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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March 2005, 15:33 GMT
Kyrgyz media coy on protests
By Sebastian Usher
BBC News, Caversham

Opposition protestors shout anti-government slogans as they hold bottles with flammable liquid and wooden sticks in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, Monday, March 21, 2005
The protests have not been comprehensively reported
The state-controlled media in Kyrgyzstan is doing its best to play down the anti-government protests in the south of the country.

And the opposition has few media outlets within the country to get its message across, after years of government pressure eroding the independence of the press and broadcasters.

In the run-up to parliamentary elections in February, the authorities intensified that pressure, and succeeded in barring much coverage of the opposition.

There are signs that the opposition demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan are hoping to emulate the success of the recent "people's power" uprisings in Georgia and Ukraine.

In both those movements, the battle on the airwaves between state-controlled broadcasters and opposition-friendly stations played a key role.

The momentum of the protests was partly kept alive by the intensive coverage they received from opposition broadcasters.

For the moment at least, that seems less likely to happen in Kyrgyzstan.

Not surprisingly, state TV is trying to defuse the protests by restricting its coverage to official condemnations.

Supporters of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko demonstrate in Kiev 03 December 2004, during the twelfth day of the 'orange revolution" in Ukraine.
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was fuelled by the press
The independent broadcasters in Kyrgyzstan are now almost all owned or under the control of forces close to President Akayev, including his son-in-law and other family members.

The press is a similar story, practising self-censorship in its political coverage.

Since the uprisings in Georgia and Ukraine, media watchdogs say government pressure on journalists in Kyrgyzstan has tightened.

The parliamentary elections last month saw even heavier restrictions on the media, with the opposition all but denied coverage.

People in Kyrgyzstan do have access to information sources from outside the country, but the mountainous terrain and low standard of living means that satellite use is limited.

It is a far cry from the early 1990s, when Kyrgyzstan was hailed as an island of democracy in the region, with a relatively unfettered media.

Whether the current protests will encourage journalists to fight back against government control, as happened in Ukraine, could turn out to be one of the real tests of just how far-reaching the opposition movement is.


SEE ALSO
Protests force Kyrgyz poll review
21 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Kyrgyz protesters take over town
21 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Voting ends in close Kyrgyz poll
13 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Protests before Kyrgyzstan vote
23 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Kyrgyzstan feels wind of change
03 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Kyrgyzstan
23 Feb 05 |  Country profiles

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