Central Asia: Dec ‘10/Jan '11

Reputation for accuracy and independence behind big rise in subscription to Central Asian news analysis agency.

Central Asia: Dec ‘10/Jan '11

Reputation for accuracy and independence behind big rise in subscription to Central Asian news analysis agency.

Wednesday, 16 February, 2011

There has been a huge increase in demand for reports published by IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia, NBCA, which provide regional media and activist groups with analysis of developments in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, both of which are closed societies where foreign media and NGOs are not allowed to operate.

Central Asians and international observers who want to know what is happening in these countries find it hard to get an objective picture. They are either bombarded with official propaganda, or material from opposition sources that tends towards anti-government rhetoric.

Since its launch in 2006, NBCA, published in four languages (English, Russian, Uzbek and Turkmen), has been building up a reputation as one of the few sources of independent, balanced information on human rights, economic and political conditions in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

NBCA was conceived as a news analysis and comment service drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region.

Demand for NBCA stories – published on IWPR’s website and disseminated to subscribers via email – has mushroomed in the last year. Over a ten-month period from April 2010, NBCA stories were republished 3,012 times. Some 900 reports were republished by regional media and activist groups just in January 2011, compared with 140 the same month last year.

The year-on-year increase is attributable to an upsurge in interest from blogs, social networking sites and civil society groups, and in particular the NBCA team’s concerted efforts to expand email subscriptions.

Western broadcasters such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, RFE/RL, and the BBC World Service have followed up on themes covered in NBCA reports.

According to Hakimjon Hasanov, web editor of RFE/RL’s Uzbek-language service Ozodlik, "We mainly focus on an interesting fact taken from these [IWPR] reports and carry out an investigation of our own," he said.

Following an NBCA article on the persecution of Christians in Uzbekistan, the BBC contacted people interviewed by IWPR for its own report on the difficulties facing the community. The challenges facing minorities living on both sides of the Uzbek-Turkmen border was raised in another BBC report after NBCA carried an item on the subject.

The respected Bishkek-based web news agency CA-News regularly features IWPR output in its analysis and comment section. Last year, its website republished 140 out of total of 170 NBCA reports produced.

"We like the issues raised in your reports and their quality, as it is very difficult to get analytical articles giving an overview of developments in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan," CA-News director Alina Saginbaeva said.

IWPR reports are also popular both with media outlets and information networks run by rights activists in Central Asia.

The Turkmen website Gündogar, run by opposition activists based in Europe, re-published all the IWPR reports on Turkmenistan last year. A staff member who wished to remain anonymous said he valued NBCA’s insights into domestic political developments in this closed state.

"I received most of my information on the situation in Turkmenistan from your articles," he said, noting that other media sources tend to be heavily opinionated.

For their part, Uzbek and Turkmen civil society groups say they incorporate NBCA items into news bulletins disseminated via email subscription to their network.

The head of the Tashkent-based Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, Yelena Urlaeva, said NBCA’s coverage of human rights contributes to supporting Uzbek civil society as it raises issues that go unreported.

Even though she lives in Uzbekistan, Urlaeva said IWPR’s reporting helps her “find out about the situation in the country".

Nadezhda Ataeva, head of the Paris-based Human Rights in Central Asia group, said NBCA reports “draw the public's attention to gross and widespread violations of Uzbek citizens' rights such as torture and the use of child labour".

Rights defenders interviewed told IWPR they trusted the accuracy of NBCA and appreciated the sensitivity with which editors deal with source confidentiality – an important consideration as activists and victims of human rights violations can face persecution for talking to the media.

Yulia Goryaynova is an IWPR editor based in Bishkek.

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