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First regional media forum takes place in Kazakhstan. How competitive are Kazakh media? 11 декабря 2014, 16:02

The first regional media forum has taken place in Kazakhstan to address the problems faced by Kazakhstani media outlets, including competitiveness and information security.
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Zhomart Yertayev ©Yaroslav Radlovsky Zhomart Yertayev ©Yaroslav Radlovsky

The first regional media forum has taken place in Kazakhstan on December 9. One of the problems discussed was the inability of Kazakhstani media outlets to compete with large foreign media companies quality-wise, Tengrinews reports.

The forum was organized by the Charitable Fund for Support and Development of Media in Kazakhstan with the support of Forbes Kazakhstan and TAN TV channel. The meeting was attended by more than 200 delegates, including heads of regional and national TV channels.

The topics discussed at the forum included information security in Kazakhstan, specifics of creating TV news and analytical programs, legal protection of journalists and media trends.

One of the speakers at the event was Zhomart Yertayev, a prominent businessman, who used to hold several senior positions with leading Kazakhstan banks, such Alliance Bank, BTA Bank Ukraine, Eurasian Bank and Bank RBK. He was recently appointed CEO of ALMA-TV, a Kazakhstani cable television and Internet provider.

He said that the media landscape in Kazakhstan “slowly drifts from liberal practices and moves in the direction of government regulation”. But this, he said, was because the media in Kazakhstan was “infantile”. It let the state decide how and what to regulate, as opposed to being actively involved in shaping the information field of the country.

He maintained that being a representative of the media he had not noticed any attacks on the Kazakhstani information field. It was the media itself which demonized the situation, he said.

Besides, he questioned the approach to the information threat from Russia that had been high on the Kazakh media agenda in recent years. He said that the idea that the Kazakh media had to defend against ideologically slanted Russian media was not correct. "The Russian media creates content of a much higher quality, that is why it is embraced by the audience in Kazakhstan today. It would be much more appropriate to raise the issue of creating a competitive domestic product," Yertayev said.

Another panelist of the forum Sayat Nurakhmetov, President of the Association of Cable TV, agreed that Kazakhstan was not very good at ensuring its information security because of the lack of domestic content of sufficient quality. "The content broadcasted by our cable network operators is 30% local content and 70% foreign-made content, mostly Russian. The massive amounts of the relaying creates a problem: besides having to pay for it, we become a vehicle channelling the ideology that is planted through the Russian media," he said.

Many of the forum's participants blamed the lack of domestic content on insufficient financial support to the media from the Kazakh government. And only few remembered that financial dependence on the government would undermine press freedom in Kazakhstan.

According to Armanzhan Baitasov, President of TAN mediaholding and publisher of Forbes Kazakhstan, there was already enough money flowing through the Kazakh media market for the country's media to create domestic content of competitive quality. 

"The advertisement market (of Kazakhstan) makes from $150 million - to $200 million. And the government allocates around the same amount for its information policies. This means there is almost half a billion dollars floating inside the Kazakh media market. This is a fairly large amount of money that could be used to create high-quality content.

"But I am against the idea of the government directly funding television companies or newspapers. As soon as the government starts funding us, the media will have difficulty getting rid of self-censorship. And to step up the information security the government could instead invest in domestic content and support our TV producers who make series and movies, so that we can saturate the market with our domestic content and make our media more attractive and more competitive," Armanzhan Baitasov said.  

Everyone agreed that producing domestic content was expensive and that due to inferior quality it was less attractive to local advertisers than foreign content. But most of the participants seemed to believe that funding had to come first, then would come better quality content that would attract more advertisers and win back a bigger share of the Kazakh market from the foreign content. Besides, they cited information security of the regime as a pressing matter and an additional argument in favour of government funding for the media.

A well-known Kazakh TV journalist and a representative of Center for Social Partnership corporate foundation Artur Platonov said: "The Government has to understand that we need to train our own highly professional journalists. Their vision of the media needs to change. The media should be viewed as a national security tool rather than just a business instrument and a means of entertainment. Wars are waged not with traditional warfare nowadays, but through the media that are viewed as military components in many countries and used to reprogram the population. We have to clearly understand the importance of developing our own media, including the regional media outlets. There is a conventional wisdom we should all remember: "Whoever doesn't want to feed his own army, will feed someone else's."

By Dinara Urazova and Tatyana Kuzmina 

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