09ASTANA134, KAZAKHSTAN: DEMOCRACY IN ACTION AT EDITOR’S CLUB

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ASTANA134 2009-01-23 10:21 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO3503
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW
RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHROV
RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0134/01 0231021
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 231021Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4427
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 1078
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0476
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1182
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 0241
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0651
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0565
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2136
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2464

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000134 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, SCA/PPD, DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI KPAO KDEM KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN:  DEMOCRACY IN ACTION AT EDITOR'S CLUB 
 
1.  (U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for public Internet. 
 
2.  (U) SUMMARY:  On January 21, the Ambassador attended a meeting 
of the Astana Editors-in-Chief Club.  Though this organization has 
been in existence for some time, it has recently risen in profile 
through increased government ties and impressive leadership.  The 
government-approved Editors' Club combines both opposition and 
pro-government journalists.  The Ambassador was the first foreign 
diplomat ever invited to attend one of its sessions.  Drawing on his 
background in journalism and public affairs, he spurred a lively, 
two-and-a-half-hour discussion about the media situation in 
Kazakhstan, and answered - and corrected - many misperceptions about 
U.S. policy.  The Club freely discussed the recent amendments to the 
media law that were proposed pursuant to Kazakhstan's Madrid 
commitments, as well as the libel law and other media topics.  After 
the session, the Club leadership asked the Ambassador to provide an 
American journalist to teach master classes.  This Club is a 
government-approved public association, and, as such, is emblematic 
of the interesting proto-democracy the government of Kazakhstan has 
the self-confidence to encourage.  END SUMMARY. 
 
3.  (U) The Astana Editors-In-Chief club has 56 members, led by 
former owner and general director of the Astana television channel 
"ERA," Mirbulat Kunbayev.  Kunbayev is well-respected in media 
circles, being seen as an honest facilitator among pro-government, 
independent, and opposition voices.  His leadership of the club has 
coincided with its rise to prominence, an ascension marked by a 
visit late last year by Minister of Culture and Information, Mukhtar 
Kul-Mukhamed, who called the club "a reliable partner of the 
Ministry."  The Club worked with the government to draft the media 
amendments proposed to address the commitments made by Kazakhstan at 
the 2007 OSCE ministerial in Madrid where it was awarded the 2010 
chairmanship of the organization.  Kunbayev firmly defended the 
Media Law amendments but also acknowledged they do not meet highest 
expectations.  He suggested they should be seen as steps forward in 
a continuing process. 
 
CLUB ENCOURAGES SPIRITED DEBATE 
 
4.  (U) Despite his association with the government, Kunbayev has 
not excluded independent and opposition voices from the Club's 
membership.  This became clear from the first exchange of the 
afternoon, just after the Ambassador delivered his opening remarks. 
The first questioner, from centrist "Channel 31 Television," 
disagreed with Kunbayev about the Media Law amendments, saying they 
address only the most "stupid" restrictions and don't positively 
affect the way journalists do their jobs.  Later, a reporter from 
oppositionist "Svoboda Slova," dismissed the amendments as 
"cosmetic, not substantive," and asserted they are simply a way to 
ease Kazakhstan into the OSCE chair.  (COMMENT:  That Kunbayev 
promotes open debate is a credit both to his leadership and to the 
government's commitment to multiple voices in public debate.  END 
COMMENT.) 
 
JOURNALISTIC RESPONSIBILITY 
 
5.  (U) The afternoon's major debate focused spiritedly on the media 
amendments, journalistic responsibility, and libel.  Some maintained 
the amendments absolve journalistic defendants from the burden of 
proof in libel cases, which they had previously borne, and make 
plaintiffs and defendants equal in the eyes of the law.  However, in 
Kazakhstan truth still does not serve as a defense in defamation 
cases, and this law has been used often to close newspapers and 
punish inquisitive journalists, some of the most out-spoken 
journalists maintained.  Kunbayev questioned whether journalistic 
errors should not be punished by law, since "the first and foremost 
duty of reportorial responsibility is to bring truthful information 
to readers.  Otherwise reporters will feel free to provide any false 
and fabricated information using this protection in the law, and 
that will not provide a good service to our society."  The 
Ambassador disagreed and explained the U.S. standards of press 
freedom, journalistic responsibility, and libel and how they have 
historically evolved.  (COMMENT:  The subsequent RFE/RL report of 
this exchange lost all nuance and portrayed the Ambassador as a 
black-and-white critic of the government on this issue.  END 
 
ASTANA 00000134  002 OF 003 
 
 
COMMENT.) 
 
6.
  (U) The Ambassador posed the question, "How do you as 
journalists prevent wrong information, or how do you prevent 
negative propaganda?"  He gave as an example the recent false 
reports in the Kazakhstani press that American soldiers had been 
spotted at the Almaty Airport taking measurements for a future 
military base.  This sparked a debate with the representative from 
pro-government "Megapolis," who underlined a more typical 
Kazakhstani approach to journalistic responsibility.  She insisted 
that "each media outlet has is own opinion and the right to express 
it," completely missing the Ambassador's distinction between opinion 
pieces and straight news.  The Ambassador responded that 
professional journalists have the responsibility to base their 
opinions on objective reality, not fantasy suppositions or, even 
worse, black propaganda that might be fed to them.  The journalist 
riposted the Embassy has the responsibility to contact the editorial 
board of an offending press report to set the record straight.  The 
Ambassador responded, "That's an excellent suggestion - thank you!" 
 
OFF-THE-WALL PUBLIC OPINION 
 
7.  (U) It would not be an encounter with Kazakhstani journalists 
without a bizarre question or two.  One reporter insisted that 
Kazakhstanis are more European than the other peoples of the region, 
in part because "our women marry Europeans," and asked for the 
Ambassador's opinion.  The editor of "Capital Morning" insisted that 
President Obama had promised to provoke "war and crisis" in the next 
few years, and stated that because the United States was currently 
engaged in military conflicts and Kazakhstan was not, democracies 
are more likely to cause wars.  (NOTE:  However, after her 
aggressive questioning, the editor asked the Embassy's public 
affairs staff for closer cooperation on her paper's nascent 
English-language page.  END NOTE.)  Another journalist asserted that 
the world economic crisis was the result of the U.S. dollar not 
being backed by gold and asked if the Ambassador agreed that a new 
"world currency" would emerge after the crisis. 
 
8.  (SBU) A self-declared "opposition journalist" charged that the 
United States has stopped paying attention to democracy in 
Kazakhstan during the past few years and is "cozying up to the 
regime" because of Kazakhstan's oil.  He asked the Ambassador why 
the United States doesn't "break relations with Kazakhstan to teach 
it a lesson and force it to become a democracy."  (COMMENT:  We have 
heard this simplistic analysis from leaders of some of the so-called 
opposition parties.  We say "so-called," because these parties have 
no substantial influence in Kazakhstan's political debate.  Rather 
than build real grass-roots constituencies, they tend to think that 
"Uncle Sam's approval and support" will lift them to power.  END 
COMMENT.) 
 
CLUB REQUESTS MASTER CLASSES BY A U.S. JOURNALIST 
 
9.  (U) The Club leadership was clearly delighted to have the 
Ambassador as a guest, emphasizing that he was the first foreign 
diplomat ever to have appeared at a Club meeting.  The event was 
covered extensively by the Kazakhstani mass media, including all the 
major television stations.  Kunbayev is also seeking closer 
cooperation between the Editors-in-Chief Club and the Embassy.  He 
suggested that the Embassy bring an American reporter to Astana to 
teach master classes for his Kazakhstani colleagues.  Ambassador 
Hoagland heartily endorsed the idea and committed to find a way to 
make this happen. 
 
10.  (SBU) COMMENT:  Some stereotype the Kazakhstani media as either 
supine, government-controlled toadies (television and the majority 
of newspapers) or irresponsible, bomb-throwing oppositionists (a 
minority of Almaty-based publications).  However, the Astana 
Editors-in-Chief Club represents serious journalists interested in 
improving their level of professionalism, even while they debate 
what that entails.  This meeting opened a door for the Embassy to a 
corps of influential journalists who are likely to shape the future 
of the media in Kazakhstan, especially Mirbulat Kunbayev, whose 
rising profile and balanced facility with the whole spectrum of 
Kazakhstani journalists marks him as someone to watch on the media 
 
ASTANA 00000134  003 OF 003 
 
 
scene. 
 
11.  (SBU) COMMENT CONTINUED:  Some critics in the West tend to 
dismiss Kazakhstan's government-approved "public associations" like 
the Editors-in-Chief Club, primarily because of their government 
imprimatur and, perhaps, because we do not perceive them as 
Western-style, wholly independent NGOs.  In our experience, 
Kazakhstan's public associations are indeed a valuable element of 
democratic institution-building, because those like the 
Editors-in-Chief Club are inclusive of a broad range of opinion, 
including opposition voices.  We suggest our goals -- and ideals -- 
would be better served to recognize the valuable contribution to 
democracy-building these public associations are making in a very 
complicated and conflicted part of the world where Russia's views 
tend to dominate news and information.  A good number of 
Kazakhstanis want to work with us, but within their own system.  We 
should both respect and carefully, wisely take advantage of that. 
END COMMENT. 
 
HOAGLAND

Wikileaks

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