A new Kazakh media holding company, made up of outlets that support the government, has what's left of the independent media more than a little worried.
On July 3, the office of Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced the Arna Media National Information Holding had been created "in order to provide favorable conditions for increasing competitiveness of the information space of the Republic of Kazakhstan." The written statement offered no other details.
But to many, the cryptic announcement was understood to mean that the already bad situation for Kazakh independent media is about to become worse.
Galia Azhenova, from the Kazakh nongovernmental International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, said the move was "suspicious."
"If we believe that we are a democratic society and one of the signs of this democracy is media freedom, then we should be against the government's decision," Azhenova said. "This kind of centralization won't be prosperous for freedom of speech. On the contrary, it seems to me that it would create additional obstacles."Government-Loyal Press
The partners in the new media holding read like a list of government supporters. Kazakhstan -- the national television and radio company -- and the Khabar news agency are both state-owned. President Nursultan Nazarbaev
's eldest daughter once headed Khabar and still has considerable influence over the country's main news agency.
The "Yegemen Kazakhstan" and "Kazakhstanskaya Pravda" newspapers date back to Kazakhstan's time as a Soviet republic and the two newspapers, housed for decades in the same building in Almaty, have not changed their agenda in reporting the news since those days.
The other partners in the holding all toe the government line: the Kazakh Information Agency, Kazakhstan Telecommunications, Kazteleradio, and Young Generation and Kazakh Newspapers, two print media companies.
It still is not clear what powers, if any, Arna Media has "to provide favorable conditions for increasing competitiveness."
Seidakhmet Kuttykadam, the editor in chief of "Mysl" ("Thought"), a magazine that belongs to the Kazakh Gazetteri stock company that became part of the new media holding, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that Arna Media's responsibilities seem to be the same as an already existing government ministry.
"If they officially create a media holding company, then there is no need for the Information Ministry, because it's them who are dealing with mass media," Kuttykadam said. "They should disband the ministry, if they create the holding. In his latest statements, the president talks about liberalization, freedom of expression. This idea [creating the media holding company] could contradict the president's idea."
Tackling The Web
Despite the ill-defined responsibilities of the new media holding, it seems nearly certain that one issue Arna Media will confront quickly is the Internet.
Kazakh officials have been debating how to better control information posted on local websites. On July 3, an Almaty court ordered the activities of the site posit.kz suspended for three months after ruling the website posted material "inciting interethnic discord."
Earlier this year, several Kazakh websites were blocked for carrying information believed to have originated from the Kazakh president's estranged former son-in-law, who has become a fierce Nazarbaev critic.
According to the statement from the prime minister's office, Kuandyk Bishimbaev was recommended to head the new media holding group. Most of Bishimbaev's previous work was in economics. Until February this year, he had been deputy minister of industry and trade. RFE/RL Kazakh Service Acting Director Edige Magauin contributed to this report