While the quality of online news is improving, repression is modernising, with growing control of the internet, the only space where an independent press finds freedom of expression.
Wrecked by a succession of repressive reforms since 1997, the media landscape has wrecked the media are essentially a propaganda outlet for the Kazakh regime. Only a handful of independent outlets remain. They include Zvlast.kz, Ouralskaya Nedelya, and the KazTAG press agency. But professional journalists have launched alternative projects on YouTube, Telegram and Instagram, such as Protenge, Za Nami Uzhe Vyekhali and Guiperborei (Hyperborea), which contradict the narrative of pro-government media.
The government is determined to control information. Authorities use all available means – arrests, assaults, telecommunications blackouts, internet shutdowns – to prevent coverage of major events, such as the unprecedented anti-government protests that shook the country in January, 2022. Access to information is limited, and journalists’ questions in governmental briefings are censored. The government pays private media to disseminate regime propaganda. The government controls the appointment of top editors in state-owned and state-controlled media. The Ministry of Information itself serves as a media regulatory agency.
Even though the constitution prohibits censorship, it still exists. Defamation has been decriminalised, but not the “deliberate dissemination of false information”. Confidential source protection can be lifted by a judicial order.
State support for the media depends directly on their promoting the government agenda and official propaganda. Independent media, deprived of government subsidies, rely entirely on advertising. For that, they compete with pro-government media, who have the resources to lower advertising rates.
Journalism is viewed with widespread suspicion in society. By contrast, citizens are quick to believe bloggers or anonymous posts on social networks. When journalists’ handling of an issue is unpopular, they are commonly accused of corruption. Hindrances to reporters’ work are frequently due to ignorance of the law. Security agents from the government and private companies don’t hesitate to use force against reporters.
Certain journalists are threatened and attacked because of their work, especially on social networks. At the regional level, threats often come from people openly cited in journalists’ reports. Journalists who do not bend to the government risk imprisonment. Some of them are targets of electronic espionage, as the Pegasus Project revealed.