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Kazakh Report: March 7, 2002

7 March 2002

The license of a major Almaty-based TV company, Alma-TV, expired on March 5 and the Kazakh Ministry of Communications and Transport is reportedly reluctant to prolong it on the grounds that according to amendments to the Kazakh Law on the Media, foreign media companies can own a maximum of 20 percent of the shares in any media company operating in Kazakhstan. In 1994 when Alma-TV was established, the Kazakh media law did not contain any such restriction. Alma-TV shares are controlled equally by a Kazakh company called Cominvest and the American corporation called Metromedia International Telecommunications, Inc. (MITI).

Cominvest is owned by Nurbank of Kazakhstan, which in turn is controlled by Rakhat Aliyev, President Nursultan Nazarbayev's son-in-law. If the amendments are enforced in Almaty-TV's case, the president's family will acquire even greater control over Alma-TV. Alma-TV is the major cable television company rebroadcasting international programs in Almaty and Almaty Oblast and has an audience of over 60,000..

The Kazakhstan Today News Agency, which is a part of the Karavan Media-Holding also owned by Rakhat Aliyev, launched anti-MITI campaign on March 6, claiming that "... An American organization (MITI) seeks ways to get advantages through breaking the laws of Republic of Kazakhstan."

On March 6, the Ministry of Communications and Transport agreed to extend the expired licence of Alma-TV temporarily till April 1. It looks as though negotiations between Cominvest and MITI will last until the beginning of next month. Also on March 6, representatives of Alma-TV refused to comment the situation faced by their company and on March 7, they did not answer phone calls. Representatives of the Ministry of Communications and Transport also refused to give any comments to RFE/RL.

A spokeswoman for the press attache at the U.S. embassy told RFE/RL on 7 March that the embassy cannot comment on the issue.

The anti-media campaign in Kazakhstan is gathering momentum. On 6 March the weekly newspaper "Nachnem s Ponedel'nika" was forced to suspend its operations for three months, while another television company, TAN-TV was forced to suspend its operations for six months earlier this week. IRBIS TV in Pavlodar Oblast, North Kazakhstan was deprived of its licence last week.