Economic Journalism Driving Democratic Debate



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.

That is the point of organizing press tours like the one Tsoi joined, said Nadezhda Dobretsova, head of the Development Policy Institute (DPI), which has coordinated several press tours for Bishkek economic journalists with CIPE funding. Dobretsova’s vision for DPI began in 1992 when she herself was working as a business journalist.

“Economic journalism is the search, analysis, and presentation of information that is done in such a way that any person can make a well-informed decision about how to defend their own economic interests. In other words, economic journalism is a weapon against poverty,” said Dobretsova.

Since then, and with CIPE supportĀ in recent years, DPI has formalized the approach, bringing dozens of journalists to remote areas of mountainous Kyrgyzstan to witness regional economic concerns and opportunities. From those trips, journalists have published scores of online and print articles that capture Kyrgyzstan’s economic condition and inform debates like that over the Eurasian Economic Union.

In addition to the press tours conducted with CIPE support, DPI also organized press sessions with experts on economic themes in its Bishkek offices. The seminars, often devoted to complex themes, gave journalists a chance to both learn on the job and gather material for future stories.

“They had a press session on electricity tariffs recently,” recalled reporter Yevgenia Lim of the Ozodogon internet-based news service. “This is a complicated subject and most journalists just cover this in a superficial way. DPI put together a seminar that really dug into the subject.”

Frank Brown is Program Officer for Eurasia at CIPE.