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Kyrgyz Republic, March 2019 – Media4Democracy and consortium partner European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) in March 2019 completed work to identify ways to strengthen freedom of expression and independent media in Kyrgyzstan, a country with comparatively pluralistic media within Central Asia, yet restricted by lingering media institutional, professionalism and financial challenges.

To provide context information with recommendations to the EU Delegation to the Kyrgyz Republic, the Expert Team conducted a first field visit in November – December 2018 to map the media sector according to a political economy approach. Meeting with a variety of interlocutors across the media and institutional landscape, the researchers worked to provide an updated analysis of the media sector and related institutional dynamics and to identify structural needs for reforms and possible entry points for the EU Delegation to engage on the matter.

Kyrgyzstan, as said, stands out as the most liberal country in Central Asia with recognised media freedoms, including on the Internet, and a vibrant civil society. For citizens, however, widespread corruption and weak law enforcement have generated a high degree of distrust toward public actors. Individualistic behaviour within the cultural dynamic of the country have chronically derailed attempts at fostering multi-stakeholder collaboration and institutionalisation in general to increase professionalism, including in the media sector.

In this context, previous attempts by foreign assistance to promote freedom of expression largely have focused on the preservation of political and civil liberties or addressed stabilisation and conflict prevention objectives. Little concern has been shown for the sustainable development of the media sector, which remains fragmented and operates on a small and poorly regulated advertising market, relying on politically driven investments and some minimal donor grants. The enduring journalists’ lack of professional confidence is rooted in poor media education at university and unstable labour conditions for media workers that, in turn, discredit the social standing of the profession and sustains self-censorship.

Media4Democracy deployed a second EPD field mission in February 2019 with an expanded Expert Team, including an international media trainer.  Based on the assessment in late 2018 and resulting recommendations, the Mission 2 team led a locally-contextualised training with EU Delegation and Member States as well as an in-Delegation strategic planning session to discuss options for engaging alongside the government, civil society and the media on matters relate to freedom of expression.

The second mission also provided an opportunity to host a discussion among a panel of stakeholders from relevant ministries, private media houses, universities and the creative economy at large, moderated by the MIDD experts, and sharing thoughts with a diverse audience invited by the EU Delegation.