It was my father, Kystaubai Baituov, now deceased, who inspired me to become a journalist. He was a talented writer who worked for many years for various Kazak-language newspapers. My mother Jamila Baituova worked as a deputy human resources director for a big construction company and is now retired.
I was born in 1973 in the city of Taraz in southern Kazakstan. I had my first experience as a journalist when I was 11. I still remember how surprised I was to see my article about the life of a war veteran published in Kostyor, the official magazine for the Soviet Pioneers youth movement. It had a massive circulation, with millions copies distributed in all the Soviet republics.
My story was about a man who won many awards for fighting in the Second World War but, now an old man, was sleeping on the streets. The fact that it was published was one surprise; a month later the city authorities found housing for the man. Looking back, I realise that this experience, together with the example my father set, was instrumental in my eventual choice of profession.
What really brings me satisfaction is using one’s writing skills to help protect the rights of others.
There was no doubt in my mind when after school, I went to Kazakstan’s Al-Farabi University to study in the faculty of journalism. After graduating, I got a job as a news editor at the regional TV station. But it was a state-run media outlet, a mouthpiece for the regional administration, and the management censored out alternative points of view.
Disillusioned, I left to join the only opposition newspaper in southern Kazakstan, Region Yug. But I became deeply frustrated as this newspaper was at the opposite extreme.
It was at this crossroads in my life, in 2000, that I joined the network of IWPR contributors in Kazakstan. IWPR training gave me a real understanding of what international standards of journalism mean, and everything I learned about reporting being unbiased, balanced and clear has an appeal for me.
My first article for IWPR was about the state of media freedom in southern Kazakstan where I drew attention to the official pressure on the few critical outlets, and the widespread practice of self-censorship. Since then, I have contributed on a regular basis with pieces on social issues, human rights and media freedom.
In 2007, a report I wrote for IWPR called Kazak HIV Scare Reveals Broader Healthcare Problems won first prize in a national online journalism competition. The awards were made under a programme funded by the World Bank and the UK development agency DFID and went to reporting that contributed to overcoming stigma, discrimination and ignorance about HIV/AIDs.
In 2005, my report Kazak Women Sold as Sex Slaves won third prize in a journalism competition organised by the Kazak-European Foundation for Legal Research and Innovations. I was pleased with the award as I had worked hard on the story, in close cooperation with rights activists. NGO and media coverage of the issue led to the successful prosecution of a people-trafficker.
That same year, I set up the Jambyl Media Centre, which provides training courses and seminars for local journalists.
I am proud to be part of an organisation like IWPR that talks about human rights through the stories of ordinary people, and shows that their voices matter.