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Demand for prior approval of RFE/RL programmes called “intolerable”

Published on Wednesday 17 December 2008.
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Reporters Without Borders deplores the Kyrgyz government’s refusal to resume local retransmission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz service unless it submits programmes for prior approval. The demand was made on 15 December by Melis Eshimkanov, the head of state-owned broadcaster UTRK, who told an RFE/RL delegation its programmes were “too negative and critical.”

“This political decision is intolerable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “There is absolutely no justification for this unabashed attack on one of the few sources of quality news in Kyrgyzstan, one that has been informing the Kyrgyz population for more than 50 years.

The press freedom organisation added: “If the authorities do not reverse this decision, they will be sending a clear message that they have chosen the road of authoritarianism rather than democracy. This would be a seriously retrograde step.”

Under a March 2005 contract, UTRK is supposed to retransmit RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, known locally as Radio Azattik, but UTRK suspended retransmission on 8 October, a week after it censored an RFE/RL-produced TV current affairs programme called “Inconvenient Questions.”

The programme was about the 5 October local elections and should have been broadcast on 1 October, but UTRK claimed to have “lost” it. “Inconvenient Questions” was criticised by President Kurmanbek Bakiev in September as having a pro-opposition bias.

Nearly four years after the Tulip Revolution, Kyrgyzstan’s evolution towards democracy is looking shaky even if it continues to be one of the least repressive of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. It was ranked 112th out of 173 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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