Kazakhstan in the dark over TV digitization

Jun 26, 2013
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While digital media use continues to grow in Kazakhstan, its citizens are being kept in the dark on the digitization of broadcast TV, according to Open Society Foundation.  And while the number of Kazakh netizens has increased dramatically, they still continue  to face significant restriction over their online access.

The findings are part of a 113-page report on the state of digital media in Kazakhstan, highlighting the not so successful attempt to make the switch over from analog broadcasting to digital broadcasting and continued efforts made by the government to control online media. The report is the latest in OSF’s effort to map digital media across the globe.

The report’s authors found that Kazakh television, the main source of info for its citizens, is tightly controlled by the state and that public service outlets remain ‘non-existent’. And with the country in the midst of a digital switch over that’s being kept close to the government’s chest, the chance for seeing any positive trends is slim.

The switch-over from analog to digital broadcast television has been highly controversial so far, with criticism that the process has been little more than a cover-up for a ‘spectrum grab’ for the government to monopolize the media.

The report highlighted several problems by the process so far, including that public consultations were avoided when discussing the digital switch-over, with meetings held on short notice and far from the main cities. NGOs including Internews Kazakhstan and the Cable Operators Association warned of excessive state control and question the cost and funding of the switch-over.

Once the digital switch-over has taken place, all analog television broadcasting licenses will be void and television channels would be forced to register as  mass media outlets, which would make them subject to stringent regulations and oversight.

Online Activity

But while the country struggles through its digital switch over, the OSF authors report that Internet use there has seen a dramatic jump.

In 2008, 1 percent of the Kazakhstan’s population was online, but by 2011, that number had spike to nearly 50 percent. Driving the point home, Kazakhstan was recently ranked 43 of 144 countries for connectedness by the Global Information Technology Report of the World Economic Forum, beating out all other former Soviet states and placing next to the Czech Republic.

But the state of Internet use in Kazakhstan is not completely rosey.

Kazakh Internet use is labelled ‘partly free’ by Freedom House. Blocking and filtering of content is commonplace, and libel remains a criminal offence there.

Russian social sites dominate their American counterparts with  Mail.ru’s Moi Mir, Odnoklassniki and VK taking the top spots respectively ’Top 10 social network sites among Kazakh Internet users, August 2012′ Courtesy of OSF report

LGBT and environmental issues rank among the most popular topics discussed online by Kazakh citizens. One website highlighted by the OSF report is Centr Tyazhesti, a site that has been used as a platform for organizing ‘non-violent demonstrations’.

Opposition to Internet censorship has taken the form of online protest from groups of activists, employing email, text and video to distribute footage of protests and to inform viewers about the Internet bill.

 Top ten websites, visited by monthly unique users, courtesy of OSF report.

There is a lack of availability of Central Asian languages in Western social media sites. Google Translate, Gmail and Twitter, are available for use in Russian but not in local languages, like Kazakh. In contrast, Odnoklassniki.ru, the biggest social media website in CA and Eastern Europe, is available in Kazakh. Hope for improvement stems from groups of individuals who are willing and able to volunteer to translate and create their own content.

In each case of internet censorship, it is advised that Kazakh citizens demand specific reasons and details of the act, in order to hold the government responsible for their actions.

About the Author

Veronique Nicole O'Donoghue

Veronique O'Donoghue is an intern at Transitions Online. She is an International Relations graduate and wrote her dissertation on new media, convergence culture and non-profits. She is studying an MA in Historical Sociology.
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