For the first two years of independence, Kyrgyzstan's newspapers
were a remarkable phenomenon, with real political significance
and power. Save that Kyrgyzstan's newspapers had not yet developed
a Western-style code of journalistic scrupulousness and restraint,
it would have been possible to say that the press was beginning
to become the fourth estate that the media represent in developed
democracies. Through late 1993, Kyrgyzstan's newspapers enjoyed
the greatest freedom of publication in any of the Central Asian
nations, rivaling the freedom of the post-1991 Moscow press. Although
a state secrecy committee had the power to require submission
of materials in advance of publication, in fact the newspapers
were able to discuss issues of public interest closely and dispassionately.
During the gold scandals, for example, the newspapers played a
crucial role in airing both opposition attacks on Akayev and his
government, and the government's defense against those attacks.
Since 1993, however, the government has moved increasingly to
impose control. In August 1993, formal censorship was briefly
reimposed, but then a spirited outcry from the press brought a
reversal of that move. More subtle methods of censorship were
applied in January 1994, during the run-up to the public referendum
on Akayev's performance. Although there are several independent
or quasi-independent newspapers in the republic, all printing
presses remain in government hands, which gives the state the
option of simply refusing to print opposition newspapers.
In 1994 the Akayev government stepped up pressure on the local
press, closing three newspapers entirely, including the popular
Russian-language Svobodnye gory , the official organ
of the parliament. Government officials also began to bring suits
against newspapers as private individuals, claiming defamation
and slander. One such case resulted in a costly judgement against
the editor of Delo No , a tabloid-style scandal sheet
that is perhaps the most widely read newspaper in the country.
In the spring of 1995, Akayev used the same tactic against the
editor of Respublika , long one of the most persistent
and successful critics of the regime; the president succeeded
in getting a judgement that forbids the editor from working for
Beginning in 1994, the Kyrgyz populace began to feel threatened
by the government and other forces in the republic. The atmosphere
has not been helped by a series of unexplained attacks on journalists,
including one popular commentator, a persistent investigator of
the gold scandals, who died after being struck on the head. Although
the newsman's grave also was desecrated shortly after his burial,
no government investigation was conducted. The government has
shown reluctance to impose direct Soviet-style censorship, but
Akayev warned in January 1995 that the press would be wise to
begin practicing self-censorship and to print more positive news.
The economic conditions of journalism prevent any Kyrgyzstani
newspaper from being totally free. None of the republic's papers
has yet developed a sustaining readership, and because the economy
is insufficiently developed to provide advertising revenue, all
newspapers must depend on sponsors. For many papers, including
Slovo Kyrgyzstana , which has the largest circulation,
the sponsor is the government. Others such as Asaba have
political sponsors, and at least one is sponsored by Turkish investors.
Even the most independent of the papers, Respublika ,
has been forced to turn to commercial sponsors, which, according
to rumor, include Seabeco-Kyrgyzstan, the scandal-tainted intermediary
in the Kumtor gold deal.
The most important Russian-language newspapers are Slovo
Kyrgyzstana , the official government paper (circulation
about 15,000 in 1994); Vechernii Bishkek , a more domestic
city paper (reaching 75,000 readers on Fridays); the tabloid scandal
sheet Delo No (30,000 copies); Asaba , the organ
of the party of the same name (20,000 copies); and Respublika
, the most prominent surviving opposition paper (7,000 copies).
The major Kyrgyz language newspapers are Kyrgyz guusu
and Kut Bilim . A bilingual newspaper, Erkin Too/Svobodnye
gory , has appeared, but, unlike its earlier namesake, it
is not an opposition paper. One English-language paper, Kyrgyzstan
Chronicle , mostly reproduces articles from foreign English-language
The electronic media are unevenly developed in the republic,
both because of the physical constraints imposed by the country's
mountainous terrain and because of financial difficulties. Resources
are concentrated in Bishkek, which is well supplied with television
and with radio. Penetration of more remote areas, however, is
The government retains ownership of all but one broadcast facility,
giving it a strong voice in the development of independent programming.
There is at least one independent radio company, called Piramida,
and several independent television production companies. In June
1995, the government proposed reinstitution of formal state control
over all broadcasting in the republic.
Financial problems have caused Kyrgyzstan to cut back on the
number of hours of Russian television that it relays from Moscow,
although the Russian government has shown an inclination to work
with Kyrgyzstan to keep Russian-language programming on the air
in the republic. In the south, most programming originates in
Uzbekistan, a situation that tends to exacerbate the north-south
split within Kyrgyzstan.
Data as of March 1996