Media and Internet
Citizen Journalism among internet users of Kyrgyzstan became more and more popular. There are a lot of internet space and platforms, which journalists use as a new tool. News spreading becomes universal and fast. Politicians and officials started use internet tool as informational source for journalists and society.
NewEurasia’s Annasoltan has become somewhat well-known in media studies because of her work on Turkmenistan’s mediascape. I’ve been reading some of the things she’s written, like “State of Ambivalence: Turkmenistan in the Digital Age” (which I think ended up being cited by Freedom House) and her really cyberutopian (but very inspiring) post “OtherTube, PseudoBook, and the fate of the world in Turkmenistan”. The Americans always say they want to add their “two cents” to an issue; I want to add my two teňňesi.
It is my belief that, of all the factors which contribute to the development of a country, media is the most important because of its far-reaching impact on society. Specifically, development is aided by a media which is committed to the truth, honest about its subjectivity, advocates on behalf of the public, and supports society’s cultural and scientific advancement. Any media which makes government approval its priority or is closed to the public fails to satisfy these needs. That is because independent, private media and democracy move along parallel tracks.
There’s a German philosopher named Jürgen Habermas who has written about the emergence of the public sphere in the West, which became the basis for democracy and which was fostered by media. In brief, history seems to suggest that countries with developed private media outlets tend to be more democratic than countries without sufficient private media. Public government-owned media, on the other hand, typically shrouds its message in an unfair bias for government agendas. As one reviewer puts it,
“[Cf.] Habermas’s 1963 book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, [in which he] examined the rise of public opinion and print culture in the eighteenth century. Habermas recognized that the explosion of the print industry—newspapers, pamphlets, and books—began to exert a powerful influence on political life separate from the traditional ruling agency exerted by the king, the aristocracy, and the parliament. For Habermas, it was not simply the growth of publishing that created the public sphere—it was the simultaneous dawn of a kind of consciousness that the public could be systematically addressed through a pamphlet as if a group of strangers were gathered together in a giant auditorium. Habermas saw this imaginary ‘public sphere’ as a potential democratic utopia where individuals could discuss national issues and come to common consent in public.”
Interested in Central Asia and engaged in social media? Not from the region but fascinated by what it has to offer and wanting to find out through images on the web? Then there might be e website out there just for you…
The first ever law regulating the mass media in Turkmenistan, started to work from 3 January. The corresponding decree, as reported TURKMENinform, was signed by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The new law provides citizens of the republic free access to foreign media, prohibits censorship and will defend journalists against pressing by government officials.
Speaking frankly, I’m not just glad 2012′s over, I’m relieved. Wow, what a tough year it’s been for NewEurasia, both in front and behind the computer screen. I guess you can say we went through our own private little Mayan apocalypse, although it happened well before 21 December. But I’m happy to report that we appear to have pulled through, and with a new team to boot!
Editor’s Note: The rumor mill that Turkmenistanis depend upon for information, but which they also insightfully nickname the “Village Women’s Newswire” appears, to be going digital. NewEurasia’s Magtymguly Pyragy reports on a recent online scare, and provides translations of the speculations of Turkmenitzens trying to grapple with a terrifying — but at the moment unfounded — monetary apocalypse.
In Turkmenistan people do not get their news from official media. The most effective communication is word of mouth. It is being referred to as the “Aunts’” or “Village Women’s Newswire” (in Turkmen: dayzalar, “aunts”; obanyn ayallary, “village women”), i.e., the rumors or gossip spread by housewives and the like that is often believed to be reliable even if there is no reason to believe that. Indeed, some believe that some “reports” on this “Newswire” are being deliberately leaked by government officials, either to test the reaction of the population or to make people get used to something that is imminent, such as price hikes. Typically as with rumors, such “reports” have in some cases actually proven to be true, which is why it is hard to tell people to stop depending on this method of information. Worst of all, these “reports” can spread like wildfire, because information conditions in Turkmenistan are so terrible and boredom is so much that it is almost like infotainment.
One recent case has made rounds made Turkmenistan’s people to panickedly change their dollars for Turkmen manats: a post on the Facebook group of the new site SalamTurkmen about the imminent collapse of the US dollar, specifically in January 2013. Currently, 1 dollar stands at 2.84 manats, but if the rumors are true, it shall fall to 1.6 manats. The SalamTurkmen post has unleashed wild speculations from users, highlights of which that I think reveal a lot of Turkmen mindset at the moment I translate here:
So, last week a court in Kazakhstan banned Stan.tv from operating on the charge of extremism — and in a few weeks, Astana shall ascend to the UN Human Rights Council. There’s a full-on censorhip tsunami sweeping the country, taking out news agencies, websites, broadcasters, political parties and even the US Peace Corps, and one way or another, it seems the epicentre of the earthquake is in the 2011 Zhanoazen riots.
Of course, I don’t want to diminish the huge concern the world should have about this situation, but at the same time, I don’t want us captured by illusion either. “Free press” in Kazakhstan has always been a flexible, philosophical concept. As Freedom House (and others) note, “Kazakhstan’s media outlets are privately owned but ﬁrmly under the control of major ﬁnancial groups aﬃliated with the regime.” In other words, the media is under the control of national elites, and what we on the outside see as “opposition” is frequently just disagreements and feuds between them (not to mention the fact that opposition and independence are not the same concept). This situation includes several of the agencies that have been recently drowned.
We should never forget that few regimes are as skilled at the spectacle of neo-liberalism as Kazakhstan’s. The “opposition” voices that shall survive this tsunami will be those pre-selected/pre-filtered, thereby giving a veneer of modernization to the country. And in the aftermath, they shall all be sounding the same cry as on Kazakhstan’s official new holiday, 1 December, “First President’s Day”, proclaiming: “One Country! One Destiny! One Leader!”
Editor’s Note: A recent photo-report published on Facebook and Ferghana.ru has caused a furor in Kyrgyzstan about the conditions of the country’s rural poor. But according to guest blogger Damira Umetbaeva, it also raises difficult and important ethical questions about the nature of the photo-report itself.
[Update, 7 December: There was a problem with the links in this post, but they're fixed now. Sorry about that! Also: this post has sparked a really big discussion on the Facebook page of Ferghana.ru editor Daniil Kislov. If you're on Facebook, add your voice and opinion!]
Back in November, a Ferghana.ru reporter posted on her Facebook profile some photographs of everyday life for rural folks in Kyrgyzstan. Here are two remarks she made in the comments section:
“I saw for the first time what kind of pauperism people can live in.”
“…I never understood how these people can live in such dirty conditions?!… [They] eat, sleep, have children… after all it is your house!…”
Now, here’s the kicker: her photos were then published on Ferghana.ru with the full names of the subjects! The comments sections were filled with terribly humiliating remarks, and even outright racism, as some viewers saw in the photos proof of “Kyrgyzness” and “Asianness”.
This is what bothers me: the reporter was coming from the perspective of a social class that I strongly suspect was her own — urban, educated, relative rich (at least, compared to the people in her photographs), and “progressive”. Moreover, the photo-report probably never made it back to a Kyrgyzstani audience, as Ferghana.ru has been blocked in the country since February 2012. The audience the photo-report ended up applauding the reporter, and even re-posted her shots and added more commentary on social networks, calling them “wonderful”, “marvelous”, and so on.
There’s a pro and a con here, which overlap. Maybe through the social networks, the photos were able made their way back to the Kyrgyzstani government — the reporter’s stated goal — and so maybe that will embarrass them enough to do something to help our the rural poor. But why? Because these photos have embarrassed the country; they have hurt its reputation (what little it has), and by extension, the reputation of its leaders.
Editor’s note: It’s becoming a truism that mobile phone technology could reshape Central Asia for the better, but there’s also a dark side, even a ridiculous side. NewEurasia’s Marat discusses the problem of shariah-backed sms-divorcing.
Modern technology is not only improving lives in Central Asia. Lately, short message services, emails, and other technical means are being utilized by male heads of family to dissolve that very family. Husbands are divorcing their wives thousands of kilometers away with one SMS message, reading “Talaq.” The word is an Arabic term for “divorced” and is the prerogative of the husband, according to Islamic teachings. While talaq is a permissible act in Islam, it is strongly discouraged for the sake of the family and society.