“Coverage of the state’s fight against terrorism and extremism, formation of the society’s rejection of ideas of religious extremism and radicalism”

“Coverage of events in the socio-economic and socio-political areas. Publication of essays and interviews with the leaders of the area, city, district, village, and authoritative and well-known people in the region (in Russian)”

“Broadcast news reports on the major problems in socio-political and socio-economic life; programs designed for young people: student life, club disputes, carrying out the work of young people”

These are typical examples of state contracts awarded to Kazakh media outlets. Hundreds of newspapers, TV and radio stations, and Internet media receive such contracts every year, typically provided by regional or city authorities. This is nothing odd, since many media outlets in Kazakhstan are publicly owned or very dependent on public money. What we can now see in black and white, thanks to a sterling effort by a team of Kazakhstani media researchers, are the munificent amounts doled out by public bodies to the media. The researchers have produced a database listing all known government orders to media outlets from 2009 through 2011, and a few from 2012. This data reinforces the accepted belief among Kazakh media observers that national and regional authorities not only fund many media outlets, but also exercise significant influence over their content.

The large-circulation daily Aikyn, for instance, received 20 government contracts from 2009 through 2011. The amounts start at less than 1 million tenge ($6,700); most are between 1 million and 10 million, typically provided by a regional government. A typical contract in 2011, for instance, was 4.98 million tenge from the Atyrau Province authorities to promote investment programs, support for SMEs, import substitution schemes and so forth.

Through the Information and Archives Committee of the Ministry of Culture and Information, the national government awarded just two grants to Aikyn in the past three years, but they were sizable: 28 million tenge in 2011 for “preparation and placement of information and analysis, review articles on the activities of government agencies in the development of Kazakhstan’s economy and political stability, national unity and social optimism,” etc. etc., and a whopping 2,800,000,156 tenge ($18.7 million) in 2010 for “preparation and placement of information and analysis, review articles on the activities of government agencies in the development of Kazakhstan’s economy and political stability, information support [for] government action to implement administrative reform and modernization of executive power, as well as material on the 15th anniversary of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan (in Kazakh).”

That comes to more than $50,000 every day. That kind of money can commission a lot of articles on the 15th anniversary of the constitution. And that 156 tenge tacked on at the end, what’s that for?

Aikyn, incidentally, is owned by Nur Media, the media holding company of President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s Nur Otan party. Since 2009, it has received 3.5 billion tenge, substantially more than the leading national newspapers Kazakhstanskaya Pravda and the Kazakh-language Yegemen Kazakhstan combined.

The database was released 3 July after six months’ work compiling information provided by local, provincial, and national authorities on the basis of information requests. Most of the contracts went to state-run media, naturally, or to those friendly toward the government, a person familiar with the project tells me. About 16 percent of the 2,700 media outlets in Kazakhstan are publicly owned.

Government contracts overwhelmingly go to the highest-circulation print media and the most widespread broadcast media.

The government contracts totaled about 24 billion tenge ($160 million) in 2009, 21 billion tenge in 2010, and 19 billion tenge ($127 million) in 2011 (the database is still being updated, so the totals vary from day to day). Last year, the Culture and Information Ministry accounted for 1 billion tenge, but by far the largest granter of media contracts was Aktobe Province, at 15 billion tenge, fully 4 billion going to a periodical called Aktobe Shamshirak for publicizing state information policy and official publication of national and regional legislation.

The Kazakh edition of the popular Russian tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets even got a public contract last year: 2 million tenge from Mangistau Province.

Just like NGOs reporting to their donors, Kazakh media that win public contracts must report regularly on the articles, broadcasts, or web pages they produce. My source in Kazakhstan says the main criterion for the print media is simple: column inches produced on a specified topic. The relevance of the material or readers’ interest in it are hardly taken into account.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion when the database was launched, Diana Okremova of the Legal Media Center, a media support organization, said the state’s ever-growing support for the same pool of media outlets is a recipe for stagnation. Media are not investing in the development of the industry, she said, according to Radio Free Europe’s Kazakh service.

The chairman of the Ministry of Culture’s very generous information and archives committee, Bolat Kalyanbekov, said about 130 media outlets win tenders for state orders annually. He said this shows there is a public interest in having the media promote and orient on socially significant information, according to RFE.

And, to the tune of nearly $150 million annually, that is just what Kazakhstan is doing.

Photo: The city of Aktobe, a city where printing official documents is apparently a very lucrative business.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email: ky.krauthamer@tol.org

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