Tag Archives: Kazakhstan

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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