Scrabble words

I love playing Scrabble, especially with random strangers. I always learn a new word or two. Here are some new words I learned from my latest game:

1. Vodou – (n) vodun, a primitive religion in the West Indies. Doesn’t that make it a proper noun, though?

2. Prex(y) – (n) a president. *sigh* as if ‘prez’ as a shortened form wasn’t enough.

3. Knar – (n) a bump on a tree. Huh. Who knew?

4. Doolee – (n) a stretcher for the sick/wounded. The stretcher has a name!

5. Jeed – (v) to gee. Go figure.

All definitions were taken from the Merriam-Webster Scrabble Player’s Dictionary.


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Kazakhstan II

Following up on my previous post on Kazakhstan, below is what I learned from my conversation with two professors at KIMEP University.

1. Libel is a huge issue for the media because burden of truth falls on the defendant. Not only do they have to prove that what they are saying is true, they also have to prove that there was no harm caused to the plaintiff (person who filed the suit). Ouch.

2. The general attitude towards journalism is very similar to the Wild West.

3. If you’re a journalist, you’re also an activist. If you’re an activist, you’ve probably been arrested at least once.

4. The state media has its own kind of self-censorship. All reports by ALL state media is the same. They call it standardization, consistency.

5. Newspapers are not big on attribution.

6. There’s no pluralism, no middle ground, with the media. You are either pro-government or you are the opposition media. And if you’re the opposition, well the government is going to try very hard to shut you down.

7. The Internet is still less regulated than print or broadcast. That being said, state media dominates and broadcast is the most prevalent source of news. More than newspapers (shocker).

8. The government and businesses have no sense of accountability. As a result, they treat the media – state and independent – as public relations instruments. Ergo the clampdown on critical voices.

I finally finished writing my text story on the media environment in Kazakhstan. I tried getting in touch with various people in the state media. I even tried to get in touch with the President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s press secretary. I also called the embassy in D.C. No dice. I turned in my story, but I’m still going to try to get the state’s voice.

I spoke to a Kazakh blogger a few days ago and she told me that the state media has a tendency of painting the country as a paradise. She called it propaganda. So now I REALLY want to speak to someone from that camp. Maybe they don’t see it as propaganda. Maybe they genuinely believe in their message. Or maybe they just don’t care about the message as long as they have a job. I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to them. And I really, really want to.


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Where is journalism heading?

Working on Global Journalist has made me more aware of everywhere in the world where journalism is suffering. Whether through the government or businesses or even the publications themselves, the world of journalism is going through a rough patch. A really rough patch. Will we get over it or will it get worse? Or will it get to a point where people simply don’t care?

Let’s look at a few examples.

1. Ethiopia.

Yes, the country is not the highest on any news editor’s radar, but if the second-most populous country of Africa has its independent journalists and bloggers fleeing its borders, that should raise multiple red flags (one for each person who flees would be a good start). And if they’re not fleeing, they are in jail. All the journalists prefer to censor themselves rather than speak out against the government.

And if you don’t have journalists who call the government out on its crackdown, the government will continue doing its own thing. And if the government does, what is to stop business owners from trying to silence journalists, too?

Take this story for example: Martin Schibbye is a freelance journalist in Sweden. He went to Ethiopia to cover the effects of oil fields exploration in the Ogaden desert. He ended up being ambushed, shot at, jailed and made to star in a “mockumentary.” Read more about the contention in Ogaden here.

Here is the show I helped produce on Ethiopia. Hear more about Schibbye’s story and what the media restrictions in Ethiopia mean.

2. Kazakhstan

Oh, Kazakhstan. I’ve taken an interest in you and what I have found has not surprised me in the least. Read some of it in my previous post here. I’ve learned more about the country’s media environment from talking to two journalism professors there, but more on that in another post. For now, here are some highlights:

– Libel laws favour the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit).

– Freedom of the press = write what you want, but be prepared to face the consequences.

– The state media (which is based on the Soviet model) is dominant.

Here is an example of when a business decided they didn’t like what the journalists were doing so they took the matter into their own hands.

It’s 2011. Some oil and gas company workers go on strike to demand higher pay and remove the restrictions on labour unions. Two journalists gather their information on the strike. They get assaulted by four men. Does anyone do anything? No.

Yes, it is an old example. But it is still reflective of what journalists have to deal with in Kazakhstan.

3. Good ol’ America.

Rolling Stone messed up. No, I don’t mean the band. I mean the magazine, which published a story on sexual assault on University of Virginia’s campus: “A Rape on Campus.” The story has since been redacted. So, how did they mess up? Columbia Journalism Review investigated the reporting process of the article. Highlights of their report, which can be read in full here:

1. Trusting the protagonist 100%.

2. The managing editor of Rolling Stone said, “Every single person at every level of this thing had opportunities to pull the strings a little harder, to question things a little more deeply, and that was not done.”

3. There was little independent reporting from the journalist in verifying information. (Thank you Mizzou, for drilling the importance of independent fact-checking.)

I have learned that the people who care most about press freedom and the process of reporting are journalists and human rights activists. There are very few people outside the world of journalism and activism who care. And that is unfortunate. Because if the people don’t care – or don’t tell the powers that be they care – the drive to do a job well will probably diminish. After all, what seems to sell more is sensationalism. And what better way to sell sensationalism than to dress up facts?

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As an individual project for one of my classes, I am reviewing the media climate in Kazakhstan.

Almaty in relation to how close it is to both homes.

Almaty in relation to how close it is to both homes.

It’s not a country that is in the news a lot. Rarely, if ever, does a story mention the Central Asian country. I took this opportunity to talk to a Peace Corps volunteer who’d been to Kazakhstan and had spent about 4 months there. Although he had no journalism-related experiences particularly, I hoped to learn from him what the country is like and what the people consider important. FYI, Peace Corps no longer runs a program in that country.

Takeaways from my conversation with Owen M. (the Peace Corps volunteer). Everything listed below is what he told me:

1. He didn’t want me to use his full name because Kazakh officials monitor news about their country and his name associated with a published article could jeopardize his chances of getting into the country another time.

2. Kazakhs take hospitality very seriously.

3. Kazakhs consider Russian state-media the go-to source for international news (according to Owen).

4. Internet is not widespread. It is available only to the upper class.

5. To be an English-speaking country is one of Kazakhstan’s goals. Those who can speak English well take great pride in their ability to do so.

6. Almaty is a safe city. Apparently, you can walk around the city late at night and not worry about getting killed or mugged.

7. The northern region of the country is more nationalistic than the southern region.

8. The Kazakh language is similar to languages spoken in the -stans of Central Asia. If you speak one, you can figure out the rest of them fairly easily. Like Arabic.

9. There didn’t seem to be any particular concern the people had with either their economic situation or their government. To be fair, Owen only got a limited picture of life in Kazakhstan, so take this point with a few grains of salt.

I wish I could round off and make it a 10-point list, but it was a short conversation. Tonight, I will be speaking with a journalism professor at KIMEP University based in Almaty. Then I shall learn more about what I actually need to know for my story.

I also wish I could go to Kazakhstan. The cheapest roundtrip ticket to Almaty from St. Louis that I could find costs $1,449 (costs about the same from MCI). That’s how much it takes for me to go to home (Muscat). I could just go to Almaty instead! Insha’Allah, I will go one summer. Insha’Allah it will be within the next five years.


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Being a journalist is hard. Being a journalist trying to interview people in other countries is harder. Being a journalist trying to interview someone in Yemen is turning out to be even harder.

I got in touch with a reporter for the Yemen Times and he got back to me a few days later. That’s the good part. The not-s0-good part is that he doesn’t have the time to do a phone interview (and I don’t have the money for it, either) or a Skype interview. From my personal experience, I doubt he has access to Skype because I know it is blocked in some Middle East countries (goddammit, Oman).

We’re taught in the J-school to avoid email interviews at all costs. I would argue that email interviews are just as viable as a phone interview.

Argument: Their response to your questions could just be PR.

Counter: Valid. But if you’ve been in regular contact with the person you want to talk to, you should have a good grasp of his or her language style. Besides, you can take a fairly educated guess at who did the typing based on how long it took them to respond and the word-choice. That’s your cue to reword the question and ask it again. Don’t let it go. And if it is a contentious question, ask it again when all your other questions have been answered satisfactorily. Or keep that one question for a quick phone call.

Argument: The person being interviewed has time to review their answers and censor themselves if needed.

Counter: Also valid. But again, if they responded immediately, they likely did not censor themselves. Besides, the person is media-savvy, they would have been careful with their words regardless of which medium was used to interview them.

Argument: You can’t pick up on body language, tone and intonations.

CounterI think a person’s word choice in emails is very telling of their tone and impression they are trying to create. But, I have no solid counter-argument.

2 to 1. I think email interviews should not be considered a bad option. Sometimes on a deadline, email is all you have. Or sometimes, when the person is in a country stuck in a civil war, email is all you can get.

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Thoughts while watching “India’s Daughter”

On Dec. 16, 2012 a girl was gang-raped by five men, brutally beaten, had her entrails pulled out of her body, and left to die on the side of a road. Leslee Udwin, a British actress and filmmaker (East is East; West is West), directed and produced a documentary based on the incident. The documentary, India’s Daughter, is aired as part of BBC’s Storyville series.

The following are my…outbursts as I watched the documentary. I doubt I display any hint of objectivity.

I strongly encourage readers to watch the video documentary. Note that the documentary has been banned in India.

1. I’m glad there’s a documentary about this. Finally. I’m also glad Jyoti Singh’s parents are not hushing up the matter.

2. Who gets on an empty bus? Why are you getting on a private bus that you have no affiliation with? Why didn’t you get an auto? It’s Delhi! There are autos everywhere!

3. I’m glad I didn’t grow up in India. I don’t know how my sister has managed to live in Delhi for the last three years. I enjoy my time when I do visit India. But I’m lucky to have the money to travel via a hired cab and be able to talk on the phone the entire time so that the driver knows I’m not really alone. But it is also unfortunate that I have to do that.

4. I wonder what Mukesh Singh thought about being interviewed by i. a woman and ii. a white woman.

5. To Mukesh Singh: beta, agar ladki bar or disco jaa rahi hai, to tujhe kya fark padta hai? Tujhe kisne judge banaya? (Son, if a girl is going to a bar or disco, what difference does it make to you? Who made you a judge?)

6. To Mukesh Singh: 20% girls are good? Now you’re an statistical expert? Degree dikha (show me your degree.).

7. What is “softness performance,” M.L Sharma? Also, thank you for calling females flowers, but clearly, you haven’t heard of tough as thorns females. May I remind you of Indira Gandhi, Rani Laxmi Bai, heck even Sonia Gandhi?

8. To M.L Sharma: A flower in a gutter is still a flower. It’s the gutter that is dirty, not the flower. And no one worships a flower in the temple. You’re worshipping the statue of a god. And don’t tell me you’ve never stepped on flowers in temples.

9. Pawan Gupta, who paid for your Nike shoes?

10. Wow, these jails look old. When was the last time these buildings were renovated?

11. Kya hoga (what will happen)? Akshay Thakur, you should have thought of that before you raped and killed a woman.

12. IF HER PARENTS ARE OKAY WITH HER HAVING MALE FRIENDS, WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO DECIDE IT IS WRONG FOR THE WOMAN TO BE OUT WITH A MALE? HE WAS NOT AN UNKNOWN PERSON, M.L SHARMA. HE WAS HER FRIEND. And please, never let a girl out of the house after 8:30 in the evening? Have your daughters never come home late from tuitions?

13. M.L Sharma, is that how you treat diamonds or gems, by raping them and throwing them out of a bus?

14. Seriously, why are men never questioned? Why can men go out after 8:30 at night and not women?

15. Wow, it’s really hard for me to keep a level head. It’s a good thing I wasn’t in Leslee Udwin’s place. I would have punched these people.


17. Men and women can’t be friends in the Indian society? Since when? Oh right, since narrow-minded individuals like you decided it was convenient for your actions.

18. “We have the best culture. In our culture there is no place for a woman.” (M.L Sharma) Okay. Excuse us women as we leave you to take care of yourselves. Tell us then what kind of culture you have.

19. To the parents of Mukesh and Ram Singh: haan haan, aapke bete to koi galat kaam kar hi nahi sakte (yeah, yeah your sons can never do anything wrong). Blame someone else. That’s what your sons have learnt: to blame others. You’re blaming the other four men for the incident. Your sons are blaming the girl for getting raped and killed.

20. TO TEACH THEM A LESSON? What kind of a “lesson” should you be taught for what you did?

21. Only in India will a chanting turn into singing.

22. As safe as any capital of any developed country? Pramod Kushwa, that’s a naive point of view. Unfortunately, India is not developed (much as we would like to think otherwise). You had it right when you “accidentally” called it a developing country. By all global standards, India is a developing country. By those same standards, the Middle East is also a developing region. And never in all the 15 years of living in Oman or the 4 years in U.A.E. did I ever feel unsafe. I’ve been out on the streets of Muscat (Oman) at 1 a.m. and my mother’s only concern was whether or not I had any plans of coming home that night. If my parents don’t get the “I’m home” text from my sister (who lives in Delhi) by 9 p.m., they start panicking. Tell me how that’s a mark of a safe city.

23. Watching the footage of the December 2012 protest, I’m reminded of the protest scene in the movie Rang De Basanti. I guess the cops really don’t like their authority questioned. And god forbid you protest in front of India Gate.

The following video (from the movie, not the documentary) is not an exact reflection of how the police reacted to the protests in Delhi. But the idea is the same: cops overreacting to peaceful protests. In the movie they react with a lathe charge and in real life with tear gas shells.

24. Listening to Leila Seth makes it sounds as if the government would not have done much about Jyoti Singh’s case if it hadn’t been for the public outrage. I have a strong feeling she is right.

25. The last time India saw such large scale protests was during the fight for India’s independence.

26. I wish I could say that Sheila Dixit is wrong when she said that girls are seen as less important than boys.

27. AP Singh said, “A number of criminal cases of murder, robbery, rape are pending against approximately 250 members of parliament – sitting members of parliament. But their cases are not being tried in fast-track courts. Their cases are not being tried based on day-to-day hearings. Why? If you want to give a message to society against rape, against robbery, against murder, then you should start from your own neck.” I can’t disagree with him.

28. “Rich country of tolerance.” Is that why we have tolerated this mindset for long, Amod Kanth?

29. “The death penalty will make things more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her.” What I find most troubling about Mukesh Singh’s statement is that he said “when they rape.” Not if, when.

30. Leila Seth, education is your solution? I agree. But before you go about saying that education is a solution, maybe you should take a look at the qualifications of people teaching us, or the lack thereof.

31. Indian politicians are concerned that this documentary provides a negative image of India. What makes them think that India doesn’t already have a negative image? All my American friends are convinced that if they visit me in India something god-awful will happen to them.

The case as it stands now:

Screen shot from the documentary India's Daughter

Screen shot taken from the documentary “India’s Daughter”

Full list of people mentioned above:

1. Mukesh Singh – one of the six convicted of rape, unnatural sex and murder

2. M.L Sharma – defense lawyer for the rapists

3. Pawan Gupta – one of the six convicted of rape, unnatural sex and murder

4. Akshay Thakur – one of the six convicted of rape, unnatural sex and murder

5. Pramod Kusha – additional deputy commissioner Delhi police

6. Leila Seth – former chief justice; member of Rape Review Committee

7. Sheila Dixit – chief minister of Delhi (1998 – 2013)

8. AP Singh – defense lawyer for the rapists

9. Amod Kanth – head of Prayas, an NGO for rape victims and juveniles

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Russia vs. Ukraine

Yesterday we had the taping of the radio show my team and I worked on for Global Journalist. Our subject was Ukraine. Broad, huh? In a way, that was good. Because when we pre-interviewed people for the show, we asked them what our focus should be.

Of the people we spoke to, and between the four of us we spoke to nine people, the following are the perceptions we came out with regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict: And they will go to any lengths to prevent Ukraine joining the EU or NATO.

1. Yes, this is about Ukraine wanting to join the EU, but it’s also about many Russians believing Ukraine as part of the Russian Federation.

2. There is a widespread belief that Western media is misreporting the conflict.

3. One of the many reasons the war has gone on as long as it has is because Russia wants to weaken Ukraine economically.

4. Journalists are not targeted in the conflict area the way they are in Syria or Iraq.

5. Most Ukrainians do not want to be a part of Russia.

The guests on our program were Riley Waggaman, the deputy editor of Russia Insider, an American who believes in Russia; a Russian photojournalist, Evgeny Feldman, who works for Novaya Gazeta, an independent paper in Russia, and Mashable; and Jonathan Alpeyrie, an American photojournalist who has worked for both the Russian and Ukrainian sides of the conflict.

Listen to the radio program here or check out the video below. It will give you a different way of looking at what is going on. Personally, I feel the segment about Russian propaganda could have been expanded on, but we had to move on because of time constraints. Shame.

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