An independent TV channel faces closure following an ongoing dispute with the State Communication Agency (SCA), a government body regulating the issue of licenses and frequencies in the mountainous Central Asian state. The broadcast license of Osh TV, established in the southern Kyrgyz city in 1991, expired on Thursday.
Earlier this month, SCA director, Andrey Titov, said in a statement that there were no restraints on the company obtaining a new license, but reaffirmed the need for the channel to switch from a VHF to UHF channel, citing technical difficulties. "The channel the company uses prevents the development of local radio broadcast in the region by causing interference," he said, a contention Khalil Khudaiberdiev, director of the Osh TV, flatly denied.
Broadcasting in Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Russian, Osh TV has become particularly popular with the local ethnic Uzbeks in the area given it is the only media outlet broadcasting in their native tongue (not mentioning TV broadcasts from neighboring Uzbekistan).
But the issue is not a new one. Three years ago the company went to a court to prolong the right to use the VHF channel transmitter until the expiration date of the license, which was 25 March 2004.
Nikolay Nikolaev, SCA chief of staff, now says that the company has had enough time to change the broadcast channel. Representatives of the SCA believe that the decision corresponds with strategic interests of the country. In an official statement announced on 19 March, the SCA stated that it didn't intend to strangle the Osh TV company; the matter was a technical issue.
However, Khudaiberdiev told IRIN the switch could drive the station to bankruptcy. Local media report suggests a loss of its viewing audience could have a severe effect on its advertising revenues.
The issue is particularly upsetting to the Uzbek population of the city and its surroundings. "It is direct pressure on the independent company, which will deprive the community of information, particularly local ethnic Uzbeks," Bakhadyr Yuldashev, a construction engineer, told IRIN in Osh. "Even if the company finds the means and switches to a UHF channel, it will lose 75-80 percent of its audience; the thing is that the majority of the population is poor and they don't have modern TV sets, which receive UHF signals."
"I think this is a direct infringement of a right to receive information in the native language," Khalida Matkurbanova, a housewife and mother-of-six, told IRIN. "Osh TV has been our only pleasure; they discuss our problems, joys and sorrows and tell the new generation about our traditions and customs. Three years ago, when Osh TV was under pressure we, Osh inhabitants, collected 30,000 signatures to protect it. And now I am ready to go anywhere to defend our TV [channel]".
Adyljan Abidov, a prominent civic activist in Kyrgyzstan and deputy head of "Civil Initiatives Support Center", a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, considers that bankruptcy and termination of the prospering independent TV company's activities do not correspond to the interests of the country.
"Electronic mass media in Kyrgyzstan is represented mainly by TV and radio companies broadcasting in the Kyrgyz and Russian languages", Abidov told IRIN. "Only recently the national TV started to broadcast news in Uzbek, the language of the second largest ethnic group in the country. Thus, the information vacuum appearing among Uzbeks is not good for society since neighboring countries can fill that gap".
"If the government is not capable of providing broadcast in languages of ethnic groups, it should not prevent those who do that", the activist argued.
Meanwhile, deputy head of the Osh regional Uzbek ethnic-cultural center Karamat Abdulaeva told IRIN that the SCA's decision restrained the rights of ethnic Uzbeks and her organization was trying to find a painless solution to the problem, without aggravating the issue. "There are lots of those, who wish to have protest actions on the square, but we calm them down since we do not see a way out of the situation through such actions," she said.
"Probably, the SCA has a reason, but the TV company, which has won recognition from a considerable part of the population, desperately struggles for a place under the sun," Abdurashid Urbaev, a prominent Kyrgyz journalist added. "It is important to find a mutually acceptable solution, without deepening the conflict."
IRIN, March 29, 2004