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Termination of state funding threatens survival of regional newspapers

(Adil Soz/IFEX) - State-controlled newspapers in Batken, the only source of information for people in the region, may be shut down soon, following the government's decision to cancel the status of the region.

The Batken region will lose its status as a region when the government decision to merge three regions in southern Kyrgyzstan - Batken, Zhalalabat and Osh - into a bigger administrative division, Aimak, comes into force.

With the merging of the three regions, the government will no longer be using a four-level budget. Instead, a two-level budget, with no funding directed to the former regions, will be adopted. As a result of this, state funding to state-controlled newspapers in the Batken region will soon stop.

On the other hand, the government campaign to denationalize newspapers, formally launched in 2005, has progressed little. Most of the newspapers that have been receiving state funds regularly are still expressing the need for ongoing government support. The abrupt abandonment of the newspapers to free market forces will most probably cause all newspapers in the region to cease operations.

All print media in the region belong to the state. The alternative media, local television channels, cannot compete with the television channels in neighboring countries Uzbekistan and Tajikistan that broadcast their programs to southern Kyrgyzstan. Local people prefer to watch Uzbek and Tajik television channels rather than the local ones.

"The probable closure of the state-controlled newspapers, which are perceived as the people's tribune and a channel to express their opinion in a region with a population exceeding 410,000 people, is a direct violation of freedom of expression," said Saatbek Egemberdiyev, spokesperson for the Media Resource Center in Batken.

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