(BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan) Kyrgyz authorities said today that Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL's popular Kyrgyz-language service, will not be restored to the airwaves unless its programs are submitted to the government for prior approval. Melis Eshimkanov, the head of Kyrgyzstan's state-controlled radio and TV broadcaster, said the programs are "too negative and too critical" of the government and claimed that powerful Kyrgyz figures are behind the decision to keep Radio Azattyk off the air.
"Unless we can hear the programs in advance, we cannot have them on the air," he said.
RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin said the move may force Radio Azattyk to put its broadcasts exclusively on shortwave frequencies for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Frankly, we expected more from a country trying to prove its reformist credentials in the region," he said.
Eshimkanov said "the problem [with Radio Azattyk] is the content." He said Kyrgyzstan will not honor its current contract with RFE/RL now, nor when it expires at the end of the year unless Azattyk clears its radio and TV reports with the government in advance – or “guarantees” they will not be offensive.
"The mission of providing unbiased news and information cannot be compromised," said Dr. Jeffrey Hirschberg of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees all U.S. international broadcasting, including RFE/RL. "Such proposed censorship conditions are unacceptable."
Until October 8, Azattyk's TV and radio programs were heard and seen by nearly half the Kyrgyz population. Azattyk broadcast three hours of radio programming each day and produced two weekly prime-time television news shows, "Inconvenient Questions" and the youth-oriented "Azattyk Plus."
About RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service
Online and on the air, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service has been a consistent and dependable provider of independent information in Kyrgyzstan for more than 50 years. Today, Radio Azattyk is a trusted source within Kyrgyzstan, with its stories -- both broadcast and online -- regularly cited and reprinted by local and regional media.