Testimony of Oleg Kvaytkovskyi
Joint Hearing with Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia: "Silencing Central Asia: the Voice of Dissidents"

Washington, 18 July 2001


Executive Director, Channel 31, Kazakhstan
JULY 18TH, 2001

Dear Congressmen, Ladies and Gentlemen!

I am very pleased with this opportunity to speak to such a distinguished assembly. When we learnt about the hearings in the US Congress on the status of freedom of speech and human rights in my country, Kazakhstan, I considered it to be my duty to help you get an objective and honest answer to these questions.

Let me thank the Congress of the United States of America for invitation and for this rostrum.

I would like to tell you about the latest and accurate data about the status of the mass media market in Kazakhstan. I am familiar with the state of things not through my own experience. Practically, all my 30-year old journalist biography is tied with Kazakhstan. Both in the soviet time and all ten years of Kazakhstan sovereignty, I was and remain to be not engaged by anyone , an independent journalist. At the same time, my biography has been shaped in the way that it was possible to learn from inside not only about the problem and principles of the biggest state newspapers of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Socialist Kazakh Republic. But also, personally, participate in the formation of the new information market of the sovereign Kazakhstan, in fact, from the first days of its life.

For me, those were natural steps. Having worked for 15 years as a correspondent for the biggest Soviet and later the Russian newspaper "Trud" (Labor) in Kazakhstan, I was not directly affiliated with the Kazakhstan mass media. And at the same time, I had a good chance, without taking a look over positions and titles, names of publishers, to participate in the making of the mass media, new in principle for Kazakhstan. And all this allows me to confidently and absolutely honestly express my own view.

I have some of my own experience in promoting my product on the complex and even supersaturated, not only in Kazakhstan but also in entire Central Asia. For two years, my own private information agency "KODA" engaged in delivering news to more than 2,000 electronics addresses of nine countries, has been working. This is a complex but a perspective and attractive business. Not accidentally, there are 15 information agencies and 13 of them belong to private business.

And recently, I signed a personal contract and took the position of Director General of a headlong developing holding, a private television - and radio company "The 31st Channel". All the components of the holding have good perspectives, a newspaper "Megapolis", Internet-newspaper "Navigator", "Radio-31", magazines "Season" for men and women. But the television company belonging to the holding is particularly popular. Observers are watching news programs, information and analytical programs for 16 hours a day. The 31st Channel is popular in Astana and Almaty, two of our capitals, it is extending the span of its broadcasting becoming in fact the republican channel. The 31st channel is often called "the Kazakh NTV". This is, of course, an exaggerated but a very flattering for all of us assessment.

On the whole, speaking about the mass media market in my country, I consider stable development, quality and quantity growth of the Kazakhstan mass media to be an important index of its real status and level of democratization. I will give you just a few figures. By July 1, 2001 there are 1431 mass media operating in Kazakhstan. Including 950 newspapers and 342 magazines. 124 television-and radio companies are broadcasting their television and radio programs on a regular basis. 76 companies are working on independent radio frequencies.

Experience, stability and perspectives of the mass media of our country serve as a good ground to assert that development of the information market in Kazakhstan is a natural result ensured by all participants of the process. In no way could the role of all branches of power of the state itself be denied. These are only two examples. All restrictions on opening of private mass media by physical and legal entities of the Republic have been removed. Censorship is forbidden by the Constitution. And not accidentally that after such steps, a number of mass media belonging to private capital has increased. Out of all operating mass media more than 70% are non-governmental. For example, currently, non-governmental organizations own 116 mass media in Kazakhstan.

On this open and easily assessable information landscape sometimes it is strange to hear statements that, for example, Russian speaking mass media are being limited. Let us together, dear Congressmen, evaluate whether it is true.

A simple analysis of all accessible irrefutable figures convince that the processes of development of mass media in Kazakhstan reflect the fact that our country is a poly-ethnic, multi-confessional state, stable, both in terms of social and inter-ethnic aspect. There is no and has never been discrimination on any basis in our country. Including, in the sphere of media-business. It would not be of place to remind here that, in spite of migration, departure from the sovereign country of those, who in the Soviet period arrived here, as they said then, "on the call of the Communist Party", currently, represented in Kazakhstan are 130 nationalities and ethnic groups. Located in not the quietest region, experiencing economic problems together with other countries, persistently implementing not easy for citizens reforms, Kazakhstan has escaped shocks, conflicts, and wars. It has escaped, as you know, as opposed to many other countries of the post-Soviet space. For we Kazakhstanis, this is the most important thing. I am appealing to you, citizens of such a stable, powerful, and prosperous country as the United States, to understand and assess how we do value the quietness of our common house – Kazakhstan. And in the quietness not only the famous Kazakhstan crop of wheat grows. Children grow only in the quietness. And they are growing, by the way, in multinational families. Such as mine: a Russian husband and a Kazakh wife. In my favorite Almaty, every fourth family is composed of people of different nationality.

But I am back to our story about our mass media.

Out of 1292 printed publications, 218 are published in Kazakh, 540 – in Russian, 407 – both in Kazakh and Russian, 127 – in the languages of other ethnic groups of Kazakhstan.

One can read articles in Ukranian, Korean, Uigur, Dungan, Turkish, German, English, Polish and other languages Arabic in newspapers and magazines of Kazakhstan.

In spite of the complex economic situation, the power is finding possibilities through state demand to finance national periodic publications in Ukranian, Korean, Uigur, and German languages. By the way, this cannot be found in any other country in the post-Soviet space.

Dear Congressmen! Let me begin the next part of my statement with a rhetorical question. Can you imagine an American television company buying air frequency just to rebroadcast the product of the other company? I think you cannot even imagine such a thing in America. By the way, there are corresponding requirements of the 1971 Bern Convention to which Kazakhstan joined three years ago. Now, we bear full responsibility for protection and observance of the copyright.

And, by the way, now and then international organizations, foreign community lay well-grounded claims to some of our private television companies. Kazakhstan representatives of the private media-business, passionately engaged in broadcasting, making copies, and at times, to say frankly, in piracy, have already been caught by hand by experts of the Association of American film producers. The civilized world which Kazakhstan is striving to has long ago introduced full order in all these things.

But why does striving for such an order in the Kazakhstan land provoke at times insulting accusations aimed at us? Why are our precise and cautious steps practically on the path passed through by you assessed as violation of freedom of speech, violation of the right of access to information and such like. You already know that we speak about the recently adopted amendments and changes to the Law "On mass media". This amendment limiting the volume of retranslation of somebody else’s production by television companies has become the main "arrow" out of all aimed at the Kazakhstan authorities by critics. This was accepted as ban on freedom of mass media.

With it all, opponents are asserting that there are no limitations put on re-broadcasting in other countries. But, I am sorry, we visit the West and we know that a question in such a plane has never arisen and cannot be ever arisen. Could you prompt me where else in the civilized world there is another country where a television company having obtained part of the limited frequency resource is using it for re-broadcasting somebody else’s production by generously diluting it with its advertisements? I will not take your time. Kazakhstan specialists have thoroughly investigated the state of things with re-broadcasting in other countries. And have become convinced that there are simply no analogues to the Kazakhstan situation. Re-broadcasting of programs of foreign television-and radio companies amounts to 90 % of the air time.

Alas, this is our Kazakhstan know-how in mass media. And we surprise the world with this not less than "the new Russians" from Brighton Beach who have taught Americans to make money on the gasoline diluted with water. But not a single normal country will ever pride itself on such a know-how. Neither Kazakhstan wants to take pride in it, remaining at the same time self-critical and self-ironical.

What if to try to combine the problem of re-broadcasting with that of providing freedom of speech… I think that it was there and then the rights of those Kazakhstan journalists who did not have a chance to get access to air with their product were violated. Now the Kazakhstan television air has not been cleared yet of passionate seekers of making easy money on someone else’s, neither able or willing to produce its own, original. To steal somebody’s product is still easy in our country than to create one’s own. As for freedom of access of our citizens to international information, I can reassure you that we have access to the world’s information resources through the system of cable and air-cable television. We watch, for example, programs of CNN, BBC, we are learning from the best materials of other foreign agencies and television companies.

From the point of view of the big private company where I am now a top manager, I can prove it in a reasoning way. We have been long enough working in unequal and incomparable conditions with re-broadcasting companies. And now, we all have to care about the development of the national television industry. Those, who do not want or cannot do that, have to take offence not at amendments to the Law but at themselves.

At last, I want to express my own point of view on the questions asked with regard to the adopted by our Parliament amendments ranking web sites in popular telecommunication networks as mass media. Having experience of running my own electronic agency with such web sites, I consider such legislative innovations to be absolutely fair. The technical level of presenting information and the character of its means have changed just before our eyes. In Kazakhstan, the Internet is becoming rooted into all spheres of life. There are about 80 companies providing the Internet services in the republic. Over 100,000 of our citizens make use of wide opportunities of the World Network. Currently, there are about one thousand Kazakhstan web sites. It is clear that these headlong opening virgin lands need a new legal basis, and, at least, some minimal rules of game. This, by the way, is being understood in Kazakhstan.

But in no way could still the processes related to information activities of representatives of the national segment "The Internet" get under the effect of the Kazakhstan legislation. Information placed on Kazakhstan web sites practically falls out of the legal sphere. That leads to violation of rights and freedoms of citizens, unfortunately, there are such examples…

Taking this into consideration, the Kazakhstan Parliament accepted the proposal of the Government to rank information placed on web sites in popular telecommunication networks with the purpose to publicly disseminate mass information to the means of mass information. You would agree that human rights should be violated nowhere. Neither they should be violated in the Internet.

The heart of the solution is that owners of the electronic pages disseminating information contrary to the Constitution and the legislation will take every responsibility in accord with the legislation on mass media. And I will underline again: not Kazakhstan was the first country to attend to such a problem. Identification of information placed on web sites with information of traditional mass media complies with the international practice of legal regulation of the Internet network. Now, in many countries of the world including the Russian Federation, measures to regulate and put new technologies related information activities by the state in order, are being taken. And, in the first place, it concerns the Internet network which is called "a trash tank" in Russia.

It is important that the innovations adopted in our country do not affect the Internet itself, its development and related to it technological problems. Nobody deprives Kazakhstan citizens of the right to create personal web sites, electronic trade and other segments of the Internet.

You know better than others about the important role played by laws aimed against defamation in the democratic society. This is the well-known law on libel that plays such a role in the United States. Taking into consideration the changes I have mentioned about, the same role can quite democratically and efficiently be played by the updated Law "On mass media" in Kazakhstan.

I do not at all want to say that in Kazakhstan there are no problems in development of information space. But those are objective problems common to all the countries that have stood on the path of liberal development after the totalitarian past. You also know well about them, our major real problems. With my statement I wanted to draw your attention to the undoubted democratic improvements taking place in the sphere of the Kazakhstan mass media. If it adds a little and amplifies your idea of the real state of things in our country, helps you assess it in an unbiased way today and in the future, I will be sincerely happy.