Kyrgyzstan is the first and only country in the Central Asian region to establish a public service broadcaster, a publically-funded TV and radio company whose broadcasting serves the public interest, aiming to provide a sense of national community while fulfilling the programming needs of a broad range of constituencies.
Internews with the support of USAID has been working with OTRK, the country’s former state-owned broadcaster, since 2012 to help it transition fully into the public service broadcasting model. In a testament to how far OTRK has come since then, its news programs overtook those of the Russian channel ORT as the most-watched newscasts in Kyrgyzstan in 2013.
Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, emphasized the important role public broadcasting plays in a country like Kyrgyzstan. “Public service broadcasting plays a very important role for any democracy,” said Mijatovic at an international conference on best practices in public broadcasting that the OSCE and Internews convened in Bishkek on May 22-23. “It has a positive influence on the citizens and democracy of the state because it is objective and comes from authentic sources of information.”
The conference brought together more than 70 experts and media representatives from all over Central Asia and Europe to discuss various models of public service broadcasting, the influence of media freedoms on the democratic development of Kyrgyzstan, and how public broadcasters perform an important role in that process.
In addition to OTRK’s director, representatives from public broadcasting companies in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, and Mongolia also presented best practices and lessons learned from their experiences transitioning state-controlled broadcasters into public media companies. Topics of discussion ranged from network financing and management to program production and editorial independence. Attendees came from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, including government officials, media professionals, academics, and NGO representatives.
The conference showcased OTRK as a model for the region of how a state-run media outlet can reinvent itself into a social platform tailored for the country’s citizens. It also demonstrated the potential that public broadcasting holds for facilitating positive change in society. As Natalia Nikitenko, a member of the Kyrgyz Parliament, stated about this effort, “The establishment of the public service broadcaster in Kyrgyzstan was a progressive step for our country. Everyone has the right to access public information and the expectations on further development of the PSB are quite high.”
The changes OTRK has made so far have helped the broadcaster communicate more closely with and receive feedback from its audience, allowing the station to better tailor its programming to meet audience preferences. Audience surveys, town hall meetings, and focus groups have all been used to gather these preferences. OTRK is also learning from the experiences of colleagues from public broadcasters in other countries (including Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Georgia, and Moldova) in order to strengthen the overall quality of their programming and reporting.