Media plays important role in raising public awareness about religious issues and countering radicalism, yet the coverage should be responsible and objective, as was spoken at the conference.
Participants also emphasized that public authorities, civil society, experts and media should work together, support each other in order to effectively counter extremist propaganda.
Participants were experienced journalists and media experts of Europe and Russia, who shared their knowledge on how the media can improve its coverage of topics related to radicalism, extremism or a purely religious situation; recommendations to reporters were given.
The one-day conference on The Role of Media in Anti-Extremism Policies in Kyrgyzstan with the participation of international media experts was organized by the OSCE Centre in Bishkek in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, Information and Tourism of the Kyrgyz Republic, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), with the assistance of the Media Policy Institute, Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and Internews Network in the Kyrgyz Republic.
It was attended by representatives of government agencies, civil society, experts, theologians, media executives and journalists, teachers, students. Media professionals from the southern region were special guests.
The conference discussed the role of media in the creation of messages alternative to radical extremist discourse and the promotion of tolerance, the role and responsibility of media in countering violent extremism: ethical challenges. In addition, the conference covered the laws in the field of countering extremism: challenges and opportunities for the media sector.
The conference was followed by two master classes: the journalist of BBC Nick Thorpe shared his experiences and thoughts on the ethics of covering issues of violent extremism, and the forensic expert based in Russia Elizaveta Koltunova told about the peculiarities of psychological linguistic examination of extremist materials to lawyers, theologians, linguists and other Kyrgyz experts.
The main objective of the conference was to create a platform to discuss mechanisms of cooperation between the media, civil society and public authorities in countering extremism, which is one of the important directions of the Concept of the state policy in the religious area for 2014-2020.
As part of the Concept, in August 2015 the Ministry of Culture, Information and Tourism, the State Commission for Religious Affairs, GKNB, Interior Ministry and other government agencies developed together the media plan to raise public awareness in the religious field and countering propaganda of extremism and radicalism. The State Commission for Religious Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic said that as part of this media plan media outlets can interact with relevant government agencies and provide assistance to each other, as needed.
Speaking at the conference, deputy director of the State Commission for Religious Affairs Zakir Chotaev emphasized the important role of media in the issue of religious education of people and in countering extremist propaganda, but particularly noted that journalists have to play this role professionally, responsibly, objectively and accurately.
Chotaev stressed out that reporters needed to study relevant legislation thoroughly and to take into account that Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, that the state and public authorities guarantee equal treatment of all religious organizations and that “only in case of violations of the law, measures shall be taken against such violations or crimes [committed] that fall within the concept of radicalism and extremism.”
“Therefore, media, our journalists have to consider these very principles and work under the current laws in order to provide correct, objective information and eliminate the propaganda of destructive views, eliminate prejudice, and also not to distort the events, which may cause tension in the society, which can cause intolerant attitude to different representatives of various social groups on religion, ethnic background and so on,” Zakir Chotaev said. “In this case, it is necessary that the media, when providing important, timely information, doesn’t distort events and doesn’t create conditions for destabilization, and sometimes panic, i.e. improper or incorrect coverage of an event can lead to panic in our country.”
Chotaev added that timely and objective coverage plays an important role in providing information to the citizens of our country, in a timely decision-making and response to certain problems that we see or that occur in our country.
“In fact, currently even public authorities see all the events occurring in Kyrgyzstan through the media. Active and important work of the representatives of media outlets helps us respond properly and resolve quickly some problems arising in the religious area or arising in countering radicalism and extremism in our country,” deputy director of the state commission for religious affairs Zakir Chotaev emphasized the significance of media.
Ainura Temirbekova, Deputy Minister of Culture, Information and Tourism of the Kyrgyz Republic, called attention to the fact that due to the rapid development of internet and mobile technologies, the propaganda of radical ideas takes new forms; it has become more accessible and is actively spreading especially among young people. She also noted that blocking of websites, services and applications does not give the desired results.
“Purely police measures countering these ideologies and prohibition of dissemination of certain information, as the experience of many countries shows, have only temporary effect. Most often, governments, prohibiting and restricting, for example, internet, have the illusion that everything is under control. But this, unfortunately, often does not reflect the reality,” Temirbekova spoke at the conference. “Because it is impossible to stop the dissemination of information in the modern world technically. Otherwise, citizens should be deprived of access to mobile communication and new communications means in general, but if the government takes such measures, they will be followed by global technical and social lag, decline. It’s useless to block access to dozen or a hundred websites containing extremist information, since it will be copied by thousands of mirror websites.”
Deputy Minister suggested that a substantive response should be given to extremist ideas, which would be the best way to counter them.
“Lies can only be destroyed by dissemination of true, objective information. And the role of the media is invaluable here. Not only traditional media, such as TV, newspapers and magazines, but also various types of electronic online media should be involved in active counter-propaganda, as well as social networks, the blogosphere, and so on,” Ainura Temirbekova added.
Speaking on appropriate and deliberate measures in countering extremism, Acting Director of the OSCE Centre in Bishkek Nana Baramidze urged not to forget about the basic human rights and freedoms, that measures that illegally restrict or discriminate the rights lead to even more radicalization and intolerance.
Baramidze said it would be “extremely important for the government to hold public consultations with participation of all members of society in order to develop security measures.”
“International experience shows that the states deal with the threat of extremism more efficiently when they don’t act alone, but join their efforts with public agencies, civil society and media. It is necessary to use the potential of media to promote the free dialogue and open discussion of existing problems, educate the public on the threats of intolerance and violence, and promote respect for the rights of others,” Acting Director of the OSCE Centre in Bishkek Nana Baramidze emphasized.
“Taking into account the decisive role of media in spreading knowledge and information, it is essential that media outlets themselves promote accurate, objective, professional and ethical information, as long as freedom in a democratic society means responsibility,” Nana Baramidze added.
Speaking about the responsibility of media in covering such delicate issues, director of Internews Network representative office Elina Karakulova warned state agencies from interfering in the activities of the media, censoring, saying that the media community, editors themselves need to regulate the issues of quality improvement of coverage and to develop appropriate standards.
Russian expert Dmitry Golovanov highlighted some approaches to be taken as the basis for considering the legal regulation of the concept of extremism. These are declarations, conventions, resolutions of UN, OSCE, PACE and SCO. “For instance, the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Countering Violent Extremism says that extremism should not be used as the basis for restricting freedom of expression. This is important not only for journalists and media community, but also for all those people who are committed to the principle of freedom of speech and expression,” expert Dmitry Golovanov noted.
Link to the presentation by Dmitry Golovanov: Current Trends in Laws on Countering Extremism, in Development of Law Enforcement Practice.
Director of Media Policy Institute Begaim Usenova admitted that today there are two different opinions on the coverage of extremism – governmental agencies think that media are not responsible and professional enough to cover issues, whereas journalists complain about the restriction of information in this regard by law enforcement agencies and other government agencies. Usenova said that only cooperation and discussions, attempts to find a common solution for state bodies, media community and civil society at large can be the right solution to this misunderstanding.
“We also note some difficulties in understanding the mission and role of media in countering extremism. In 2012-2014, Ferghana.ru and Kloop.kg websites were blocked in violation of the law, without any judicial decision. In 2015, the Media Policy Institute, together with government agencies and other civil society organizations (CIIP, Association of Telecom Operators) developed a package of bills that provided for the expedited court proceedings of allegedly extremist materials, and provided for a temporary restriction of access to information containing signs of extremism as an interim remedy for three to five days. This kind of cooperation becomes more successful because of discussions and reduced risks,” Director of Media Policy Institute Begaim Usenova said.
Also Begaim Usenova noted that discussion should be launched on the inclusion of the definition of “extremism” into the Kyrgyz law on countering extremism activities.
Link to the presentation by Begaim Usenova: Analysis of Kyrgyz Laws Countering Extremism.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO JOURNALISTS
At the conference, IWPR contributor Maria Zozulya presented a code of recommendations to media workers working on anti-terrorist operations. The code was developed by participants of the training “Reporting on extremism and international terrorism”. It is based on standards of the BBC Broadcasting Corporation and adapted to local realities.
- your life is more valuable than any material
- keep in mind those for whom you are doing your job and how they will perceive it
- do not interfere with the work of law enforcement agencies
- work only in the uncordoned area; in the area available to the public (primarily, for own safety)
- do not disclose the location of law enforcement agencies and details of the special operation in progress
- do not carry arms, do not wear camouflage and other elements associated with the security agencies
- watch your behavior
- provide information responsibly and professionally, do not spread panic
- never provide a platform to extremists, terrorists and propagandists of prohibited ideas
- do not stigmatize people on religious grounds and its attributes
Forensic expert based in Russia, professional linguist Elizaveta Koltunova reminded that journalists should not forget about their responsibility for the words they use to cover such delicate issues and that they should have synonyms and earlier developed phrases in place. This is necessary for media not to violate the law in the future and not to bend the perception of the audience.
NARRATIVES, ALTERNATIVE NARRATIVES AND COUNTERNARRATIVES IN KYRGYZ MEDIA
Regional Director of IWPR for Central Asia Abakhon Sultonnazarov said that projects in the media focused on improvement of religious education and extremism countering need to be consistent and long-term since one-time and event-oriented publications may not have a major impact on the audience. Also all available methods, forms and technologies must be used – internet, mobile services must be used for the young and urban audiences; television, radio, newspapers must be used for adult and rural audiences.
The narrative, i.e. consistent, structured approach to covering religion, extremism, terrorism issues was discussed much at the conference. Participants also spoke about alternative narratives (the need to live in the spirit of tolerance, observe the laws, keep traditions and values in mind) and counternarratives, i.e. discrediting, destroying and demystifying the extremist ideology.
Simon Haselock, a British media expert, director of Albany Associates, said that the narrative is one of the most effective tools to counter radical propaganda. In his presentation for the Kyrgyz journalists, the expert explained that ordinary people share stories willingly if they have heard them elsewhere. Journalists can become stable providers of such interesting stories that eventually could serve as a narrative.
In this regard, Haselock said, one needs to talk with ordinary people, listen to their stories, their life stories, find interesting trends, processes among ordinary people, tell other people, same as the protagonists, about them. It would be more interesting, more perceivable and memorable than interviews of any officials or experts. Thus, the narrative should explain complicated issues, processes, yet in a very comprehensible, interesting and memorable way, and, critically, in a consistent manner.
Link to the presentation by Simon Haselock: Types of Alternative Discourses; Successful Cases of Creation of Alternative Discourses in Foreign Media and NGOs
From January to June 2016, the Expert Consulting Agency monitored 7 leading news websites (Zanoza.kg, azattyk.org, kloop.kg, akipress.org, 24.kg, kabarlar.org and yntymak.kg) for signs of narratives in publications and found that only 9.6% of the total number of materials covered alternative discourse as part of countering extremism.
The coauthor of monitoring said that the majority of alternative narratives and counternarratives were found in the publications by Zanoza, 24.kg and Radio Azattyk.
The monitoring covered the Kyrgyz segment of the two most popular social networks: Facebook.com and Odnoklassniki.ru.
“In social networks (Facebook and Odnoklassniki) no boards discussing topics that contain counternarrative ideas have been identified. Among the communities found to contain alternative content, boards that discuss or explain the basics of religion prevailed,” Aigul Bakirova, co-author of the monitoring, said at the presentation.
Link to the presentation of findings: Experience of Kyrgyzstan in Developing Alternative Discourses in the Media Sphere.
HOW FACEBOOK DEALS WITH SPREAD OF EXTREMIST INFORMATION
Ankhi Das, Head of Public Policy for Facebook Inc. in India and South and Central Asia, based in New Delhi, said in the video conference about the measures taken by the social network team to counter the spread of prohibited information.
Das said that the best assistants in this issue are primarily Facebook users – they are the first to report posts, links and comments containing extremism propaganda, and reported posts and their authors get blocked immediately. Also the Facebook Team monitors the content of posts and takes measures in cases of dispute.
Ankhi Das noted that Facebook does more than that to counter extremism. The corporation spends money on research about effective methods of countering radicalism and, for example, it works with a number of NGOs, by providing them with a platform, a board for counter-extremism activities. Also, Facebook is funding the organization of various lectures and discussion forums for young people on the inadmissibility of expressions of sympathy for radical, extremist ideas. The social network collaborates with about 50 universities in the region on this issue.
The participants of the Role of Media in Anti-Extremism Policies in Kyrgyzstan Conference came to understanding that multiformat cooperation and mutual support between media, government agencies, civil society, experts and other specialists are needed. This event helped build bridges, discuss urgent issues and shape further cooperation.