Kazakh experts weigh in on new draft law on mass media

Bill on mass media
Photo credit: Freepik; Kazinform

Mazhilis, a lower chamber of the Parliament, endorsed a draft bill on mass media on April 17. The new bill, which has been drafted for two years, is aimed at improving legislation in the sphere of mass media, considering the interests of the state, society, and media trends. The country’s experts shared their views on the new bill in an interview with Kazinform News Agency.

The new bill on mass media has caused heated public discussions. It also had the biggest number of working groups in the Parliament.

The first working group, consisting of 60 people, was created in June 2022. Six months of work on the document resulted in multiple changes.

According to the initial draft, archives, video and audio documents were to be kept by journalists for 3 years to prove the materials' reliability.

The journalistic community also resented the provision to coordinate their materials with officials in “special conditions,” meaning emergencies. Journalists’ rights and freedom were also limited by the norm on the mandatory press card for media employees, which a special commission can provide. Among the criteria were a minimum of five years of experience in journalism and a degree in journalism.

There were other norms that Kazakhstan’s journalists disagreed with. Their suggestions and proposals have been ignored.

The Mazhilis deputies adopted the bill in the first reading in November 2023. Since then, the working group had more than 30 meetings.

Small victory

The bill was endorsed in a second reading on April 17. Head of the working group and deputy of Mazhilis Zhuldyz Suleimenova told Kazinform about the main changes in the bill.

“The important changes for me were that we clearly defined the powers of the central state body and local executive bodies. I personally promoted transparency and the distribution of state information procurement. Within this legislative framework, we defined and developed its main mechanisms,” said Suleimenova.

She noted she advocated for more than 30 conceptual norms, including issues such as increasing the competitiveness of newspapers and raising wages.

“For example, we advocated for insurance privileges for journalists when they face life-threatening situations. Now that there are floods in some regions, a journalist should have equipment. He or she has to be insured against all these dangerous moments. These norms were adopted. We were opposing some norms, for example, a press card. We were also against accreditation, which can be obtained in a simple way. We were in favor of uniform accreditation rules. Many of our norms and changes were supported by the working group. Many norms, however, did not pass,” she said.

Progress or step back?

The journalist community does not perceive the new bill on mass media as a victory. They can identify only two positive aspects - reduction of the statute of limitations and the obligation of the employer to compensate the journalist for damages in the event of harm to his or her health or in the event of death while performing professional duties.

However, some journalists say the bill is still a step forward. Karlygash Zhamankulova, a media critic and president of the Adil Soz (Just Word) foundation, says the changes will facilitate the work of journalists and independent editorial offices. However, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

“Laws establish equal regulatory principles - the equal rules of the game for all, when the consequences of violating the rules are the same and inevitable for all players. Therefore, whether a law is good or bad should be evaluated from two perspectives: does it worsen conditions for participants and does it create better conditions for participants? The bill that went to the Senate, except for a few points, does not create a new heavy burdensome framework for participants, and this is a great victory for both freedom of speech, media and business,” said Zhamankulova.

She stressed that to promote journalism and support work to combat fakes, measures need to be taken to ensure transparency of media funding sources, sponsors and ultimate beneficiaries of the media, and not just nominal owners.

“Why is it important? The reader himself [or herself] must make a choice whether to trust the information or not based on an understanding of who is paying. In addition, editorial offices that spend resources on fact verification and the work of editors should have a competitive advantage over anonymous channels of information dissemination. And this advantage will lie in building a market reputational value based on trust,” says the media critic.

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