When Maxim Tsoi, a journalist for the Kyrgyzstan newspaper Vecherny Bishkek, made the four-hour drive last spring to the town of Talas on the border with Kazakhstan, he was expecting to gather some local color to illustrate provincial life for readers in the capital city. What Tsoi came away with was a little different. After interviewing local bean farmers, customs officials, and border guards, he had material for a story on the pros and cons of Kyrgyzstan joining the Eurasian Economic Union.
The issue of whether Kyrgyzstan should join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, which so far includes Kazakhstan and Belarus, is a source of frequent debate in Bishkek. Membership in the Union has significant implications for the country’s political and economic elites. In the border town, Tsoi found farmers in favor of joining the Union and getting privileged access to new markets. Local resellers of Chinese imports, however, were opposed since they would be facing new tariffs.
“Most of media outlets here in the capital only write about what happens in the capital. So, the material from these trips is quite interesting to everyone, to the journalists and to the readers,” said Tsoi in an interview from Bishkek.
Today is World Press Freedom Day — a day for celebrating the vital role that a free media plays in democracy.
With journalists and media institutions increasingly under attack — both in conflict zones like Syria and in places like Hungary that were once considered consolidated democracies — in 2013 it is more important than ever to focus on the role that the media plays in a free society. While almost 40 percent of the world’s population now lives in a “free” democracy, just one in six live in societies with a fully free media, according to Freedom House’s most recent Freedom of the Press rankings. Freedom cannot be sustained without a strong, independent, inquisitive, and open media environment.
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.
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Informed and educated citizens are an important part of a thriving democracy. When citizens are well-informed and equipped with facts and independent analysis, they can better engage in the policymaking process at every level to keep the government honest, responsible, and accountable to its constituents.
Kyrgyzstan has a relatively free media compared to other Central Asian countries. However, good information on business and economic issues is scarce in Kyrgyzstan. Typically, available materials are written in professional jargon and not easily understood by average citizens or by journalists. Journalists lack the knowledge of basic market concepts and the benefits of market-oriented economic reforms.
CIPE’s partner, the Kyrgyz Stock Exchange Press Club (KSEPC) engaged and educated journalists from different regions to improve economic and business reporting in Kyrgyzstan. To help journalists better understand crucial market-related issues, KSEPC published a 76-page practical manual (in Russian and Kyrgyz) for economic journalists concentrating on basic information regarding key economic sectors.
Participants in last year’s economic journalism training program.
From Astana to Tashkent, approximately 80 Central Asian media and business representatives will gather in Bishkek on October 11th for a two-day conference aimed at strengthening reporting on economic and business-related issues. Presenters will include experts from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine, who will offer lessons learned and best practices to develop the field of economic journalism and facilitate effective cooperation and information exchange between media and business.
The topics are timely and relevant, given Freedom House’s 2012 Freedom in the World Report which ranks four of the five Central Asian states among the least free countries in the world, with only Kyrgyzstan improving its ranking from last year. Even after more than twenty years of post-Soviet independence, the region still faces major challenges to its transition to a market-based democracy.
Pakistan’s market for print and broadcast media grew phenomenally during the past decade. There are about 1000 daily, weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines, of which around 142 are recognized as regular newspapers. These newspapers are published in Urdu, English and regional languages. As far as broadcast media is concerned, there are over 50 TV channels of which 15 are news channels. Recently, the number of women economic journalists has increased, though the number is still insignificant.