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Authorities and media. Fight or cooperation?

Several media outlets turned out to be on the verge of closure due to millions in fines following the decisions of different courts in Kyrgyzstan. This became an indirect result of criticism against the authorities. One journalist was even almost imprisoned for several years only because he had inadvertently spoken out against religion in his book, and the work of one of the TV channels was almost paralyzed by a prompt decision on an economic dispute, where, by the way, the media itself turned out to be a third person.

Data on the relations between the media and state authorities, for example, in the Czech Republic, help to understand the extend of influence of a court on a freedom of speech in the Kyrgyz Republic. These parallels show what a real democracy is and how far we are today from it.

President starts and ... loses

One of the leading correspondents of the Czech newspaper Hospodarske noviny (Economic News- Note of 24.kg news agency), Ondrej Soukup, told that six years ago their media got interested in the salaries of the presidential advisors. Readers could not understand what people in the inner circle of the first person live on.

"The presidential administration refused to comply with the request, referring to the fact that such information is personal data and is not subject to disclosure," Ondrej Soukup told. - Then the stubborn journalists sued the administration of the head of state. After lengthy proceedings, the court ruled to provide the requested information but with one stipulation: do not specify the names of officials, only their initials and the position held."

In a conversation with several Czech journalists, it turned out that officials there are far from a model of transparency and openness to the press.

According to Ondrej Soukup, much depends on the head of this or that institution.

Open and closed agencies

When asked if the state agencies react to criticism against them in the media, the journalist replied that this is not always the case.

"Much depends on the head of the state body, on a person. For example, our statistics departments are always open, it is very easy to work with them. At the same time, the Ministry of Industry is rather closed in this regard. They react painfully to each request, always wondering why we, journalists, are requesting certain data. They can also ignore them," the journalist said.

But, in general, most of the institutions understand that withholding of information only harms them.

Ondrej Soukup

A similar situation is with official websites of state institutions.

 "For example, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has a good website. It is absolutely geared towards specific assistance. Even if I write in the search engine, "how I can replace my driver's license” then the first link will be to their website. So, of course, not every, but in general our state institutions have high-quality websites even in comparison with our neighbors - Slovakia, Germany," Ondrej Soukup told.

Liglass Trading. Open your face

He notes that thanks to the openness of the websites they had managed to disclose the true state of affairs in the scandalously known company Liglass Trading, which intended to build hydropower stations in Kyrgyzstan.

"I was aware that the Czech company Movel, which builds turbines for the hydropower plants, is looking for something in Central Asia. When I found out about the construction of the hydropower stations in Kyrgyzstan, I thought: what kind of company is this? It turned out that it was Liglass, about which nothing was known at all. When we began to look through open registries, my colleague recognized one of the representatives of this company, who said that their lawyer in the past was involved in a corruption scandal. So, it was underway. If there were no such open websites, we would hardly know about it," he recalled.

Journalists come on and ... win

According to the Czech media employee, it is not uncommon for journalists to be sued in the Czech Republic.

"Personally I was sued three times, we won in all cases," Ondrej Soukup said.

Commercial organizations are mainly suing the journalists.

"Of course, everything can happen in the work: one did not specify, overlooked, in such cases we usually write refutations, and many questions are settled in pre-trial order," he said.

 Answering the question, whether politicians, especially high-ranking ones, go to court, if they believe that you wrote unreliable information concerning them, he replied: "There are no such cases. I remember once, back in the 1990s, there was an attempt on the part of the Prime Minister (now President of the Czech Republic) to sue Respect media outlet. He wanted to win a payout of 20 million korunas, but the court denied."

The journalist remembered the case when a high-ranking politician lost to a journalist: "I remember one day the prime minister said to one of my colleagues that he was taking money from energy companies. The journalist sued him. They had been in litigation for almost six years, and in the end the head of government apologized to my colleague."

According to the editor of the foreign broadcasting office of the Czech public radio Libor Kukal, mostly politicians sue the journalists of "yellow press" when it comes to the publication of facts from the personal life of an official.

It happens that in such cases an editorial office loses and pays compensations. And I do not remember cases when a big official sued for criticism of his political activities.

Libor Kukal

"Have you ever had cases when the president or the prime minister sued the media?" - we asked the editor of the radio.

"No, they (politicians - Note of 24.kg news agency) still know that it will not pass through the court. They have no chance there. The law says that criticism is permitted, and they must prove that untruthful information has appeared. And one should sue for facts. If a judge says that this is an assessment of his work, they can not do anything. There have been cases when politicians have insulted journalists," Libor Kukal said.

- And do you remember cases when a media outlet was fined a large sum and closed?

- I will say confidently: there was no such cases.

Carrot and stick

To put it mildly, the words of the editor of the Czech public radio that journalists can criticize anyone, including the president, the prime minister and other high-ranking politicians, have caused surprise.

We criticize the president without any problems on the air. There is only one condition: if we criticize the head of state for three minutes, so we should provide his supporters with the same amount of time, that is, there must be balance in everything.

Libor Kukal

When asked who appoints the head of public radio to the post, he replied: "I understood what you have in mind. The head of the radio is elected by the Council of Czech Radio, which, in its turn, is elected by Parliament. But the legislative authority itself has no leverages of influence on the Council. We are not financially dependent on it."

"By law, every house owner must pay for radio, regardless of whether he listens to it or not. We collect this money by ourselves, and they go directly to the budget of the radio," the editor explained how the system of independent public radio in the Czech Republic has been formed.

Costs

At the same time, as many Czech journalists noted, compared to the 1990s of the 20th century, top-ranking officials developed "immunity" to criticism in the media.

"Previously, if the media disclosed a scandal, the officials could not ignore it. There was a reaction on their part. Now they can afford it. This is partly due to the fact that the media are losing influence," Libor Kukal said.

According to media representative, the media began to please the public in any way, instead of educating it. "Several years ago, a serial killer was put in jail. The man turned out to be very charismatic, with an interesting life story. He escaped from prison, was hiding. He was made a kind of hero. Even a feature film was shot. When he was released, one of the media signed contract with him to publish his stories. Now he is a national hero, that is, a serial killer has become a moral authority," the editor of the Czech radio said.

Do not cross the line!

The conversation with him confirms that even in democratic countries politicians of different ranks and officials are not examples of openness and do not always take into account opinions expressed in newspapers or on television. But a truly independent judiciary allows the mass media to openly and severely criticize the authorities for their illegal actions, not permitting them to overstep the line of truly democratic norms.

It seems that it is still too early to talk about real freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan until the reform of the judicial system, which will lead to its true independence, has not occurred.

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