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Media updates across Central Asia

A lot has been happening in media and telecommunications – Internet, libel, translation, TV, social networks, mass media, blogging, songs and cell phones – in Central Asia these past few months, for the good and for the bad. Let’s take a look at two stories from each country, regarding media advancements and setbacks that have taken-shape in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan so far in 2012.

Press Freedom in CENTRAL ASIA

The 2012 Freedom of the Press Report, published by human rights group Freedom House, was released in May. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) informs on the role Eurasia/Central Asia plays in the report:

“As a region, Eurasia remained mired in severe press freedom problems, with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan also rated “not free.” Ukraine barely hung onto a rating of “partly free,” just one point away from being downgraded.”

In addition, but with much more severity, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were classified as two of “the world’s eight worst-rated countries” in the May 2012 report. Freedom House explains:

“In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression.”

About Uzbekistan, Freedom House’s Vice President for Strategy and Analysis Christopher Walker said:

For newspaper-publishing, finding ways to publish this within Uzbekistan’s borders and then disseminate is practically impossible.”

So the fact that authorities are now moving to essentially cleanse the information landscape of the small remaining ways in which people in the country can get information also bodes very, very poorly for the country’s development and speaks to the depths of the repression that ordinary Uzbeks experience.”

Regarding Central Asia and beyond, this year is a year where “one journalist is killed every five days“, reports media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RWB). In addition, in 2012, RWB classifies Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Uzbeksitan’s Islam Karimov, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev all as ‘Predators of Freedom of Information.’

Internet and libel in TAJIKISTAN

On March 5th 2012, The Telegraph reported that Tajikistan blocked Facebook and two Russian language websites, zvezda.ru and tjknews.com, because the former published the article “Tajikistan on the eve of a revolution” and the latter republished it. Upset with the notion that the social and online medias downplayed President Imomali Rakhmon and his regime’s power on their networks, the Tajik government responded by pulling the digital cord.

On March 5th, a Tajik Internet provider told Reuters:

This morning, we carried out the instruction of the communications service and blocked the sites facebook.com, tjknews.com and zvezda.ru.”

We could not refuse to carry out this instruction.”

Human rights group Freedom House – which rates Tajikistan as Not Free (in terms of world freedom and press freedom) – informs that the website maxala.org was also blocked. In addition, Lenta.Ru informes that CentrAsia.ru was also blocked. Though the Ministry of Communication had refused to comment, the official order was made public to all.

Within the past year, the number of people on Facebook in the country doubled, to 26,000 users. With so many Tajiks connected and online, it’s no wonder the ‘dictatorial’ regime would cut the cord at the first signs of oppositional views – which have the ability to spread like smooth butter through cyberspace at the stoke of just one key. Making this notion clearer, referring to Tajikistan and other repressed states, The Telegraph says:

“Authoritarian governments across the world are increasingly wary of Facebook and other social media tools such as the micro-blogging website Twitter which they blame for stirring unrest and revolution.”

But a blue and white rainbow did shine at the end of this digital storm in Tajikistan. On March 9th, access to Facebook was resorted, after various journalistic organizations and OSCE Representative (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic demanded access be restored.

In keeping with the theme of positive media decisions, on May 31st 2012, RFE/RL reported that Tajikistan’s parliament passed a draft law that decriminalizes libel. Proposed in March by President Emomali Rahmon and welcomed by the OSCE, RFE/RL explains the draft law:

“The proposed legislation, proposed in March by President Emomali Rahmon, removes libel and insult from the Criminal Code and places it under the bailiwick of administrative law.”

“That means journalists accused of libel would face an administrative court rather than criminal prosecution. Administrative courts could issue fines for a libel conviction but not a prison sentence.”

Currently, journalists in Tajikistan can face several years in jail on libel charges. To reverse this demonizing punishment, let’s hope the draft law becomes seriously implemented into the justice system, thus slowly-but-surely turning the tables in favor of media-makers in Tajikistan! After all, professional journalists who uphold moral and ethics in their work are not criminals, and thus do not deserve to be treated as such, especially when they cover stories unfavourable to the regime!

Translation in KYRGYZSTAN

On April 17th 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan launched a Kyrgyz-language version of its website:

“The Embassy regularly posts press releases, vacancy announcements, transcripts of interviews and official meetings, and other important information. Previously available in English and Russian, all of this information will now be available in the Kyrgyz language as well.”

“The Kyrgyz-language website is part of Embassy initiatives to support the development of Kyrgyz-language information on internet.”

Moreover, the Embassy’s Democracy Commission Grants Program provided funding to the “We Want Kyrgyz Language in Google Translate” project. The main website of the initiative has a count going on the number of translated words. As of today, there a total of 1,256,992 words, 1,215,633 uploaded words and 40,427 words under consideration. There is also a Facebook page, titled “We Want Kyrgyz Language in Google Translate”, which was created on 07/11/2011 and today has 1,159 supporting ‘Likes.’

enetil.kg/, home to the “We Want Kyrgyz Language in Google Translate” project, says:

“The main goal of this project is to introduce kyrgyz language into “Google Translate” service, and to create an Internet platform for ongoing support of the Kyrgyz language in the future. Google Translate is a free translation service that provides instant translations, using 57 different languages. It can translate words, sentences and web pages from and to any of the supported languages.”

With Google Translate adding another language to its 60 something system of languages, on May 2nd 2012, Central Asia Online quoted Ene Til Project Manager Atai Zhunushov saying:

We’ve finished the first phase of the project, in which we sent Google managers 1.2m word.”

But that isn’t enough for Google Translate to translate Kyrgyz. Google managers recommended we build up the Kyrgyz-language content in Wikipedia.”

Ene Til has received 1.2 KGS (US $25,600) in funding to carry on their work from embassies in Kyrgryzstan, international organizations and sponsors. The 1.2 KGS was for the project’s first phase, and the for second, 700,000 KGS (US $14,900) will be required and the goal will be to “…increase the number of Kyrgyz-language articles on Wikipedia to 50,000 from 6,000.”

In addition, if you speak Kyrgyz and are into Twitter and translation– check out @translator: Twitter’s Translator Community. If you’re not yet that familiar with Twitter, but want to be – here’s an informative video, in Kyrgyz, on how to use the microblogging website: “Twitter registration training in Kyrgyz language.”

Keep up the great work Ene Til, advocating for freedom of language and access to the Kyrgyz language in cyberspace! Looking forward to learning some new Kyrgyz words, via Google Translation!

TV and social networking in UZBEKISTAN

On May 28th 2012, UzNews.net published an informative article, “Censorship grows stronger along with idiocy in Uzbekistan,” on the lack of freedom of expression via the media – particularly via Uzbek TV. The network is:

“…cutting out scenes of people drinking, smoking and wearing turbans like in the film about the medieval ruler Babur.”

“This practice is predetermined to a significant extent by the 5 October 2011 law “On restricting the distribution and consumption of alcohol and tobacco products” that is designed for tobacco and alcohol control.”

Is Uzbekistan trying to control its society, and people’s social lives, through its control of the media? Seems to be so.

But, despite this setback, the month pior, Uzbekistan saw a positive advancement in social media. In April 2012, Trend.az informed that the Russian social network Odnoklassniki (Russian: Одноклассники, English: Classmates) will become localized in Uzbekistan. Odnoklassniki “claims that it has more than 45 million registered users and 10 million daily unique visitors”. And many of those users come from Uzbekistan, as the website is the country’s leading social network, wherein the audience grew 3-fold in 2011. With more Uzbeks online and using social networks, the company has made Uzbek the first Central Asian language in which the website is translated.

On April 24th, Trend.az explained the how’s and why’s of Odnoklassniki in Uzbekistan:

“Localization of the service will begin with the translation of the interface of the social network’s mobile version into the Uzbek language. This is due to the fact that of two million Uzbek users of the resource 1.55 million users enter the site from mobile devices. About 20 percent of the mobile audience of Odnoklassniki live in Uzbekistan.”

UzDaily.com also informs on the timeline of the initiative:

“Localization project will be conducted in two stages. In the first stage, the mobile version of Odnoklassniki was translated into Uzbek. In the second stage, the website will be translated. In near future, it is planned to launch apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Symbian devices.”

In July 2011, neweurasia’s Mansurhon wrote a post on social networks in Uzbekistan, particularly focusing on Odnoklassniki, and highlighted journalists reaction to the website:

“So, some of the journalists think that, overall, Odnoklassniki is a nice web site to meet old friends. But all of them found something-just-not-right with that social network.”

By the end of May 2012 – so, by now – the website is to have been translated into Uzbek. It’ll be interesting to see how the website does being translated – will it attract more users and become even more popular that it already is now, being in the Russian language? And what will the reaction of journalists be, the same as in 2011 or different?

Mass media and blogging in KAZAKHSTAN

As of May 19th 2012, a new media competition came to Kazakhstan. On that date, Inform.kz announced:

“The Kazakh President’s press service, which is also a working body of the Public Commission for awarding prizes and grants of the President of Kazakhstan in the sphere of mass media, has started accepting presentations for grants and prizes in 2012.”

Presentations, due in a few weeks – by June 20th, are welcomed by mass media, public associated, state agencies and artistic unions. Even though the competition is probably highly regulated, and void of work that reflect opinions of opposition, it’s still a great initiative. Do you have any interesting media projects worth sharing with the broader community? If so, and you’re interested in applying, be sure to do so very soon!

Regarding online media and popular culture in Kazakhstan, the wife of a Canadian hockey player has been kicked out of the country – because of her blog. On April 13th, the Global Voices Online Blog posted the story, which informed that apparently Stacy Dallman, wife of former NHL Hockey Player Kevin Dallman, upset Kazakhs with her blog Adventures in Kaziland. (Important note: while writing this post, the blog was not accessible – the website reading “This site has been archived or suspended.”)

The couple has lived in Kazakhstan for the past four years, Kevin playing for the Barys Astana team in the KHL, a Russia-based equivalent to the NHL. Global Voices Online describes how the player was beloved in the Kazakh Republic:

“An ex-defensemen for the LA Kings, Dallman was the heartbeat and captain of the Barys team, enjoying a cult status similar to that of Brazilian soccer star, Rivaldo, when he spent his twilight playing days with FC Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan.”

In March 2012, Stacy was forced to remove a blog post, and this was her response:

If you are wondering where the last post went…. well….Kevins agent made me delete it! Well the agent is blaming it on the team, the team is blaming it on the owner of the team, the owner of the team is blaming it on the president of the country. I’m not quite sure if the president of any country would have enough time on his or her hands to worry about one little blog that less than 100 people read per day…but that’s their story and they are sticking to it.”

Though critical of Kazakh politics (corruption, lies and more), Stacy also did a lot of good for the country. The Toronto Sun reports:

“Last December, Stacy spearheaded the Lokomotiv Wives Fund, a fundraising effort to help the widows of players and coaches killed in the Sept. 7 crash of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team airplane.”

It’s very unfortunate that Kazakhstan is now minus one important critical blogger and talented hockey player – all because of the country’s lack of free expression and open media. And with that, here’s how Stacy – very liberally, exercising her right to freedom of expression despite Kazakh’s trying to silence her – left Kazakhstan and its blogosphere:

I’m done.

No more blogs about Kazakhstan.”

I leave behind some of the most intelligent, discerning young people who are poised to become the next leaders of a historically repressed country that I am confident has the desire and ambition to overcome it’s problems.
My expulsion from the country only verifies each and every point that I have witnessed over the past four years spent in Astana.”

Songs and cell phones in TURKMENISTAN

On June 6th 2012, Todays Zaman informed that Turkmenistan took home the gold in a language performance in Turkey. Ruslan Annamammedov was the winner of the annual Turkish language annual competition, which had 135 countries participate, in İstanbul. At the 10th Turkish Olympiads, Annamammedov stole the hearts of the judges by his singing of the song “Gülüm Benim”. The competition saw 1,500 international students flock to Turkey for the competition, which was organized by the International Turkish Education Association (TÜRKÇEDER) and followed the 2012 theme of “İnsanlık için el ele” (Hand-in-hand for humanity). Annamammedov must indeed be making his country very proud! Have you heard him sing yet?

From song to ring tone – at the end of May 2012, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) reported that Russia’s top mobile phone operator might well be returning to Turkmenistan. MTS is the “largest mobile operator in Russia and CIS” and was the first foreign mobile and web service provider in the country, connecting two million Turkmens to cell phones. However, due to a suspended license, it was forced out of Turkmenistan in December 2010. So, what makes MTS so special in the eyes of Turkmens? Well, for one – the 3G flash modems.

In February 2011, in response to MTS being shut out of the country, IWPR quoted one “happy customer”, who preferred MTS to Altyn Asyr (Turkmen state-run company):

MTS provided its subscribers with broadband wireless access to web resources from mobile terminals”.

In May 2012, IWPR informed:

“On May 3, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper quoted Vladimir Yevtushenkov, board chairman of the Sistema group, which includes the MTS company, as saying he reached verbal agreement on the resumption of operations at a meeting with Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov. Although nothing was put on paper, Yevtushenkov suggested MTS might be back up and running in Turkmenistan in “three to six months”.”

“One local student said he had hung onto his MTS SIM card in the hope of using it again one day, and now looked forward to using mobile web services as a “window on the world”".”

So, with Altyn Asyr apparently failing its customers with poor connection, let’s hope the 2.2% (of the five million population) Turkmen’s who are digitally connected will soon get better connection with MTS!

Overall media in CENTRAL ASIA 

Well, there you have it, a media and telecommunications update of Central Asia from the first half of 2012! Despite the disappointingly low ratings Central Asia sees in Freedom House’s 2012 Freedom of the Press Report – particularly Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – there have indeed been many media and online advancements worth noting and celebrating throughout the region, even in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan! In addition to the various setbacks and advancements mentioned in this post, there are certainly other stories regarding media happenings in the region surfacing everyday. So, if there’s an interesting story regarding media in the region you recently learned about, then feel free to share your comments with neweurasia and let us know what’s up in ‘your neck of the – Central Asian – woods’!

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