship with oil companies has prompted investigations in Switzerland and the United States as prosecutors in both countries probe whether an American lobbyist helped steer millions of dollars in oil commissions to him and other Kazakh leaders."

The former prime minister, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, leader of the Republican Popular Party of Kazakhstan (RPPK), one of the main opposition parties, currently lives in exile, convicted of corruption and abuse of power and sentenced in absentia by the Nazarbayev regime to ten years' imprisonment. He continues to remain politically active, hoping to return one day to Kazakhstan and to reassume his leadership role. Another key opposition leader, Muktar Ablyazov, the former energy minister and leader of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) party, which was established by liberal politicians and registered in January 2001, was arrested in March 2002. Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, the former governor of the Paladar region, was arrested in Almaty the following month, charged with corruption and abuse of power. Despite a great international outcry against the arrests of these two persons, Zhakiyanov was judged guilty in August 2002 and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, provoking an even larger international protest against the Nazarbayev regime.

Kazakhstan's government reported 950 privately owned newspapers and 342 privately owned magazines, according to the U.S. Department of State's annual country report covering the state of human rights in Kazakh-stan in 2001. A reported 1,431 mass media outlets and information agencies operated in the country as of August 1, 2001, and about four-fifths of these were privately owned. However, the specific owners of media outlets are not always easy to identify. As IREX noted in their report on the panel research they conducted in Kazakhstan in 2001, "Media ownership is not transparent at all, yet most people know the owners from rumors….As some panelists mentioned, 'the main thing media owners are non-transparent about is the fact that people close to the presidential family own media outlets."'

A wide range of critics and commentators, coming from the U.S. Department of State, domestic and international media organizations and human rights advocacy groups, Kazakhstan's political opposition in Kazakhstan and in exile, the country's own journalists and opposition politicians, and the foreign press all echo the same views regarding the increasingly dismal state of affairs and of the press in Kazakhstan. The situation seemed to be reaching a breaking point by August 2002. Nazarbayev's rapidly escalating efforts to suppress or eliminate all criticism of himself, his family, the ruling party, and the government, coupled with his attempts to eliminate perceived or actual political opponents by whatever means he deemed were necessary, did not bode well for the political stability and democratic future of Kazakhstan.

Citing the Freedom House human rights survey released in mid-2002, the Kazakhstan 21st Century Foundation noted that Kazakhstan received a failing grade from Freedom House for press freedom. The survey reportedly showed that the Nazarbayev regime "ignores constitutional provisions for freedom of the press by dominating most newspapers as well as printing, distribution and broadcast facilities, and controlling Internet access," in the words of the Foundation. Noting that the president's oldest daughter directly controlled printing and broadcasting outlets, that offending Nazarbayev can be considered criminal behavior, that publishing truthful articles that upset the president can result in imprisonment, and that the country's "tax police" have been used to stifle journalistic expression, Freedom House summarized that "the government has repeatedly harassed or shut down independent news media."

Nature of the Newspaper Audience

About 98 percent of the adult population of Kazakhstan reportedly is literate. The average per capita annual income is US$1,190. The population is distributed across several urban areas, including the cities of Astana (meaning "capital city," previously known as Akmola until renamed by President Nazarbayev, who moved the capital in December 1998 to his home territory); Almaty in the east; and Karaganda, and across the rural areas of the country known as "the regions." The country is composed of fourteen administrative divisions and three cities.

Russian is the language used by about 75 percent of the people, including those belonging to other ethnic groups, including Kazakhs. However, in an apparent effort to gain linguistic and ethnic control of the country— perhaps to align the press with his own ethnic group's views and interests as he seeks to knit the various ethnic groups in Kazakhstan into a new national identity— President Azarbayev issued a decree that was enacted into law and came into effect on January 1, 2002, that all broadcasting outlets—television and radio—must broadcast at least 50 percent of their programming in the Kazakh language.

Quality of Journalism: General Comments

The quality of the press is variable, the basic impediment being the high cost of production and publishing and the lack of sufficient means to ensure that editors and journalists will not face exorbitant tax burdens and fines imposed by a government interested in squelching any opposition or criticism. Additionally, an older, Soviet style of journalism, dominated by analysis rather than by investigative reporting, continues to hold sway in the country. This impairs the ability of readers to obtain clear, concise, and accurate accounts of current events and the story behind the story.

Financial problems also impair the quality of journalistic reporting. As IREX reported in their Media Sustainability Index Report based on research conducted in May and June 2001 with a panel of journalists in Kazakhstan, "Aside from professional standards or educational background, the Kazakh press is faced with technical and equipment dilemmas." With shortages of adequate video equipment for television production and computers for the print media, the technical quality of journalistic production is impaired. Additionally, because most journalists are underpaid, the practice of taking money for more-positive reporting is common, compromising the accuracy of reporting.

Historical News Traditions

As noted above, the two types of journalism in Kazakhstan today are investigative—still rather rudimentary in its development—and analytic. The analytic style is a carry-over from the Soviet period, when virtually all media were obliged to produce government-approved propaganda, limiting the possible contributions of journalists to the analysis of then-current Communist party politics, tactics, and actions.

Distribution of Newspapers by Language

Most of the readership in Kazakhstan prefers newspapers in the Russian language, despite the fact that only a third of the country's population is ethnic Russian. Accessibility to news via the broadcast media thus will likely become more complicated as the new language law that took effect in 2002 is implemented. The law requires at least 50 percent of all programming on television and radio to be in the Kazakh language, but not all stations are observing this requirement, since the cost of producing programs in the local language is too high for many media outlets.

Ethnic & Religious Orientation

A large sector of the population in Kazakhstan—about percent 47 percent—is Muslim, primarily Sunni Muslim, with another 44 percent being Russian Orthodox Christian. Two percent are Protestant and another 7 percent adhere to other religions or have no particular religious affiliation. The Muslim Uighur minority in the country has faced severe persecution and discrimination and occasionally even death, as have the activists who defend them. The Uighur ethnic minority, traditionally a more conservative group of Muslims, has been persecuted not only by the Nazarbayev government but also by the governments of other Central Asian republics since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The minority press, in terms of ethnic minorities, can basically be labeled a secular and essentially Russian ethnic press. The religious minorities do not appear to have a strong presence in the media; nor does the religious majority, for that matter. The basic orientation of the press is inclined more toward expressing divergent political views, particularly concerning the quality and degree of democracy to which Kazakhstan's peoples should aspire, than toward expressing specific religious perspectives. The ethnic quality of the press is reflected more in the efforts of the Russian minority to continue to exert some influence on political affairs in the wake of a growing interest and effort by Nazarbayev and his ruling party in extending the benefits of government to the Kazakh people ahead of other ethnic groups. Additionally, Korean, Uighur, Ukrainian, Kurd, and German newspapers are published in Kazakhstan, though the volume of their sales has dropped in recent years due to insufficient financing and perhaps to inadequate coverage of issues of interest to the ethnic minorities involved.

Political Ideology

The press in Kazakhstan is heavily biased in favor of the ruling party, President Nursultan Nazarbayev's People's Unity Party (PUP). Most private newspapers also are biased in favor of the ruling party, since they in fact are not entirely "private." Government supporters very often provide some of the financing for the "private" press, making news tipped in favor of the president and the key government positions and views. The opposition press is likewise political, in that the newspapers associated with opposition party candidates present their party perspectives and criticize the president and his party.

Geography of Readership and Newspaper Publishing and Distribution

Those living in large cities such as Astana and Almaty have much greater access to newspapers than those living in "the regions," as the more sparsely populated, rural areas of the country are known. Outside of the major cities, it is much more difficult for newspapers to find printing facilities and to publish regularly.

Daily, Weekly, and Bi-Weekly Newspapers

Of the government-supported papers, Kazakhstanskaya Pravda (also on the Internet at http://www.kazpravda.kz/ ) is one of the most influential, published five times a week in the Russian language. Yegemen Qazaqstan also is a government-supported paper published five times weekly, though in Kazakh. Two newspapers that are privately owned but favor the government are Ekspress-K, published in Russian five times weekly, and Zhas Alash ( http://www.zhasalash.kz/ ), published in Kazakh four times each week. The Almaty Herald ( http://www.herald.kz/ ) is Kazakhstan's main newspaper published in English.

SolDat and XXI Vek (21st Century) are two independent weekly newspapers that have faced frequent harassment from the Nazarbayev regime. One private, biweekly newspaper, Vremya Po (The Globe), includes an English page in its issues. Like SolDat and XXI Vek, this paper also was singled out for negative government attention in 2001. Nachnem s ponedelnika is a private opposition weekly published in Russian.

Foreign Language Press

The May 2002 amendments to the Mass Media Law made it more difficult for foreign-produced programs to be aired on Kazak television and radio. This was anticipated to have a negative effect on small independent broadcasters, who cannot afford to produce all of their own programs and must now substitute for some of the foreign programs they previously transmitted on their airwaves, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Minority-owned Press

In Kazakhstan today, the Russian minority has a strong presence in the media. Russian-language newspapers are readily produced, although the Russian community has felt increasingly pressured to restrict its reporting to government-approved material. Although a new language law for the media came into effect on January 1, 2002, that requires broadcasting media to provide at least half of their output in the Kazakh language, Russian media producers have continued to operate in the country.

Economic Framework

Economic Climate and Its Influence on Media

Kazakhstan has a vast, undeveloped potential for economic development, based on its large oil reserves and valuable minerals. In addition, the agricultural potential of the fertile southern part of the country has yet to be fully developed. Because construction of the oil pipelines needed to transport crude oil out of the Tengiz oil field was only begun in March 2001, the country is not yet profiting from its rich oil resources as significantly as it will in the future. Additionally, political corruption involving the oil deals is likely to be consuming a share of the monies that could be going to rebuild dilapidated infrastructure and meet the basic social needs of Kazakhstan's people. The main exports are oil, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery, chemicals, grain, wool, meat, and coal. Half of Kazakhstan's working population is employed in the services sector, with just over a quarter (27 percent) employed in industry and just under a quarter (23 percent) employed in agriculture in the mid-1990s. Life expectancy in 2001 was an estimated 58 years for men and 69 years for women.

As of mid-2002, repercussions from an ever-growing scandal involving high government figures, including the president of Kazakhstan, were threatening to erase the remaining vestiges of democracy in the country. The $1 billion from the public treasury allegedly placed by Nazarbayev in a Swiss bank account in 1997 apparently stemmed from a deal worked out by the government to sell a major share of Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil fields to the Mobil Corporation. Very few—apparently, only Nazarbayev himself, the prime minister, and the national bank's chairman—were aware of this account before Kazakhstan's prime minister, Imangali Tasmagambetov, informed the parliament in April 2002 of its existence. The general political climate in the country began heating up still further in the first half of 2002 as key opposition figures were increasingly accused of corruption and illegal behavior and met with legal cases and sanctions against them.

Print Media versus Electronic Media

The electronic media have had much greater success in dispersing a range of perspectives, information, and commentary in Kazakhstan, due to the general government imposition of restrictions on the print media. However, starting in 2001, even Internet news sources found themselves limited increasingly by Nazarbayev and his government, which reclassified the Internet as a form of "mass media" and thus subject to government scrutiny and electronic eavesdropping.

Types and Concentration of Ownership: Government, "Private," and Opposition Newspapers

The press is basically divided into three types: government, opposition, and "private." Little by way of a truly independent press exists in Kazakhstan today, owing to the fact that some newspapers are directly owned and controlled by government figures, others are produced by opposition parties and candidates—some of them currently living outside of Kazakhstan to avoid persecution or prosecution inside Kazakhstan—and still others are nominally "private." A number of private and independent newspapers reportedly receive financial backing from pro-government sponsors and thus are influenced in their content by the source of their financial support. For example, the president's daughter and son-in-law controlled two private newspapers— Karavan and Novoye Pokolenie—as well as the Franklin Press printing house.

Advertisers' Influence on Editorial Policies

An estimated 90 percent of revenue for the private and opposition press comes from advertising. Only a small proportion of the funds required by publications comes from subscriptions or sales of issues. Advertisers try to limit publication of information on their competitors.

Press Laws

Constitutional Provisions and Media Guarantees

The Constitution officially protects free expression to a degree. With the Constitution requiring that persons respect the president's dignity, the president and other government officials are protected from what Kazakhstan's politically charged courts decide is insulting. Similarly, owing to amendments passed in March 2001 that strengthened the media law on libel and to widespread government attempts to limit reporting on certain topics and to subdue criticism of the president, his party, and the government, the apparent legal guarantees of free expression hardly play out in reality. Journalists must practice diligent self-censorship in order to avoid coming up against the law, and even cautious efforts at restraint and publishing factual accounts can bring penalties if the courts choose to broadly interpret the Constitution and the media laws. Topics that journalists are not permitted to freely cover include "the president and his family, corruption at the government level, oil revenue distribution, and ethnic relations," according to a research report by IREX.

Press Laws in Force

The press laws in force in Kazakhstan in 2002 served primarily to protect the interests of the president and his government. As the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor stated in their Country Report for Kazakhstan covering events in 2001, "Amendments to the media law, passed in March, strengthened libel laws, limited the rebroadcast of foreign-produced programming, classified Web sites as mass media, and introduced a requirement that journalists receive permission prior to taping interviews."

Particularly detrimental is a newly passed law, "On Political Parties," proposed early in 2002 by the pro-Narbayev Otan (Fatherland) party, approved by the legislature, and signed by the president in July 2002. The law "sets a prohibitively high threshold for registering political parties, effectively disqualifying opposition groups and steering the country further away from democracy," according to a news report distributed by the Washington-based Kazakhstan 21st Century Foundation. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as well as human rights advocacy groups in Kazakhstan are reported to have stated that the law can be used as a weapon against opposition groups and thus endangers political pluralism.

Media laws also include prohibition of television advertising of alcohol and tobacco products, of violence, and of "pornography."

Registration and Licensing of Newspapers and Journalists

State law requires that all media outlets— the press, broadcasting services, and Internet sites— register with the government. In 1996 the government, under the authority of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication, began granting private broadcasters licenses. The initial costs of licensing for radio and television frequencies were excessively high, and more than 200 outlets were closed down. Afterwards, the Ministry of Information reduced licensing fees and gave more favorable treatment to regional media, which nonetheless failed to remedy the fact that many stations by that time had simply permanently closed their doors. Obtaining licenses depends on government loyalty and often on the ability and willingness to pay bribes to the government officials who distribute them. As one respondent on an IREX panel in 2001 expressed it, "in licensing we have the complete tyranny of the state; bribes and blackmail accompany the procedure."

Press-related Laws

As the U.S. State Department reported concerning media status in 2001, the Prosecutor General has "the authority to suspend the activity of news media that undermine national security; however, this authority has never been invoked." On the other hand, by 2002 this appeared to be changing. With government officials seeking to limit the publication of information on the political scandal involving the Swiss bank account containing substantial public funds from Kazakhstan, it appeared likely that supposed breaches of national security by the press would meet with government-imposed penalties.

In 1999 a law was passed that listed types of government secrets whose publication is criminally prohibited. Included among the items on the list of secrets about which the press must remain silent are statements on the president and his family's health and financial affairs, economic information such as the extent of and details on the country's mineral reserves, and how much the government owes foreign creditors.

Independence of the Judiciary

The courts in Kazakhstan are currently very tied into the presidency and the executive branch of government. An independent judiciary does not exist. Members of opposition parties who report their perspectives on government affairs or the president have little judicial protection. Additionally, those judged guilty of defamation or of threatening national security through their work as reporters, editors, and publishers have little hope of winning an appeal; the cards are already stacked against them. As members of the Executive Committee of the leading RPPK opposition party wrote in late July 2002 after the passage of a new law entitled "On Political Parties" that would likely severely curtail the number and viability of opposition parties, "In a country where the entire judiciary reports to just one individual it is not going to be particularly difficult to find a reason to first suspend and then liquidate a party."


BBC Monitoring states, "In May 2000 the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists placed Nazarbayev on its annual list of the 'Ten worst enemies of the press."' Although Nazarbayev was not on the top-ten list for 2001, his actions toward the press in fact have worsened over time. The U.S. State Department remarked in its human rights report on Kazakhstan for events occurring in 2001, "Although the media expressed views that were independent and occasionally highly critical of the Government, the Government used its influence to limit the media's content."

Censorship has been a growing problem for the media, especially surrounding news of secret government shifts in public funds to Swiss bank accounts. Starting in late 2001, when news of the government's involvement in corrupt or questionable practices burgeoned, censorship was more actively practiced by government authorities against the print and broadcast media. As IREX reported from its 2001 research on the status of journalism in Kazakhstan, "journalists feel constrained by their editors and owners to the extent that they not only abstain from writing the truth, but also survive on articles praising officials and business people, and on favorable reporting about sponsors."

In May 2002 journalist Sergey Duvanov posted on the Internet a bold, lengthy statement accusing the president of criminal violation and Kazakhstan's people of failing to stand up to government misrule and corruption. Entitled "Silence of the Lambs," Duvanov's Internet posting was expected to result in Dubanov's imprisonment. By July 2002 the president was accusing Duvanov of libel, following the June opening of a criminal defamation case against Duvanov by the Prosecutor-General's office. Duvanov allegedly had insulted the honor and dignity of the president, a criminal offense in Kazakhstan.

State-Press Relations

The Right to Criticize Government: Theory & Practice

According to the Constitution, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are guaranteed in Kazakhstan. However, the opposite situation is true in practice. As BBC Monitoring noted, "During the president's 1999 re-election campaign, government authorities brought criminal cases against several independent media outlets, charging them with 'freedom of speech abuses.' After the election, a number of private newspapers were fined, subjected to tax audits and shut down." The situation for the opposition press is even worse. Government ownership and intimidation of printing houses has discouraged many printers from publishing opposition newspapers.

A heightening climate of threats toward the physical safety of journalists has been prevalent in Kazakhstan under the Nazarbayev regime. In February 2001 a television journalist and commentator, Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, and her husband and son were brutally attacked in a robbery attempt after the journalist aired a program "Social Agreement" that criticized government policies. The office of SolDat, a leading independent newspaper, was burned, and computer equipment was stolen. By October 2001 SolDat, financially unable to continue its operations six months after its last issue was published, was forced to close and consequently lost its license.

A leading independent newspaper, Delovoe-Obozrenie Respublika ( Respublika Business Review) received a decapitated dog at its door in May 2002 with an attached note reading, "There will be no next time," apparently in return for covering the presidential scandal involving Swiss bank accounts. The head of the dog appeared two days later at the door of Irina Petrushova, a Russian citizen and the paper's editor-in-chief, who also found two funeral wreaths at her home during May.

In early July 2002 Petrushova was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for supposedly working in the country without permission. However, she was released by a judge who saw her case as falling under an amnesty granted the previous year. Petrushova's lawyer claimed her case was one of government intimidation, since the newspaper where she worked was suspended in April for two months, purportedly due to technical violations, but had frequently published articles on cases of government corruption and of opposition activists targeted by the government.

In another case, Lira Baisetova, a journalist for the same independent paper, published an article on the Swiss bank account scandal in SolDat, since Respublika already had been shut down. Her article reported an interview she had conducted with Bernard Bertossa, the former Prosecutor of Geneva, Switzerland, who confirmed that Swiss authorities had frozen bank accounts owned by Nazarbayev and two former prime ministers of Kazakhstan; the Prosecutor could not say whether the accounts were funded illegally, since Kazakh judicial authorities reportedly were being uncooperative in the investigation. The news confirmed what many in Kazakhstan and elsewhere previously had heard of the scandal.

By July, Baisetova was in hiding in a rural part of Kazakhstan after her 25-year-old daughter, Leila, who was reported on May 23 as having disappeared, died in a government hospital in June. Leila reportedly had been in a coma after her arrest on alleged heroin charges, and the journalist was unable to see her before the daughter died. Suspicions were that the daughter, whose body reportedly showed signs of torture based on photographic evidence, was murdered in retaliation for Baisetova's role in placing increased media attention on the Nazarbayev Swiss bank account scandal. Baisetova previously had been physically attacked herself in 2000 and 2001 as well as monitored and harassed by anonymous phone calls. The same day Leila disappeared, the offices of the newspaper where Baisetova worked were fire-bombed.

In a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report, journalist Bruce Pannier noted that SolDat 's offices also were attacked two days before Leila Baisetova disappeared, with unknown persons entering the building, beating two journalists, and destroying equipment. Pannier added, "Other media outlets in Kazakhstan have reported crimes against their personnel and property."

Managed News

Interestingly, government suppression and harassment of journalists and the media was somewhat selective, at least through 2001. In May 2001 the results of a survey of journalists were published that indicated that most of those interviewed saw the media in Kazakhstan as controlled by the president's eldest daughter and her husband; by Timur Kulibayev, another son-in-law of President Nazarbayev; and by other "oligarchs." However, no negative repercussions reportedly were felt by Andrey Sviridov, the journalist who had reported the poll's findings.

For the private press, which depends on outside sources of financial support and some government subsidies in order to remain viable, contributors often are pro-government and thus influence the content published. Whether employed by the state press or the private press, journalists must practice self-censorship to avoid negative repercussions. Opposition papers are less inclined to exercise this sort of self-monitoring and self-control and thus are more likely to face closures or other negative action by the government.

At least twenty newspapers and twenty television broadcasting stations, including the popular TAN-TV company based in Almaty, reportedly faced temporary or permanent suspensions in the opening years of the new millennium due to government repression. Because Nazarbayev's government also either directly or indirectly has threatened damages to publishing houses that print newspapers critical of government interests, certain newspapers also have had difficulty publishing on a regular schedule. For example, SolDat, a key independent paper, repeatedly has been obstructed from publishing for a number of reasons, including problems with finding a willing printer. Eurasia Internet cited the Committee to Protect Journalists in reporting that in 2001, "at least five printers in the city of Almaty had refused to produce the paper."

Editorial Influence on Government Policies

Little influence by editors on government policies can realistically be achieved in Kazakhstan's present climate of government intimidation, harassment, and control of the media. However, a large social protest movement directed against environmental and health degradation from decades of nuclear testing and its ramifications in the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan has had some effect on government decision-making. A law was passed to guarantee health services to those most adversely affected by the years of nuclear testing in the region, but funds have not been sufficiently allocated to back up government promises of health assistance. Countless persons now suffer from severe birth defects, cancer, and other deformities and diseases as a result of the testing program begun in the Soviet era and continued into the 1990s.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

A growing number of journalists of the political opposition are living outside of Kazakhstan, and many of them continue to promote the ideas of the opposition that cannot be publicized from within the country. Commenting on amendments passed in March 2001 that altered Kazakhstan's media law, the U.S. Department of State noted, "Specifically, the amendments expanded the concept of libel to make media outlets responsible for the content of reprints or rebroadcast of foreign information, including international press services." Consequently, domestic journalists, editors, publishers, and broadcasters can come under fire for publishing or broadcasting news the government deems deleterious to its interests. The March 2001 amendments also reduced the percentage of foreign programs permissible to be broadcast in Kazakhstan, where rebroadcasts of programs produced overseas will account for only 20 percent of broadcasts by 2003.

News Agencies

The Kazakhstan Today agency (with a companion Internet site at http://www.hotline.kz/ ), the Kazakhstan Press agency ( http://www.kazpress.kz/news/ ), the Koda news agency ( http://news.site.kz/ ), and Interfax Kazakhstan all operate inside the country. However, they are not generally viewed as independent news sources, due to the fact that subscription costs are usually high and most media outlets thus cannot afford to access the information the agencies provide. International news agencies like Reuters, the Associated Press, and l'Agence France-Presse focus mainly on oil industry-related or other economic news, and their services are equally unaffordable to the majority of journalists.

Broadcast Media

In 2001 a reported 45 independent television and radio stations operated in Kazakhstan. These included 17 television stations, 15 radio stations, and 13 television-radio combinations. Eleven of the broadcasting stations were located in Almaty, the former capital city. A reported 37 television and radio stations were granted new licenses in 2000, in addition to the licenses held by existing radio and television broadcasting stations.

By 2002 the president's eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, was reported to virtually control the sphere of radio and television broadcasting in Kazakhstan. Although a 1991 law stated that competition among broadcasting outlets was to be encouraged, Nazarbayev amended that law in 1999 to achieve just the opposite effect. The newer law essentially undid the anti-monopolistic legislation passed earlier in the decade, making it possible and legal for a government monopoly on the media to gradually take shape.

As BBC Monitoring observed, Nazarbayeva and her husband "have been the main beneficiaries of the privatization of formerly state-run media." Head of the Khabar information agency (Internet site: http://www.khabar.kz ) until 2001, the president's daughter controlled several television stations within the national television broadcasting network. As of mid-2002 two private television stations in the country—NTK and KTK—were owned by Dariga Nazarbayeva. And until Nazarbayeva's husband, Rakhat Aliyev, became embroiled in a political scandal in late 2001 involving allegations of efforts to replace Nazarbayev, the president's son-in-law owned a principal media holding company in Kazakhstan. By mid-2002 Aliyev was living in Vienna as Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria. His wife continued to live and work in Kazakhstan.

The privately owned television stations Khabar and Khabar 2, broadcasting in both Kazakh and Russian, and ORT Kazakhstan, are included among the holdings of the president's daughter and son-in-law and receive public funding. As to radio in the country, radio stations Europa Plus, Russkoye Radio, Radio Hit FM, and Radio Karavan all are privately owned by the same couple. Kazakh Radio is government-owned and broadcasts in both Kazakh and Russian. Kazakh Commercial TV is privately owned and broadcasts in Kazakh and Russian as well.

Besides Kazakhstan's domestic broadcasting networks and stations, the British Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcast programs accessible to Kazakhstan's audiences.

Electronic News Media

The two principal Internet service providers (ISPs) are government-controlled: Kaztelecom and Nursat. The opposition website Eurasia has faced repeated blockage of its content, although proxy servers have continued to provide viewers with access to the Eurasia site. According to the U.S. State Department, "In September [2001] human rights monitors alleged that Kaztelecom and Nursat users were unwittingly viewing a 'mirror site' of the opposition Eurasia page. On the 'mirror site' users view a page that mimics the original, but without material highly critical of the Government." Another opposition website, Aziopa, was blocked by the government ISPs in 2002.

The Internet had provided unprecedented publishing access to the opposition press, and many independent journalists used the Internet to convey their views and critiques of politics and society in Kazakhstan. However, amendments were added in May 2002 to the Law on Mass Media to make free expression via the Internet considerably less free.

The National Kazakh Security Committee, the successor to the famed Soviet KGB, has been empowered by the ruling regime to "monitor e-mail traffic, access to the internet, faxes and phone calls by any organization, company or person it deemed suspicious," according to BBC Monitoring. In May 2002 the president approved amendments to the Mass Media Law, already a restrictive piece of legislation. The amendments essentially labeled web sites as "mass media," shifting them to a new category and making them subject to state monitoring and censorship.

Education & TRAINING

The education of journalists takes place primarily in seven departments of journalism located at state universities throughout Kazakhstan. Prospective journalists receive four years of training, costing them about US$600 per year, a fee which many reportedly find affordable. However, improvements in the training of journalists are clearly needed, in order to develop a more fact-oriented, investigative style of reporting that would represent an advancement over the more commonly used Soviet style of journalistic practice emphasizing "analytic" writing. As IREX's 2001 report noted, "The need for reform in journalism education is long overdue. But lack of resources, qualified staff, donor interest, and investment, together with authoritarian rule and the practice of journalism to promote interests rather than present objective news and events to the public, still plague this unre-formed society."

The principal school of journalism is the Department of Journalism at the Kazakh State University, where students planning careers as television and print journalists, public relations professionals, and international affairs journalists receive training. Private training facilities also exist, but the majority are state funded.

Short-term and international training opportunities also are available to some journalists through international donor organizations such as the U.S. Information Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the UN Development Program, UNESCO, the Soros Foundation, the Eurasia Foundation, and the British Council, according to IREX. Better opportunities for training journalists in the areas of reporting, legal issues, marketing, and media management would be beneficial, based on the comments of the panelists IREX interviewed in 2001.

Journalists are generally very underpaid in Kazakh-stan, which leads many to leave the journalistic profession and seek higher-paying government jobs. A few rather well-financed private media outlets do offer more lucrative work for journalists. Nonetheless, journalists in the rural areas earned about US$50 monthly in 2001, while those working in Almaty made about US$200-250 each month.

Several active media associations operate in Kazakhstan. According to IREX, in 2001 the following six organizations represented journalists' interests: "the Association of Independent Mass Media of Kazakhstan and Central Asia (ANESMICA); the National Association of TV Broadcasters; the Association of Kazakh Broadcasters; the Journalists in Trouble Foundation; the International Foundation for the Protection of Glasnost (Adil Sez); and the Kazakh Branch of the Internews International Network." The most effective of these appeared to be ANESMICA, established in 1995, and Adil Sez , set up in 2000 in connection with the Russian Glasnost Defense Foundation. To a certain extent, at least some of the associations help journalists in legal difficulty, providing them with legal defense and monitoring government treatment of journalists and the media.

Besides the above associations, two press clubs were operating in 2001: the Kazakh Press Club and the National Press Club. Rather than being effective tools for introducing

journalists' interests into legislative decision-making or for protecting the rights of journalists, the press clubs have operated in more commercial directions such as organizing public relations events and press conferences and sometimes running training seminars with the support of international donor organizations.

The Union of Journalists is the direct descendent of the earlier press union that operated during Soviet days. Media professionals in Kazakhstan appear to view the current Union as doing little to represent their interests before the legislature. As IREX observed, "Media professionals in Kazakhstan do not have a single trade union, because of the conflicting interests between different media outlets."



President Nazarbayev met with President George W. Bush in December 2001 and pledged to support human rights and further efforts to democratize Kazakhstan. However, recent confirmation of the existence of Swiss bank accounts holding significant public monies from Kazakhstan and the strong likelihood that government officials have been involved in an oil scandal make it increasingly unlikely that Kazakhstan will follow an unbroken path toward economic development and greater democracy unless international pressure is applied or a widespread domestic movement prompts significant change in government leadership.

Among the numerous international critics of Nazarbayev and his non-democratic, authoritarian practices is U.S. Congressman Norman Dicks, who in a statement before the House of Representatives on July 18, 2002 observed that Nazarbayev "has shut down many newspapers and television stations in Kazakhstan, preventing its citizens from having a free press." Congressman Dicks requested that the international community place special attention on the problematic behavior of President Nazarbayev and not allow the president to continue to act in repressive ways against the media in his country.

Congressman Dicks also asked that a July 12, 2002, letter from the Editorial Board of The Washington Post be included in the Congressional Record. In that letter ("New Allies, Old Formula"), the Washington Post's editors observed that in Kazakhstan, "A score of newspapers and an equal number of television stations have been forced to shut down in recent months, and a number of journalists have been attacked or threatened." The Editorial Board questioned in their letter of July 12 whether recent overtures by the U.S. Government to Kazakhstan, including a July 2002 agreement between the Nazarbayev regime and the Bush administration granting Kazakhstan's permission for U.S. military planes to stop and refuel in emergencies at the international airport in Almaty, might not be perceived by Kazakhstan officials as giving the green light to Nazarbayev's repressive tactics in trying to silence his critics.

The editors of The Washington Post raised the issue of whether the "War on Terrorism" being waged by the United States following the September 11, 2001, attacks was extending too broadly the U.S. tendency to condone government repression in certain countries in the name of fighting terrorism. As they succinctly put it, "Does the Pentagon really need another landing arrangement in Central Asia? If such agreements were withheld—or frozen—Mr. Nazarbayev and other Central Asian dictators would be quick to get the message."

Trends and Prospects for the Media: Outlook for the Twenty-first Century

In the existing climate of government-imposed media restrictions, coupled with hostile government attitudes and practices toward the press, life in Kazakhstan is coming to resemble what seventeenth-century English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes once described as the conditions of life where no government exists at all. In Hobbes's words, in a "state of nature" where people are left to their own devices and no government regulates their selfish pursuits, life is "a war of all against all" and is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." In Kazakhstan's case, it seems that life for journalists under the Nazarbayev regime ironically parallels Hobbes's depiction of life without government. The outlook appears similarly bleak for the readership of Kazakhstan's newspapers, considering their currently limited ability to access news representing a broad political spectrum where issues are debated in a journalistic style more typical of that in democratic countries.

Unless the international diplomatic community, foreign governments, and a wide-ranging, solidaristic, grassroots movement begins to exert pressure more concertedly on Nazarbayev and his ruling party to democratize the country and allow free expression, the future of objective journalism in Kazakhstan may be in dire jeopardy. Hashhuu Naranjargal, the author of a November 1998 report by the International Federation of Journalists on the rights of the media and of journalists in Central Asia, observed that in Kazakhstan, "supporters of democracy and most of the journalists stated they are in need of international support. International human rights organizations and international organizations and trade unions protecting media freedom must take urgent actions against the anti-democratic processes they currently see developing in the country." The message Naranjargal carried from journalists in Kazakhstan in 1998 to the rest of the world implores even greater attention in 2002 as the rule of law breaks down under Nazarbayev and as media professionals face ever-graver dangers and threats to their professional and personal lives.

Significant Dates

  • 1996 or 1997: Swiss bank account allegedly is opened by President Nursaltan Nazarbayev with US$1 billion in public funds from Kazakhstan's sale of oil shares to the Mobil Corporation.
  • 1999: Nazarbayev is reelected president in an election where leading opposition candidate Akezhan Kazhegeldin is barred from participating.
  • May 2000: Nazarbayev is placed on the annual list of the "Ten worst enemies of the press" published by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
  • February 2001: Television journalist and commentator, Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, and her husband and son are targeted in a robbery and beatings after the journalist airs her program, "Social Agreement," on which government policies are criticized.
  • May 2002: A decapitated dog is found outside the offices of a leading independent newspaper, Delovoe-Obozrenie Respublika ( Respublika Business Review) with a note attached stating, "There will be no next time." Two days later, the head of the dog is found at the door of the paper's editor-in-chief, an open critic of the Nazarbayev regime who has suffered repeated harassment.
  • May and June 2002: Journalist Lira Baisetova's daughter, Leila, disappears after her mother publishes a story on the Nazarbayev corruption scandal in the independent newspaper SolDat. The daughter later is reported to be in a government hospital, reportedly in a coma, and dies five days later.
  • August 2002: Former governor of the Paladar region, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, is convicted on charges of corruption and abuse of power and sentenced to 10 years in prison, amid international outcries and protests.


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Barbara A. Lakeberg Dridi , Ph.D.

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