Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 25
Political Influences: 28
Economic Pressures: 22
Total Score: 75
Life Expectancy: 64
Religious Groups: Muslim (47 percent), Russian Orthodox (44 percent), Protestant (2 percent), other (7 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Kazakh (53 percent), Russian (30 percent), Ukrainian (4 percent), Uzbek (3 percent), German (2 percent), other (8 percent)
While the constitution guarantees freedom of the press, it also provides for special protection for the president. The fate of a new draft Law On Mass Media symbolized the largely stagnant state of media freedom in Kazakhstan in 2004. The draft law, which contained murky prohibitions on "propaganda" and threatened journalists with prison terms, drew harsh criticism from domestic and international watchdogs. In April, President Nursultan Nazarbayev vetoed the law after the Constitutional Council declared it unconstitutional. The lower chamber of parliament in October passed a draft Law On Extremism that raised concerns with its provisions to suspend media outlets for carrying "extremist" messages. Independent media outlets that fell afoul of the authorities found themselves targeted with civil and criminal libel lawsuits. The opposition weekly Assandi Times was convicted of libel and effectively shut down when the presidential administration won a US$370,000 judgment against the newspaper in an Almaty court. The paper's editor had accused the administration of distributing and publishing a forged issue of the Assandi Times in June that contained articles critical of the opposition. However, the staff of the Assandi Times succeeded in opening a new newspaper under the name Respublika. Journalist and human rights activist Sergei Duvanov, who had been arrested for rape in 2002 and then imprisoned in 2003 following a dubious investigation and a trial seemingly designed to silence a gadfly, was paroled in August. Another stillborn initiative was the appointment in July of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, co-chairman of the opposition party Ak Zhol, to the post of information minister. Sarsenbayev initially promised liberal reforms and a new draft media law but resigned after parliamentary elections in September to protest government interference in the electoral process.
Sarsenbayev specifically criticized media controlled by Darigha Nazarbayeva, president and director of the state-owned Khabar Agency (which includes a nationwide television channel), for bias in the run-up to the September elections. Domestic and international election observers confirmed favorable coverage of pro-presidential candidates in state-controlled media and media outlets with probable ownership ties to members of the presidential family, which account for the bulk of the country's high-profile broadcast media. During the elections, independent journalists were denied access to information and media crews were at times not allowed to report on the elections and the vote counting. Other events marked a continuation of unhealthy trends of past years. Vladimir Mikhailov, managing editor of the independent weekly Diapazon, was imprisoned briefly in the course of an apparent fight for control of the newspaper; and Maksim Kartashov, a sports reporter for the weekly Vremya, was attacked after reporting on corruption in the sports world. The suspicious death of Askhat Sharipzhanov, a journalist for the online opposition newspaper Navigator, cast a pall over the media environment. Sharipzhanov was struck by a car in Almaty on July 16; he died on July 20. Sharipzhanov had recently interviewed a prominent opponent of President Nazarbaev, and his colleagues pointed to the disappearance of the journalist's tape recorder and irregularities in the investigation, casting doubt on the official finding of accidental death.
There are numerous privately owned print media, but although they are technically independent, many received state subsidies or were owned by holding companies with ties to the government. The government runs one of the two national Russian-language newspapers and the only national Kazakh-language newspaper. In addition, the government controls all broadcasting transmission facilities and two of the three broadcasting companies with national coverage. Administration officials also influence distribution by pressuring publishing houses and newspaper vendors not to work with independent media.
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