Archive for the ‘Central Asia’ Category


Encouragement Sees No Borders

Several weeks ago I spent a week with 70 journalists from more than 50 different countries. We traded stories and frustrations, laughed, cried, debated the future of journalism, discussed the many current conflicts occurring around the world and experienced the welcoming and rich culture of South Korea.

It was part of an annual conference organized by the Journalists’ Association of Korea. I, along with Elle Toussi and Rebecca Baker, represented the Society of Professional Journalists.

Throughout the weekend, while posing for photos with the different community leaders, we would say “화이팅hwaiting.” In English, it sounded like the word “fighting” which seemed ironic to me at the time since the theme of the JAK conference was world peace.

When I returned home, I learned it is a commonly used Korean word of encouragement, good luck, and cheer. It is commonly associated with sports and athletes. And now journalism.

I am not sure I fully realized it then, but journalists around the world, need encouragement now more than ever. While discussing the importance of a free press, free speech, and diversity in coverage and in newsrooms, you could hear the frustrations. Those frustrations included a lack of public trust in journalism, a lack of reliable information when it is needed more than ever and the apathy some feel exists in their communities.

The good news is, that while these feelings of frustration were apparent, it also was apparent that these journalists are not ready to give up and the support around them, from fellow journalists, isn’t going anywhere.

On top of that we came together to discuss how, in spite of the challenges we face, there are possible tactics and tools to use.

A common frustration for some of the journalists, especially the ones reporting in conflict zones was that credible information can sometimes be hard to obtain. Sometimes, you have leaders and people in power pushing agendas and stories, with the hope that it can help their “team.” Sometimes, journalists talked about how there is no information coming out at all.

As this discussion continued, one of the proposed solutions was to leave our emotion out of stories where you are reporting on conflict and war. This doesn’t mean not telling “real people” stories. This means that when you are trying to inform the public about a conflict or the latest on a war, don’t buy into the propaganda from either side. Stick to the facts. Your users will appreciate the hard-hitting story and hopefully trust you more for reporting the facts, and why it matters for them.

So, let’s all seek truth and report it. Minimize Harm. Act independently and be accountable and transparent. And more importantly 화이팅 hwaiting!

Lynn Walsh is the national president for the Society of Professional Journalists. Connect with her on Twitter, @LWalsh.

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Kazakh Journalists Meet With Local SPJ Chapter

This item first appeared on the website of the Washington, DC, chapter of the SPJ

By Alice Ollstein

How do you distinguish between trustworthy news and propaganda? Is it ethical to accept gifts from a source? How can we keep publishing serious stories when our readers and editors are demanding clickbait?

Journalists from Kazakhstan meet with SPJ International Community Co-chair Dan Kubiske (center) and Washington, DC, SPJ board member Alice Ollstein (second from right)

Journalists from Kazakhstan meet with SPJ International Community Co-chair Dan Kubiske (center) and Washington, DC, SPJ board member Alice Ollstein (second from right)

These were some of the many questions tackled in a cross-cultural discussion in early June between SPJ members in DC and a team of four journalists from Kazakhstan who came to the U.S. on a study tour organized by the State Department. Dan Kubiske, the co-chair of the SPJ’s International Committee, and newly elected local board member Alice Ollstein represented the SPJ at the meeting.

The four Kazakh reporters, who work for various print, radio, TV and digital outlets, offered a window into their lives, including their experiences with government censorship.

“We have to use code words,” explained one. “For example, if the value of the currency is falling, we call it a ‘correction.’”

Another added she routinely gets angry calls from government officials who sometimes demand a critical story be taken down or a photo changed to one that’s more flattering. “”But at least we can post a critical report, and it will be up for a few hours before we are forced to take it down.”

Kazakhstan ranks poorly on press freedom indices by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders. Journalists can be jailed or heavily fined for “defaming” the president or other elected officials, and dozens of reporters were charged in the last year alone. This has created an environment where outlets self-censor out of fear of legal retribution.

Kubiske told the Kazakh just about the only time reporters in the United States go to jail is to protect an anonymous source. Ollstein added denial of access is also a major problem reporters have covering the government.

Over all, the meeting focused ethical, economic, and organizational challenges that are universal to reporters in every country, from the allure of easy clickbait to the difference between the appearance of a conflict of interest and the genuine article. While the discussion revealed that what might be an ethical and normal practice in one country could be verboten in another, fairness and accuracy are valued across national borders.

Meetings such as these give U.S. journalists better insight into under-covered parts of the world and help dispel stereotypes about the U.S. and its press corp. In addition, they can foster invaluable connections and help build a strong international community of journalists all struggling for free and independent media.

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RSF Internet Enemies List: Few Surprises

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Reporters Without Borders has a great list of governments that are “Enemies of the Internet.”

And there are no real surprises. The hostility governments in places such as Burma, China, Cuba exhibit toward freedom of speech, press and expression is well documented. What I like about the RSF Internet list is the detail it provides about those governments.

For example in China we learn more than just the Great Firewall is functioning but also that the number of Internet users in the country exceeds the population of the United States (384 million Chinese Internet users v. 308 million people in the United States.)

We also learn that the average cost of one hour of Internet cafe time is US$2/hour. To me this is interesting because the average MONTHLY wage in China is US$219-274.

And we learn that 72 “netizens” are in Chinese jails, among them Nobel Peace Prize winner Lio Xaiobo who is serving an 11-year jail term for writing his opinions on the Internet and helping launch Charter 08.

We also see more details about the censoring of information in China and its impact on a generation of Chinese:

On the eve of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square events, a dozen websites such as Twitter, YouTube, Bing, Flickr, Opera, Live, WordPress and Blogger were blocked. The information blackout has been so well-enforced for the last 20 years that the vast majority of young Chinese citizens are not even aware that the events of June 1989 ever happened.

Other countries listed as enemies of the Internet are:

  • Burma: Two high-ranking government officials sentenced to death for having e-mailed documents abroad: Net censorship is a serious matter in Burma. Massive filtering of websites and extensive slowdowns during times of unrest are daily occurrences for the country’s Internet users.
  • Cuba: Despite a few improvements, Internet access actually remains beyond the reach of most of the population because of its high cost and low connection speeds. The regime, which maintains two parallel network, is now taking aim at a small blogger community that is becoming increasingly active.
  • Egypt: Since early 2007, the government has been reinforcing Web surveillance in the name of the fight against terrorism, under the iron fist of a special department of Egypt’s Ministry of Interior. Facebook is monitored, rather than blocked, so that activists can be observed or arrested. Authorities are monitoring their people’s emails and telephone calls without any court order, by virtue of the Telecommunications Law, which requires Internet service providers to supply them with the necessary surveillance services and equipment.
  • Iran: Censorship is a core part of Iran’s state apparatus. Internet surveillance has been centralized, thereby facilitating implementation of censorship.
  • North Korea: Let’s start with an average charge for one hour’s connection at a cybercafé at US$8.19 with an average monthly salary of US$17.74. The large majority of the population is not even aware that the Internet exists. An extremely limited Intranet has been created, but few can access it.
  • Saudi Arabia: Websites that broach the subject of religion, human rights or positions taken by the opposition are rendered inaccessible. Far from denying it, the authorities maintain that their censorship decisions are justified and claim to have blocked some 400,000 websites.
  • Syria: The country is reinforcing its censorship of troublesome topics on the Web and tracking netizens who dare to express themselves freely on it. As a result, social networks have been particularly targeted by omnipresent surveillance.
  • Tunisia: The Internet is seen as a potential threat to the country’s stability and image and is thus the target of pernicious censorship. Very strict filtering, opponent harassment and Big Brother-like surveillance enable the authorities to keep tight control over the news media.
  • Turkmenistan: Very strict filtering is now focused on critical publications likely to target local users and potential dissidents. Opposition websites and regional news sites covering Central Asia are also blocked. YouTube and LiveJournal are rendered inaccessible.
  • Uzbekistan: This country is deprived of independent media outlets. The authorities impose a very strict Internet censorship, while refusing to admit it publicly. Website filtering, sanctions and intimidation are used against potential critics of the regime. Netizens have learned to practice self-censorship.
  • Vietnam: The government claims to filter only content that is obscene or endangers national security, but censorship also affects opposition websites or those that are in any way critical of the regime. Censorship primarily involves blocking website addresses, and particularly concerns sites in Vietnamese.

Then there are countries the RSF is keeping an eye on, such as Australia:

Under the guise of fighting child pornography, the government wants to set up a filtering system never before seen in a democracy. The State of South Australia has passed a law prohibiting online anonymity in an electoral context.

And South Korea:

The authorities are using the criminalization of defamation against their critics and do not hesitate to make examples of them. Since June 2008, a dozen Web surfers have been briefly arrested and interrogated for having posted online comments critical of the government within the context of these demonstrations.

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Pakistan: Blocks Facebook but allows militants free reign

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Thanks to Danny O’Brien at CPJ and his excellent blog, Internet Blotter, for bringing this issue up.

I regularly read the Pakistan publication DAWN but for the business news. (It helps with my regular reporting on the area to know what the local media are saying.) But I missed this little tidbit from earlier this month: Hate on the Internet.

Seems the Pakistani government is worried about YouTube videos of the president telling some one to “shut up” but now worried about sites that “exhort Muslims to rise up against the United States and India.”

To be clear, I am not arguing for increased censorship. I am arguing against all censorship.

Yet it seems the Pakistani government has a two-faced approach to what is good for its people and what is bad. Now this is hardly surprising. But it is disappointing.

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Cartoonists head to Afghanistan

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Cartoonists Matt Bors, Ted Rall and Steven Cloud are traveling unembedded in Afghanistan.

These cartoonists are sharp-witted and unconventional.

Following their exploits in Afghanistan should be interesting.

Here are their blog sites:

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Why is Pakistan media quiet about the Kabul Diaries

A look at the deafening silence in Pakistan over the Kabul War Diary WikiLeak issue.

Madiha Sattar, senior assistant editor for The Herald in Karachi, talks about how and why it took so long for ANYTHING to be said in Pakistan about the 90,000 page leak of U.S. government documents about the Afghan war.

Bottom line:

Pakistan simply has too much at home to worry about. Perceptions of the country in the West take a back seat when severe electricity shortages, spiraling food prices and devastating terrorist attacks confront us every day.

Read the full blog entry here: Pakistan’s non-reaction to Wikileaks

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

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Editor beaten, legislators named as attackers

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Temur Tskhovrebov, editor of 21st Century in Tskhinvali, Georgia was attacked and severely beaten July 24. His friend Tskhinvali-based human rights defender Besarion Aseev said Tskhovrebov was beaten by around ten people leveling threats against him with guns.

According to Besarion Aseev the attackers included legislators from the local People’s Party and the Communist Party.

Besarion Aseev said Tskhovrebov’s beating is related to his civil activities.

On July 16 he took part in the Georgian-Ossetian civil forum that sent an appeal to the Geneva talks’ seeking a peaceful end to the fighting taking place in Georgia. The appeal was seen as an act of treason against the separatist Ossetian state interests.

“Around ten people including three incumbent MPs Kazimir Pliev, Dmitri Vaneev and Alan Khasiev launched an attack against Tskhovrebov in Isaak Kharebov Street. Temur has his finger broken on one hand, and the throat slashed. His head and lip have been stitched. Ahead of the incident Osinform and TV aired Boris Chochiev’s speech. He declared the people having taken part in the Georgian-Ossetian forum as traitors. Tskhovrebov’s beating is the consequence of Chochiev’s statement. The latter accused the newspaper editor of betraying the interest of Ossetia.”

Full report: Tskhinvali-based Newspaper Editor Severely Beaten

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Pakistan pols learn lesson in freedom of the press

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

At first the July 16 New York Time story about Pakistani legislators claiming university degrees they never earned seemed like a fun story. One that would provide a small insight into Pakistan’s politics and earn a chuckle or two. (Pakistani Legislators Face Accusations of Faking Their Degrees)

In one case, a member was disqualified by the Supreme Court for holding a fraudulent master’s degree in Islamic studies. In a hearing, the man could not name the first two chapters of the Koran, the newspaper Dawn reported.

But then it became clear that the only reason this issue is being discussed at all is because of the tenacity of the Pakistan press.

[T]he news media have seized on the issue, pressing the case that politicians who did get fake degrees or otherwise misrepresented their educational achievements while the requirement was in force could be tried for fraud or forgery.

The nation’s largest newspaper, Jang, ran front-page articles five days in a row, while “Capital Talk,” its most popular television talk show, featured the topic twice this week.

The agency in charge of the investigation of the validity of the legislators has completed only 183 out of 1,170 cases. It found 37 unnamed violators

According to the NYT, analysts say the delays are an effort to stall the legal process.

The issue is so hot that the the commission took the unusual step of warning its members not to leak information to the media.

And to underscore how sensitive this issue is, in an apparent effort to put pressure on the commission, the brother of the head of the commission was arrested this week on corruption charges.

The penalties of being found guilty of falsely representing their educational credentials could lead to three years in jail for the politicians. They could also be disqualified from running for office for 10 years.

So, the issue is getting the slow-track treatment by the government and politicians are doing all they can to intimidate the investigators event further.

And yet the media continues to keep the issue alive.

And now, here is the kicker…

On July 9, the Punjab Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the news media for “irresponsible propaganda” and demanding that they abstain from “insulting” reports.

But the resolution set off waves of protests by journalists across the country and intensified coverage.(My emphasis.) The Assembly rescinded the resolution four days later, passing another that honored the news media for their role in promoting democracy.

They learned that old rule: “Never get in an argument with someone who buys his ink by the barrel.”

Hopefully the Pakistani people will also appreciate the valuable resource they have in a free and independent news media.

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Updates from Eastern Europe/Central Asia

Free press advocates in Turkey are awaiting a judge’s ruling concerning a multi-billion dollar fine levied against one of the country’s most influential media firms.

The Washington Post reported last week that the judge will consider whether the fine is legal. The issue pits Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan against businessman Aydin Dogan, whose newspapers have been critical of the government. For some more background, here’s Reuters’ September 2009 report on the fine.

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There are two notes from Azerbaijan. Newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev has been serving an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence for, as The Washington Post reports, “making a terrorist threat, inciting ethnic conflict and tax evasion.” He has been in prison since April 2007.

This past spring, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he should be set free. However, Fatullayev was again sentenced last week — this time to two-and-a-half years for possessing drugs. The Post reports that Fatullayev said someone planted the heroin that was found in his prison cell last December.

In other press news from Azerbaijan, the website Azeri Report questions whether the country will approve an international measure to protect journalists whose nations are part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

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Public support for French captive journalists

I just got back from a vacation in Normandy and while learning about William the Conqueror, D-Day, Impressionist art and cheese making I saw a banner on a city hall that warmed my heart.

Kidnapped journalists a public cause in France

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