Controversy over the ownership of Kyrgyzstan’s most popular television station has receded. Executives at Pyramid TV recently issued a statement denying any change in its ownership structure, dispelling a rumor that the President Askar Akayev’s son- in-law, Adil Toigonbayev, had obtained a majority stake in the station.
The Pyramid statement, issued July 12, disavowed earlier published reports containing the erroneous information that shares in the station had been sold to Toigonbayev. When news of the rumored sale initially circulated, some observers expressed concern that the government was attempting to influence the outcome of looming parliamentary and presidential elections by stifling the country’s leading independent media outlet.
"We again emphasize our independent position, confirming we did not fall under the unjust influence of those who would like to use our power or position," Pyramid managers wrote in the statement.
Pyramid is the biggest of only a handful of privately owned television stations operating in Kyrgyzstan and is the only independent station in the capital Bishkek. With financial help from Western grants, Pyramid airs two talk shows, Nashe Vremya and Bez Retushi that examine social and political issues. The programs have often voiced criticism of government policy, occasionally vexing officials in high places.
As elections approach in 2005, some experts believe Pyramid president Adylbek Biynazarov has faced pressure to sell shares, or otherwise revamp the station’s format. Over the last five months, the station has squabbled with regulatory officials over technical broadcasting issues. Station managers say the "special attention" being lavished on Pyramid is a thinly disguised attempt at coercion, with officials intent on managing the channel’s political coverage.
The July 12 statement suggested that Pyramid executives remain undaunted. "On the threshold of parliamentary and presidential elections, we have been always located in a zone of special attention, equally as a public and political force in Kyrgyzstan," the statement said. "With full responsibility, we announce that the composition of owners of the Television Radio Channel Pyramid to this day remains unchanged. Our course and ideological management remains the same."
The most prominent dispute involving Pyramid and the government occurred in the spring, when the station lost its VHF signal for about six weeks following a March 17 breakdown of the transmitter that it shared with several other stations. Pyramid began broadcasting on UHF, which covered only Bishkek, resulting in lost advertising revenue. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Station sources said what began as a technical problem soon turned political. Officials then refused to allow the TV station to use the repaired transmitter, claiming such use would create problems for the other stations broadcasting with the same transmitter. Pyramid eventually resumed broadcasting on VHF in April after Akayev intervened in the case.
Aiming to decrease the government’s ability to exert pressure on the station, Pyramid management said they are seeking funding to buy a new transmitter. In an interview in May, a Pyramid journalist predicted more run-ins involving the station and the government. The journalist noted that Pyramid encountered similar difficulties before the 2000 elections, when Nashe Vremya was temporarily suspended, and the show had problems getting parliamentarians to appear on-air.
Central Asia Daily/EurasiaNet, July 22, 2004