This briefing paper is designed to assist national stakeholders in Kyrgyzstan in their current efforts to promote the reform of media laws in the country. It has been produced by ARTICLE 19 in partnership with the Media Policy Institute, a Kyrgyzstan-based NGO focused on freedom of expression and freedom of the media, whose expert research and analysis provided the foundation for its content.
At the request of the Media Policy Institute, the analysis of existing legislation included in this briefing paper is largely confined to the 1992 Law on Media (Media Law). The Media Law purports to establish a general framework for the operation of all national media. It is complemented by other, more narrowly specialised laws which focus on the rights of journalists, audio-visual media, and public service broadcasting. The free and independent functioning of the media in Kyrgyzstan is also directly affected by various laws that are not specifically concerned with media. Those include a law on access to information and the defamation related provisions of the Civil Code. Extensive anti-terror and “counter-extremism” legislation imposes severe and highly problematic restrictions on freedom of expression and, therefore, media content.
This briefing paper focuses on regulatory areas that are relevant to all media. For present purposes, they are mainly discussed insofar as they relate to particular provisions of the Law on Media.
ARTICLE 19 recommends that in the medium- to long-term, national stakeholders consider whether a framework law aimed at regulating all forms of media is a useful legislative tool. There is no doubt that the Media Law in its current form is deficient in many respects. In Kyrgyzstan’s current context, ARTICLE 19 understands that a short-term resolution of these deficiencies with the aim of providing suitable protection to media organisations and journalists may be to reform the current legislation. However, we believe that ultimately, a more effective strategy for media law reform would be to focus on developing or improving more specialised legislation dedicated to specific types of media (e.g. broadcasting) or specific media-related issues (e.g. conditional liability for Internet intermediaries) as well as non-media specific legislation dealing with cross-cutting issues of particular relevance to media (e.g. defamation or content restrictions).
In addition, ARTICLE 19 recommends that national law- and policymakers:
- Adopt a differentiated approach to media regulation, focusing on developing separate regulatory regimes for print media, broadcast media and online media;
- Only broadcast media should be subject to statutory regulation, however to the extent strictly necessary and with minimal intervention, while leaving the media’s internal working methods and media responsibilities (at least, in part) to self-regulation. This also involves recalibrating media regulation from restricting and directing media and media workers to protecting and enabling their institutional independence, safety and freedom of expression;
- Develop legislative measures to ensure media pluralism, especially by means of regulating media ownership through competition law. This should include requirements in respect of transparency of media ownership and financing and the protection of the media’s editorial independence vis-a-vis their owners;
- Adopt additional legislative measures to protect media’s ability to fulfil its public watchdog function. This includes a considerably more stringent mechanism of protection of sources than the one currently provided in the Media Law. It also involves additional protections from defamation suits in regard of statements on matters of public interest;
- Abolish all media-specific content restrictions, while substantially revising the restrictions on expression that currently exist in non-media specific legislation (e.g. the Criminal Code and the Law on Countering Extremist Activity). All restrictions must meet the strict proportionality test under Article 19(3) of the ICCPR;
- Ensure that suspensions and closures of media outlets can be used only as a last resort in the most exceptional circumstances and only for particularly egregious unlawful conduct.
These general recommendations are fleshed out in the analysis below. However, the sheer breadth of the issues involved does not allow this briefing paper to do full justice to the complexity of some of them. ARTICLE 19 stands ready to provide additional in-depth analysis of specific aspects of media regulation on an as-needed basis.
This publication has been translated with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of ARTICLE 19 and the Media Dialogue project and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.