Writing for Economic Freedom in Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan’s capital city of Bishkek hosted more than 100 Eurasian journalists and economic experts for a two-day conference on the emerging field of economic journalism. The CIPE/NED-funded event entitled “Economic Journalism as a Factor and Indicator for Market Economic Development” took place on October 11-12 and was the first of its kind, with participants from all five Central Asian countries. Organized and moderated by the Bishkek-based Development Policy Institute, the event fostered greater cross-border and cross-sectoral dialogue on economic and business-related issues.

Nursulu Ahmetova, a representative from the Kyrgyz president’s office, opened the conference by stressing the importance of expanding access to economic-related information for all citizens. Ahmetova cited lack of information as one of the major causes of endemic poverty in the region. “It is imperative that the media convey economic topics in a clear and understandable way,” she said. Mass media can make a difference in improving the standard of living as it empowers citizens to make more informed decisions about their financial situation or business-related activities.

Sergey Ponomarev from the Kyrgyz Association of Markets, Trade and Services emphasized in his presentation that journalists who report on economic issues are unique and greatly needed in the region. He also spoke about the potential for greater partnership between business associations and mass media to further economic development. CIPE Senior Program Officer Elena Suhir focused on the essential role journalists play in market economies and democracies, citing Thomas Jefferson’s well-known statement: “Information is the currency of democracy.”

CIPE Moscow representative Alexander Raevsky spoke on the role of business associations in formulating opinions and analysis on economic topics for mass media. “Media and business associations share the same goal: osveshcheniye (enlightenment) and prosveshcheniye (education),” he said. He suggested that business associations build platforms for dialogue with the media and develop strategies to provide the media with timely information on pressing issues.

Nadya Dobretsova, DPI’s Executive Director, presented her content analysis of press media in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United States. The number of articles on economic issues increased in all four countries during the two-year study. In particular, the number of such articles in the Kyrgyz press doubled between 2010 and 2012. However, Dobretsova’s analysis also showed that the number of authors writing on economic topics in Kyrgyzstan is less than in the other three countries, thus confirming the need for economic journalism programs in the region.

The conference addressed that need by bringing together media and business representatives to share ideas on how to expand economic journalism, promote dialogue between business and media, and strengthen economic development. Participants from both sectors gained a greater understanding of their crucial role in providing the public with objective, informed analysis that will further market economic and democratic transitions in the region. As the presenter from the Belarusian business community declared, “You have to fight for economic freedom; it isn’t given to you.”

Bobbie Jo Traut is Program Officer for Eurasia at CIPE.

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