President of Kyrgyzstan Withdraws Controversial Draft Mass Media Law

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The head of state has instructed representatives of the Supreme Council to withdraw the draft mass media bill after he met with representatives of the Kyrgyz media, as reported on the President’s website.

During a meeting with 40 Kyrgyz journalists, President Sadyr Japarov said that the country’s leadership is ready for a constructive dialog with media representatives to ensure a transparent information policy in the country.

“Following the meeting, having heard information from media representatives and taking into account the proposals received from them regarding this bill, President Sadyr Japarov instructed representatives to withdraw the said draft law”, presidential spokesman Askat Alagozov wrote on his Facebook page.

In September 2022, the presidential administration submitted for public discussion a new draft law on mass media, citing the fact that the current law, adopted in 1992, is obsolete. The bill was immediately criticized by many public organizations. In particular, the authors of the bill wrote that there should be no censorship in the media, but they wanted to oblige journalists to submit their materials to the officials whose name is mentioned in the material before each publication. In addition, according to the draft law Kyrgyz journalists would have to be accredited by the state ministry responsible for that reporter’s field of work. Furthermore, each government agency would have the right to revoke a journalist’s accreditation if it didn’t like that reporter’s coverage of an issue.

“We should not be talking about introducing censorship, but about introducing public control over what goes out on the pages of the press, electronic media, and television screens,” the background to the bill said. The proposed bill also introduced changes in the status of the mass media. Such basic concepts as “mass media outlet,” “editorial board,” “founder,” and “publisher” were to be defined differently than before. According to lawyers, an analysis of the new law showed that there were serious risks of weaker legal protections, from basic human rights to freedom of expression. Certain provisions of the bill jeopardized the activities of independent media and journalists – including foreign ones.

“The procedures for registering media outlets, the status of which will also apply to websites, are significantly complicated. A number of norms proposed by the draft law do not comply with the basic principle of legal certainty, which may lead to arbitrary application of the law in practice, and some articles show a discriminatory approach. Based on the results of the analysis, we can conclude that the adoption of the draft law in the form in which it is posted for public discussion may lead to the decline of democracy in Kyrgyzstan,” said lawyers from the Adilet Legal Clinic.

As a result, the bill failed to gain support in public debate and was sent for revision three months later. A presidential decree set up a working group to finalize the law. But, as local journalists who are members of this group noted, the draft law was never coordinated, approved and finalized by all members of the working group. Many articles in the draft law were not even discussed by the members of the working group. Additionally, numerous comments by journalists and public figures concerning the parts of the law that could create risks for independent media were not even considered.

Despite all of this, the draft law was again submitted for discussion to the Supreme Council of the Republic in January 2024. The members adopted it and sent it to the president for his signature. But the public again expressed its dissatisfaction, accusing the authorities of pressurizing the media and seeking to limit freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also expressed serious concern, fearing that adoption of the law may not be in line with internationally accepted standards of freedom of expression and best practices in the region.