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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07ASTANA652 2007-03-13 10:44 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

DE RUEHTA #0652/01 0721044
R 131044Z MAR 07

E.O. 12958: N/A 
Ref:  A) Astana 295; B) 06 Almaty 1750 
1.  (SBU) Summary:  A dispute between Kazakhstani journalists and 
Minister of Information Yermukhamet Yertysbayev boiled over the week 
of March 5 when prominent media advocates demanded the minister's 
resignation for his adversarial attitude toward the media.  On March 
2, as TV cameras rolled, Yertysbayev dismissed a crew from an Astana 
municipal TV station from a huddle of reporters waiting for the 
minister's comments on the president's annual address to the nation. 
 Yertysbayev said the Era TV station had "squealed" on him in a 
letter to the head of the presidential administration criticizing 
his handling of the January frequency tender (ref A).  The 
information ministry has filed a suit seeking to suspend Era's 
broadcast license for the station's alleged violation of the "50/50" 
law requiring equal Russian and Kazakh language programming.  Era 
has filed its own lawsuits to annul the tender and for inhibiting 
the lawful activity of its correspondent.  The Prime Minister has 
asked Yertysbayev for an explanation of the dispute by March 13. 
Some analysts see connections to an ongoing struggle between the 
president's eldest daughter and the minister for influence over 
Kazakhstan's media.  End summary. 
Minister Dismisses Era TV Journalists from Pull-Aside 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
2.  (U) After a March 2 government meeting in Astana on implementing 
items from the president's annual address to the nation, a group of 
journalists were waiting for comment from Minister of Culture and 
Information Yermukhamet Yertysbayev.  Centrist independently owned 
Channel 31 recorded for their evening news Yertysbayev's astonishing 
outburst when he spotted a crew from the Astana municipal station, 
Era TV.  "Who is that?  Get Era out of here, now!  Get them out!  We 
won't give Era any comments, they squealed on me.  They wrote a 
letter about how I conducted the tender illegally, without a quorum, 
etc.  That's a lie!"  (See ref A regarding the letter to the head of 
the presidential administration criticizing the January frequency 
allocations).  In discussing the incident later, the minister said 
he excluded Era TV from covering his remarks because the journalist 
arrived late, an assertion disputed by the journalist. 
Journalist Organizations Demand Minister's Resignation 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
3.  (U) The government-affiliated Kazakhstan Union of Journalists 
and the National Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters, along 
with the independent media defense foundation Adil Soz, demanded 
Yertysbayev's resignation during a press conference March 5.  In 
their joint statement, the nationally known leaders of these 
organizations stated that the minister violated legislation 
guaranteeing media unrestricted access to information.  Seitkazy 
Matayev, chairman of the journalists' union, was quoted in the March 
6 issue of the progressive newspaper Vremya (circulation 180,000) 
saying, "Yertysbayev's obnoxious and high handed treatment of 
journalists started a long time ago.  He defiantly expels 
journalists from press rooms. . . Yertysbayev behaves like a guard 
in a third rate bazaar.  I've worked with seven ministers of 
information, and no one has permitted such behavior before." 
Yertysbayev Refuses to Resign, Takes Era to Court 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
4.  (U) Newswire Interfax-Kazakhstan reported March 5 that 
Yertysbayev refused to resign, even though some journalists "had 
been demanding this for a whole year."  The next day Era reported 
that the station had received a subpoena notifying them that the 
information ministry had filed suit in the economic court of Astana 
against them for providing only 38% Kazakh language programming 
instead of 50% as required by the Law on Languages and Law on Mass 
Media.  The ministry is asking the court to suspend Era's 
broadcasting license for three months.  According to the subpoena 
the court hearing will start in two weeks.  Era TV reported March 5 
that Kazakhstan's Union of Journalists promised to provide both 
legal and financial support for their defense in court.  The station 
argues that the RIA Arna, the regional TV station in Pavlodar that 
received seven broadcast frequencies in the January tender, provides 
only 6% Kazakh language programming. 
Era Journalist and Station File Lawsuits 
5.  (U) On March 7 several media reported that Era TV journalist 
Yuliya Isakova filed a suit in the Almatinskiy district court of 
Astana against the minister of information for impeding journalism 
activities guaranteed to her under the law.  According to the 
reports, Isakova said she seeks only 1 tenge in moral damages from 
ASTANA 00000652  002 OF 002 
the minister for "the principle" of upholding journalists' rights to
report.  On March 11, the station filed a lawsuit asking for the 
results of the January frequency tender to be annulled.  Yertysbayev 
had already commented on the tender in his March 8 interview with 
the weekly pro-government Central Asia Monitor (circulation 
14,000/week).  "We don't intend to resolve the situation regarding 
the tender, since there was no violation of the law.  The procurator 
general did not uncover any violation and if this case is brought to 
court, we can quite easily prove we're right.  It's possible we 
could initiate a countersuit for slander." 
Prime Minister Asks Yertysbayev for Explanation 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
6.  (SBU) Interfax and other media reported on March 11 that Prime 
Minister Karim Masimov raised the issue at a government meeting that 
day and asked Yertysbayev to provide him a written explanation of 
the conflict by March 13.  Masimov said that media had asked him 
about the conflict, so he wanted a fuller assessment from 
Yertysbayev "of all questions" that were being posed to Masimov.  In 
a conversation with emboff March 12, Isakova (protect) said Era TV 
director general Mirbulat Kunbayev sent his own memo to the prime 
minister explaining the sequence of events.  She said unnamed 
"sources" told the station that Yertysbayev spoke with 
editors-in-chief of print media on March 12 and asked them to 
publish articles critical of Era TV. 
Vremya Files Suit Against Yertysbayev 
7.  (U) On March 13 the independently owned Vremya, Kazakhstan's 
most popular newspaper, published an article about an official 
inquiry they sent March 9 to Prime Minister Masimov, asking him how 
he assessed Yertysbayev's behavior and what he intended to do about 
the conflict between the Ministry of Information and Kazakhstan's 
community of journalists.  Vremya also complained that Yertysbayev 
had accused their own reporter of writing "dirty, completely 
provocative articles directed against employees of our ministry." 
The paper says that after consulting with lawyers "we decided to 
file suit against Mr. Yertysbayev to defend the business reputation 
of our paper and to demand a public apology on the air of Channe1 31 
and in the Respublika and Vremya newspapers." 
Dispute Reveals Fault Lines with Dariga Nazarbayeva 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
8.  (U) Only four television stations covered the news that national 
media organizations were demanding the information minister's 
resignation:  Era TV, Channel 31, and national broadcasters KTK and 
Rakhat TV, both owned by the president's son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, 
the husband of media entrepreneur and member of parliament Dariga 
Nazarbayeva.  Aliyev's wire service Kazakhstan Today and Interfax 
provided regular updates, and by March 13, the prominent 
independently owned, pro-government newspapers Liter and its Kazakh 
language version Aikyn were also reporting on the conflict.  The 
official broadcasters Kazakhstan 1 and Khabar did not report on the 
9.  (SBU) Some analysts see the current conflict as part of an 
ongoing struggle between Dariga Nazarbayeva and Yertysbayev for 
dominance over Kazakhstan's media.  Last summer the Congress of 
Journalists, chaired by Nazarbayeva, demanded Yertysbayev's 
resignation after he fired the management of Kazakhstan 1 and 
announced intentions to take government control over Khabar, of 
which Nazarbayeva supposedly owns 49% (ref B).  The Union of 
Journalists, one of the three organizations now demanding 
Yertysbayev's resignation, is also associated with Nazarbayeva and 
chairman Matayev is considered a close confidante. 
10.  (SBU) Comment:  It is unclear why Yertysbayev has not taken any 
action against Channel 31, whose executive director co-authored the 
letter asking for the annulment of the January tender.  Some 
analysts claimed Yertysbayev was carrying out Masimov's bidding in 
the allocation of frequencies (ref A).  Others claim that 
Yertysbayev does not want to cross Bulat Utemuratov, the head of 
management affairs for the presidential administration and reputedly 
a majority stakeholder in Channel 31.  The conflict appears to have 
reached a new level of brinksmanship with Vremya entering the 
litigious fray.  Masimov's response, expected after Yertysbayev 
submits his memorandum on the conflict, may provide some clues to 
the patrons supporting media players in this latest act. 


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