Freedom House, a US-based international rights group, aims to boost press freedom in Central Asia by establishing an independent printing house in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, a tiny impoverished Central Asian nation once known as an island of democracy in the region.
"The opening of the Media Support Centre Foundation [to operate the printing press] will provide an alternative printing outlet for publications in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia [in general]," Mike Stone, the group's project director, told IRIN from Bishkek, adding that it would create competition by enabling customers to exercise choice in terms of quality, service and cost for their printing needs.
The Media Support Centre, a non-profit-making foundation formed under the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic will be operated by a governing board, to be known as the Supervisory Committee. "There are 15 members of the committee, which is chaired by US Senator John McCain," Stone said, adding that representatives from the Kyrgyz government, the European Parliament, and local and international NGOs would also sit on the committee.
Day-to-day operations would be directed by a general manager, Stone explained, noting that Freedom House anticipated a late October opening date for the printing press.
As for the possible impacts on independent media, activists agreed that the press would provide a good opportunity for media outlets to publish, irrespective of the political situation on the ground or government pressure.
"The most important thing is that the authorities will be deprived of the monopoly on publishing activities," Alexander Kim, the editor-in-chief of the independent MSN (formerly the Moia Stolitsa closed down in a lawsuit) newspaper, told IRIN from Bishkek, asserting that all the printing houses in the country were under government control.
Moreover, he said that Uchkun, the biggest printing house in Kyrgyzstan, was nominally a state enterprise, but was in fact fully controlled by the Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev's office, and had on several occasions refused to print material from independent media outlets. It had also been involved in the case which had resulted in the closure of Moia Stolitsa.
"There is a secret censorship in the [Uchkun] printing press," Kim said, adding that Uchkun employed a number of people to monitor all local newspaper columns, which were printed only after being approved. "From this viewpoint, the establishment of a printing house under the aegis of Freedom House is certainly a real opportunity to conduct publishing activities [for independent media]," he noted.
Kim went on to say that the project would impact positively on press freedom in the country and the region on the whole, because independent media would always know that there was a printing house that would never refuse printing publications for political reasons.
Kuban Mambetaliev, the head of Journalists, a local NGO working to uphold press freedom and protect journalists in Kyrgyzstan, said the independent press now had an opportunity to publish without fear of copy being impounded. "Such situations are impossible with an international printing house," he said, adding that he expected the printing house to be able to operate regardless of the political situation.
However, Mambetaliev criticised some aspects of the project, saying that the siting of the printing press was incorrect and would detract from the project's success. "It was necessary to thoroughly develop the [project's] strategy, analyse the situation and open the printing press in Osh, where there is no offset printing" he told IRIN. In such a case it would have been able to meet the needs demands of the three southern Kyrgyz provinces of Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken, as well as those of the neighbouring provinces of Andijan and Ferghana in the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley with its dense population and potential for print media.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions