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Kyrgyzstan: Situation Also Tense for Journalists

Interview with Asyl Osmonalieva on the current media situation in Kyrgyzstan. She is an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and is participating in the DW Summer Academy in Bishkek from May until August.


What is the current situation in Kyrgyzstan?

Asyl Osmonalieva: Before the referendum everyone was very tense. Now it seems things have become more stable.

A few weeks ago two TV stations were shut down. Is this to muzzle the country’s own journalists?

The closing of the stations in Osh for allegedly inciting ethnic conflicts raised concerns that other media outlets could also be closed down under false pretenses. But there was a justification for this measure: independent experts analyzed the recordings and found that journalistic ethics really had been contravened. Still, the shut down was an extremely harsh measure. There should have been an investigation and only the courts should have had the final decision.

According to western media reports, Kyrgyzstan could be facing a civil war. How do local journalists view the situation?

It was mainly the Russian and western media who were saying the country could split between the north and the south and that this could lead to a civil war. The local media, though, were reporting very differently – perhaps out of patriotism but perhaps also because they were closer to the events. Yes, they did give the facts – the number of victims, the masses of refugees, and reports about whole city districts being destroyed. But for the local journalists, this wasn’t a sign that the country was going to divide.

How conflict-sensitive is the reporting now that ethnic tensions are apparently increasing?

During the unrest, representatives of the Uzbek minority criticized what they perceived to be the one-sided reporting in the Kyrgyz media. And it’s true that the conflicts were reported very carelessly. Journalists here didn’t have the competence to report about them professionally. They used questionable facts. They would report, for example, that the number of Uzbek victims was higher that the number of Kyrgyz victims, or that the Uzbeks only had sticks while the Kyrgyz had military technology. The journalists could not verify these facts at the time. As a result of these experiences, we’ve now developed a journalists’ codex against ethnic discrimination in Kyrgyzstan.

It’s thought that the former president, Bakiyev, could have stirred up the unrest. Is this being reported on?

There’s an official report from the Kyrgyz security service confirming Bakiyev’s participation in the unrest, and the state media have been using this report. Non-state media, however, have been questioning the report’s validity and have published the opinions of other experts. The state media, though, take the side of the government.

What will the new constitution contain in terms of press freedoms and in terms of the media and journalists?

There won’t be any changes in this regard. The freedom of the press was already guaranteed in the old constitution.

This year, the DW-AKADEMIE is for the first time holding a Summer Academy for young Central Asian journalists together with the OSCE Academy in Bishkek. From May until August participants will be able to hone their skills in the print media, radio and Internet. The focus areas during the individual modules are reporting on inter-ethnic conflicts, environmental and economic topics. The top participants will be invited to attend a workshop in Germany this fall. German financing for this project comes from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.