By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Standing up for freedom of the press in Kazakhstan

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Click to watch documentary at Al Jazeera English

Yevgeniya Plakhina, a young media activist from Kazakhstan whom I met at a conference in that country’s largest city, Almaty, in 2009, is asking supporters of free and independent journalism to sign a petition on behalf of her former newspaper, Respublika. She writes:

Unfortunately, Kazakhstan is passing through “Turkmenization” phase, and after events in Zhanaozen where local police opened fire at peaceful demonstration our government tries to close down all the remaining critical media (please, find details in the text of the petition), including Respublika newspaper where I used work for several years. We are seeking support from our colleagues overseas to demonstrate solidarity with Kazakh journalists. If you can, please, sign or share this petition ( with your colleagues, maybe they’ll be willing and able to support us. Thank you for your help!

You can learn a lot more about media repression in Kazakhstan by watching a documentary about Respublika, “The Fight to Publish” (above), which was broadcast last spring on Al Jazeera English. Among other things, you’ll see a Respublika journalist covering shootings in Zhanaozen.

Despite my skepticism that any more than a handful of people are going to watch the new Al Jazeera America, this is why it’s important that it be available — as old friend Rory O’Connor points out in the Huffington Post.

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  1. Mike Benedict

    Muslims are, depending on the study, either the fastest or second-fastest growing religion in the US today. No doubt a large part of that is thanks to immigration, whereby the immigrants likely will bring to the US their cultural preferences, including their choice for news. One problem Al Gore and his network ran into was a near-total lack of marketing. To the contrary, Al Jazeera has in its favor a (positive) brand identity among many of said immigrants.

    That said, there likely is an inherent bias against AJ among white bible-thumpers.

    If AJ takes a BBC approach to reporting the news, there’s a place for it here, and it will probably pick up more of a market than BBC has. (Which isn’t saying much.)

  2. “…skepticism that any more than a handful of people are going to watch the new Al Jazeera America…” This sounds like the game of lowering expectations. Overall, the commentary on the ownership of Current TV has been more an expression of anti-Arab bias, similar to the pandering disbelief that the USA could ever possibly elect a President with a name like Barack Hussein Obama. And imagine the audacity of Al Jazeera to air Bin Laden’s tapes and show bloody pictures from Gaza. Shocking! America has rarely been very worldly. (Thanks for the references above.)

  3. I have been arguing for years…and with senior US-based AJE employees…that AJE has fundamentally misread the American media language in their obsessive quest for more cable TV penetration. IMHO, they look at Fox News and MSNBC and think that’s where the influence is, not realizing that it is really where the echo chamber is, and AJE doesn’t have enough of a base audience to survive on an echo chamber. Quite the opposite, actually.

    Now admittedly I’m a little biased here, but I think even objectively it would make a lot more sense for AJE to create their own version of the BBC World Service *radio* product and make it available to all public radio stations via the PRSS ContentDepot satellite delivery system that all NPR affiliates use.

    Part of the key to this strategy would, admittedly, require some major changes to AJE’s operating strategy:

    1. They’d have to provide a non-commercial feed. (AJE currently has commercials)

    2. They’d have to adhere to the standard NPR/BBC-WS hourly clock for breaks, etc. This can mean a lot of extra work behind-the-scenes, but it’s far from impossible. If the BBC-WS can learn to love the clock, I’m sure AJE can, too.

    3. They’ll have to accept that, at first, nobody is going to air AJE 24/7. So they’ll want to create a “news hour” product that’s designed to air at strategic times that USA affiliates will start with. That’s sort-of what they’re doing with their Pacifica Radio partnership, but that’s not an ideal situation…they’re still in a place where Pacifica has to download the program, edit it for time and to remove commercials, and then re-distribute it…a process that takes a lot of time for a breaking news service.

    4. Most importantly: they need to understand that TV is no longer the place for the thinking man’s journalism. That exists only in radio (and IMHO, really only in public radio, with a handful of exceptions) and on the web. That’s a sea-change of thinking that undoubtedly will be a bitter pill to swallow.

    Mind you, I don’t think they need to *abandon* their TV product, any more than the BBC World Service has abandoned TV. But the BBC didn’t get a foothold in America until public radio stations started airing it en masse during their excellent reporting from the First Persian Gulf War. AJE missed a golden opportunity with the Arab Spring to provide a radio news project that dozens of NPR affiliates would’ve eaten up and, quite possibly, kept airing even after the “breaking news” aspect of the Arab Spring died down. After all, AJE is more than a little biased when it comes to Qatar specifically (much like how the BBC-WS tends to be more than a little biased when it comes to England) but otherwise it’s an excellent source of international news.

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