Chronicles of the IV Eurasian Media Forum
28/04/2005, Lev Skripin
Last week the IV Eurasian media forum was carried out in the Southern capital during three days.
Journalists, politicians, representatives of NGO, business and academic circles discussed the most relevant problems of modernity, directly or indirectly related with media activities.
It should be noted that the EAMF is a non-governmental organisation. It was founded in Kazakhstan 4 years ago.
The purposes of the forum are to promote a free and open dialogue on current problems of world development between politicians, journalists, and experts and to influence them from the side of media in the search of new ways to provide political stability and security in the region.
Dariga Nazarbayeva is the founder of the forum and the chairperson of its organisational committee.
An internationally famous journalist Riz Khan chaired the forum as well as the previous three. "As a representative of the TV journalism of both East and West, I am pleased to support this unique campaign, which efficiently involves media into the dialogue between East and West," - he said.
It's 8 AM, but the lobby of The Regent Ankara hotel is already full of people. Participants are being registered. The forum opening is planned at 9:20 AM. The participants go into a conference hall and the press goes to a special press room. Apart form some technical inconveniences (a lack of PCs, non-functioning headphones, impossibility to set personal PCs), the ceremony is about to begin.
The first one to deliver his address to participants is Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, who said that the main theme of the forum was to find a balance between the freedom of media and their moral responsibility before the society. "Globalisation opens a new post-ideological epoch in the history of humanity and it depends only on us what it will be. The new era of global availability and transparency of information raises demands to media and moral responsibility of press for each uttered word," - the president believes.
He views the forum as "a unique base for a dialogue and experience exchange on relevant issues of modernity," and as "a platform for an open dialogue and partnership."
The president believes that Kazakhstan that "finds itself on the crossroads between religions, ethnicities, and civilisations" as never before "needs stability of the state, interethnic accord, and security in the region." Especially now, when 3 CIS countries have been agitated by "colour revolutions." Media can help stabilise this situation if they collaborate with the state successfully.
Grigoriy Rapota, EurAsEC secretary general, noted the role of media in the economic integration of states and formation of the Common Economic Space.
"It is difficult to overestimate the role of media in the economic integration of states," - he said noting that noting that "formation of a common information space is among priorities in the integrating interaction between the EurAsEC member states."
According to G. Rapota, lately attention of the media community is attracted to the phenomenon of the so called, "revolutions of colour." In his view the origins of those revolutions lie in "basic problems of domestic economies," i.e. poverty and a lack of middle classes.
Among basic tasks of the EurAsEC G. Rapota also mentioned formation of the Customs Union and a common currency market, coordination of EurAsEC positions in the accession of its member states to the WTO, formation of a common transport space, a common credit institution to finance joint investment projects and co-operation in the agro-industrial complex.
The secretary general stressed that the solution of all these tasks "must be implemented in co-operation with media and we are extremely interested in it. We need an open, qualified evaluation of our community activities. We need a fresh look from outside, an unbiased analysis, a constructive dialogue," - he said.
Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, sent his welcome note to participants of the IV Eurasian Media Forum: "Your forum has already become an open and influential public tribune, at which current acute problems are discussed. A solidary position of media could play a unique role in their solution. Today assertion of common human values by media, confronting extremism and terrorism that are threatening the civilisation today, acquire especial significance. I believe that a constructive dialogue at the forum will further strengthen mutual understanding and trust when the Eurasian information space is formed on the basis of common humanist ideals."
Michael Golden, vice president of "New York Times Company," publisher of "International Herald Tribune" and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO secretary general, delivered their welcome speeches and wishes of fruitful work to the forum participants.
Dariga Nazarbayeva, founder of the forum and the chairperson of its organisational committee, concluded and summed up the forum opening part.
She observed: "Today our civilisation tends to understand itself, become conscious of itself through media and this circumstance gives us - professional journalists - special responsibilities. A word describing reality, multiplies by technique of electronic communications, becomes a much more expressive phenomenon, than the reality itself.
Media must realise that limits of what is allowed when terrorist acts are covered, whether it's moral or not to give terrorists who take hostages an opportunity to express themselves on air, whether or not we show too much violence on the TV screens seeking higher ratings. Media structures are literally outgrowing their previous significance and become a phenomenon requiring a new approach. Who knows maybe it is now that a mysterious transformation of world media into a prototype of the World Mind."
Journalists and politicians, public figures, and representatives of NGO from more than 40 countries discussed problems of coverage of terrorist acts and influence of the internet on the credibility of information.
Session 1: The problem of coverage of terrorist acts
Activities of terrorist groups is on the rise everywhere today, it takes unprecedented harsh and, sometimes, inhuman forms.
The significant growth of terrorist threat and violence and mobilisation of the world community against them pose natural new tasks for media, requiring a principled approach to the problem of coverage of the events, taking into account the exceptional responsibility of press in the era of global security.
What if media - TV in the first place - becomes accustomed to sensationalism, scandalous shots and frames, without leaving any space for a "sober," responsible analysis of reasons and consequences of the covered events?
How critical journalists can be towards authorities and steps taken by them to resolve these complicated critical situations? What is the danger of detailed attention of media towards broadcasted tragedies? Are media a part of the problem or a part of the solution?
What is the price of video addresses from hosts to the governments of their countries with political demands on behalf of their captors that have become a norm? Is the transmission of video materials provided by captors of hostages ethically justified? Do such acts of political blackmail, replicated by TV become a "legalised" propaganda of the cult of violence and probably a sort of encouragement for terrorists?
Nik Gowing, BBC presenter, Richard Perle, scientist from the American Enterprise Institute, and Vitaliy Tretyakov, chief editor of magazine "Political Class" and president of International Antiterrorist Media Forum among others tried to answer these questions.
The central idea of the forum session was "how to avoid becoming hostage of an event or instrumental for a government or a state? How to avoid increasing the number of victims, but to save lives instead?"
"Being a megaphone of democracy, we must define clearly whether we should or whether we should not give information about critical situations to the public. When events are covered, we should not forget about big media holdings and about terrorist themselves who possess monopoly for information as it happened in Iraq," - Nik Gowing, BBC presenter , said.
"The initial coverage of such big scale actions as a terrorist act have a big echo even after a few years, when frames are shown again and again. Therefore journalists and editors of media must always bear in mind how such events should be covered. Not always there is a possibility to change something," - says Richard Perle, scientist from the American Enterprise Institute. - "Often media know everything about the nature and possible consequences of a terrorist act before it is committed. Terrorists themselves "invite" media to cover their terrorist acts. They seek to influence media as well as the government. Here we should speak about how much media are sensitive towards violence with which terrorism is related."
Although it is impossible to predict a situation and a possible behaviour during the terrorist act in advance, Vitaliy Tretyakov, chief editor of magazine "Political Class" and president of International Antiterrorist Media Forum says: "Nobody can say in advance how an authority is going to act when a thousand persons are taken as hostages. They say that the situation should be controlled. I don't understand it. Life must be the first item on the agenda, an opportunity to save hostages, not the freedom of journalists to inform the society about what is going on. If my family or your family is taken as hostages then all rights are abolished.
You will not care about the freedom of speech and in what manner somebody informs others about your condition. Only terrorists are in control when there is a terrorist act. I am categorically against any interviews taken from terrorists before the terrorist acts are committed, or any information about what they are going to do or about their programme. When a terrorist act occurs, nobody will find any universal answers about how to behave anywhere. Some information can save a life, other information cannot. We will not know it before the information is circulated. But the main thing is to try to rescue people. And then everybody should case away ambitions and work together".
Session 2: "Taming" of the internet
Influence of the internet is growing because information and electronic technologies are embracing a growing geographic area and masses of users in the developed and developing world countries.
The excessiveness and variety of information sources and subjects in the internet creates a new powerful rival for traditional media. What dangers and opportunities the internet has for traditional media?
Julian Sher, founder of JournalismNet.org, expert in internet journalism, shared his experience of "taming" the Net, spoke about internet opportunities in journalism and analysed the problem of untrustworthy sources of information in the World Wide Web.
"The internet can be an important tool for protection of human rights and democracy. But it can become dangerous, misinforming, and manipulating. Sometimes journalists find themselves in places where post offices don't work. At the same time one can send and receive important information through the internet. It makes the journalist work easier, which is good. But journalists must know how to handle the World Wide Web, how to analyse and select. Lately the internet has been overcome by a wave of terrorist zines with information on terrorist acts and by untrustworthy sources. A journalist must realise the danger and possible consequences of using such information. Convenient search systems are blind robots, which don't make distinctions between truth and lies, between propaganda and trustworthy news. It must be done by a journalist. Internet does not make silly people cleverer, it makes an intelligent journalist more intelligent and a silly one even sillier."
Several plenary sessions dedicated to the most relevant political and social problems of modernity were carried out during the last, third day of the Forum.
Session 1: The problem of coverage of HIV/AIDS
The spread of HIV/AIDS is one of the most painful and fastest growing threats of modernity. The HIV/AIDS problem takes on a global scale now, it grows territorially embracing a growing number of people.
The session participants especially noted its spread in such territorially and demographically huge countries as China and India.
The number of people with AIDS is growing each day.
The role of media in this regard is especially important. However, the character of the coverage of the AIDS problem should be changed cardinally. The discussion participants were sure that often it is exactly media that spread panic and provoke negative attitude of the society instead of helping to resolve the problem.
Apart from materials threatening public and creating negative attitudes to the infected or ill people media are also often accused of "insufficient imagination" or courage for starting a wide discussion on new aspects of the problem, its resignation before the audience overfed and tired of the AIDS theme and simply ignoring it.
What are real opportunities of media as one of the most important potential levers for the prevention of the disease in the epoch when HIV/AIDS is a growing threat?
Dr Issidora Yerassilova, Director-General of Kazakhstan's Republican Centre for AIDS Prevention and Control, believes that "the problem of people with AIDS is the attitude of the society to them."
"There are more than 5,000 HIV infected people in Kazakhstan, but this is official statistics. There are more of them in reality. We should overcome and change our attitude to people with AIDS. I think that media should write and make programmes about AIDS. Specialised training for journalists, including editors should be carried out, so that they can better contribute to public understanding, together with government information campaigns. The existing programmes are broadcasted in non-prime time on TV. Programmes aiming specially at youth should be created."
Two important sides of the problem were touched upon during the discussion: the spread of infection among drug addicts and prostitutes.
"The prostitution problem has its place in the republic. A big quantity of diseases is transmitted through them. The prostitution is not persecuted by the law in Kazakhstan. According to official data there are 20 thousand prostitutes in the republic. We carry out preventive measures, cover them in media, give out free preservatives, educate. But we work only with prostitutes not with their clients," - Issidora Yerassilova said.
Alexander Shatalov, founder of Russia's Glagol Publishing House, said: "I believe the mass media are guilty to a great extent: we need to pay much more attention to the questions of treatment, the root causes of the crisis and the spread of the disease among drug addicts and sexual minorities."
Session chairman Jim Laurie, Executive Producer of FocusAsiaTV, Hong Kong, summed up: "Openness is the key to dealing with the HIV crisis."
"The issue of sexual minorities, ignoring them by society will lead to putting all blame on them, which will make these minorities responsible for the problem instead of the whole society. Thus, the problem will not be resolved, as you understand."
Session 2: Phenomenon of Arabic media
Arabic media - is it a geographic, political, religious, culturological, or mental notion? Participants of a round table dedicated to the phenomenong of Arabic media tried to answer that question.
Lately the subject of Arabic media and culture has resurfaced in the world. The world speaks about a new phenomenon - Middle Eastern media, which remained in shadow before the Iraqi campaign.
Now these media, with their high level of presenting information, compete with Western media on equal terms. The world is worried about it. Moreover, such big media structures as Al Jazeera and other Arabic TV channels, move into programming in English and other channels draw up expansion plans.
Who is likely to emerge victorious in the struggle for global television audiences and journalistic credibility?
Akram Khouzam, Moscow bureau chief, Al-Jazeera channel, thinks that there is no notion of "Arab media" at all. All media are different in 57 Islamic countries. There is no unifying idea. "However there are common problems, the most serious one being the attitude towards democracy. I am saddened to recognise, as an Arab, that users of electronic media could not see what other media showed. They all saw just one colour. There was a president, owber of all media. He was shown for 25 out of 30 minute news. You think it's normal?"
Now in all tendencies changed with globalisation. Middle East people receive information, but the agenda also changes. "The majority of Arab media have anti-American attitudes and the USA is not happy about it."
The discussion went on to counteraction against America, which according to Al Jazeera Moscow bureau chief is justified, as long as Americans occupied Iraq.
Session 3: Phenomenon of colour revolutions on post-Soviet space
The so-called Rose Revolution in Georgia and Orange Revolution in Ukraine rightly received extensive media coverage. International and regional media also had to report on the complicated election campaign in Kyrgyzstan and Moldova.
These unprecedented actions had a wide public resonance and influenced the society at large. And it is very easy to get mistaken in evaluation and definition of priorities. Now, when some time has passed, it is easier to evaluate the situation even despite the fact that media were a powerful weapon for influencing the masses.
Irina Gerashenko, Spokesperson for the President of Ukraine, believes that mass media are a way to protect existing authorities and object to manipulations. She evaluated the political situation on the eve of the revolution in Ukraine as a situation in which leading media were suppressed by the authorities.
"Media allowed themselves to misuse and give a negative hue to many words. For example, the word "patriot" had a chauvinist character. Media even worked for a split in the country, showing propaganda placards and clips on TV. It is inadmissible."
Malhaz Gulashvili, President of Georgian Times Media Holding, Leader of the "Georgia, Go Ahead!" public movement, shared his vision of media activities in Georgia, when the opposition was supported by 1 TV company, 1 radio station, 2 big newspapers.
However he also recounted how the attitude towards media changed when the yesterday opposition took power. "Under pressure of the new authorities 3 TV channels and 6 newspapers were shut down. Owners and journalists of other media were suspended in a condition defined by the US state department as "self-censorship." During the first few months following the "Rose Revolution" all popular TV talk shows were closed," - Malhaz Gulashvili said.
Solemn closure of the forum
Dariga Nazarbayeva, founder of the forum and the chairperson of its organisational committee, spoke at the solemn closure of the IV Eurasian Media Forum.
Generally all journalists and politicians, participating in this big event, remained pleased with the event.
The forum that gathered journalists from 40 world countries gave an opportunity to colleagues to discuss the most relevant problems of modernity. The only thing that many wished to change was its length.
"So that there would be enough time for discussions," - as Michael Golden, vice president of "New York Times Company," publisher of "International Herald Tribune" , said.
He also hopes that even more media will be represented at the next EAMF and that there will be equal participation, i.e. that representatives of not only Asian, but also European media will arrive.