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Political Extremism, Terrorism, and Media in Central Asia: Examples of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

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Publication Date

August 1, 2008

This document details a media study by International Media Support (IMS), Copenhagen, Denmark, with partners: the International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech "Adil Soz", Almaty, Kazakhstan, and the Public Association "Journalists", Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on how the media cover acts of terrorism and political extremism in Central Asia. The study was designed to furnish the media, the civil society organisations, the public authorities, and international organisations in the region with a point of reference in the context of the rising debate about extremism, especially Islamic fundamentalism, and terrorism. It provides insight into how the mass media cover these issues and how the public authorities react. The Central Asian findings are intended to serve as a basis for formulating recommendations to parties involved in media policy and practice, both in the region and beyond.

From the Introduction: "In the summer of 2007, IMS launched a research project to document and analyse the coverage of issues related to political extremism and terrorism in the news media of Central Asia. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were chosen as case-studies. The research took into account the political, legal and economic situation in the two countries. It also analysed how journalism and the mass media have developed since the countries became independent."

The document discusses media regulation laws, pressures and motivations of private media entrepreneurs, the effect and possibilities of the internet and who has access, results of the analysis, instances of ethnic unrest and their links to media, and the effects of the worldwide actions on terrorism.

The document reviews the absence of critical public debate, the absence of reliable resources and access to information, the profit-versus-quality dilemma, and the possibilities of joint projects with international partners. Its policy recommendations, formulated by the two partner organisations, include the following:

  • "Recommendations to the parliaments and governments: The governments of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan should facilitate an environment in which professional media and civil society organisations can establish on-line databases and other resources dedicated to political extremism and terrorism. Relevant national and international legal and political acts, research and analysis, and background documents should be presented together with topical news and reports on current affairs....Mass media, journalists, public officials, experts and all those interested should have easy-to-access reliable information and documentation. Based on the exchanges and networks that would result from the work on the establishment and the running of such on-line resources, other topical projects could be launched such as joint workshops, training courses, research assignments and academic conferences....Portals dealing with political extremism and terrorism could be launched as a joint regional project in Central Asia with the help of international organisations....Parliaments, governments and other public authorities in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan should improve their political communication with the general public and mass media....Official spokespersons should be trained to reply swiftly to inquiries from the mass media in a professional manner....[In preparation for emergencies,]...public authorities should establish strategies and work out contingency plans that would provide for timely and substantial information to the public through the mass media....The training for representatives of public authorities should include visits to mass media and civil society, as well as exchanges with journalists and, vice versa. In particular, the police, army and other segments of the security forces should interact cooperatively with the media, professional and civil society organisations. The purpose would be to increase the knowledge about each other, enhance mutual trust and thus the ability to work alongside one another in emergencies."
  • "Recommendations to journalists, professional mass media and civil society organisations involved in the media sector: Professional organisations in the field of journalism and mass media should strive to improve the qualifications and capability of media workers to inform... on sensitive issues such as political extremism and terrorism... [including:].. establish[ing] co-operation with their colleagues in other mass media, national and international professional and civil society organisations, and the public authorities and international institutions [and] co-operation on long-term projects to monitor and self-evaluate the reporting of the mass media outlets....The general public should be invited to comment on the work of mass media outlets through conferences with readers, listeners and viewers [and] ...direct replies via letters or e-mails to journalists or through web-based platforms fostering the debate between producers and consumers in the media industry...."
  • "Recommendations to media owners: Media owners should invest in professional training of journalists and other media workers in their companies....Media owners should resist the temptation to achieve gains in circulation or audience shares by reporting in a sensational manner about crises situations...."
  • "Recommendations to international actors: International media assistance in Central Asia should continue. The focus should be on support for the improvement of professional performance of media workers through education and international co-operation....International non-governmental groups should approach public authorities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other countries in Central Asia with offers for joint projects for improving their political communication capacity to the general public and the mass media....International media assistance should include and foster policy-oriented research...."

     

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