Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asian Media Awards Boost Rights Reporting

IWPR competition seen as providing critical support for human rights journalism in the region.
By Dina Tokbaeva, Lola Olimova
  • Yelena Voronina from Kyrgyzstan, who won first prize at the awards. (Photo: IWPR)
    Yelena Voronina from Kyrgyzstan, who won first prize at the awards. (Photo: IWPR)
  • IWPR’s regional director Abakhon Sultonnazarov (left) with contest judges Fiona Frazer of UNHCR, Hokimjon Husanov from Uzbekistan and Shamaral Maichiev of Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: IWPR)
    IWPR’s regional director Abakhon Sultonnazarov (left) with contest judges Fiona Frazer of UNHCR, Hokimjon Husanov from Uzbekistan and Shamaral Maichiev of Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Mahambet Abjan from Kazakstan won a special award from the UNHCR for reporting on housing issues. (Photo: IWPR)
    Mahambet Abjan from Kazakstan won a special award from the UNHCR for reporting on housing issues. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Dilbegim Mavloniy of Uzbekistan won an award for reporting on freedom of movement. (Photo: IWPR)
    Dilbegim Mavloniy of Uzbekistan won an award for reporting on freedom of movement. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Sergei Rasov of Kazakstan speaks after winning an award for freedom of expression. (Photo: IWPR)
    Sergei Rasov of Kazakstan speaks after winning an award for freedom of expression. (Photo: IWPR)
  • A separate awards ceremony took place on December 8 in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. (Photo: IWPR)
    A separate awards ceremony took place on December 8 in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. (Photo: IWPR)

IWPR Human Rights Reporting Award plays an important role in raising standards of human rights reporting in Central Asia, media experts and journalists from the region have said.

They also note that such events help to draw attention to human rights issues, one of the most challenging areas for media in the region where governments are frequently criticised for their human right record.

Winners of the Human Rights Reporting Award – held in Central Asia for the first time - said that the IWPR event has given a much needed boost to the work of journalists writing about human rights violations.

The winners of the IWPR journalism competition for the best coverage of human rights issues in Central Asia were announced in Bishkek on December 10, International Human Rights Day. Two days earlier, a separate event was held for Tajik journalists in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

Talking about the aim of the awards, IWPR Central Asia Regional Director Abakhon Sultonnazarov said, “Such competitions are important for journalists in Central Asian countries who face so many challenges and obstacles in gathering information on human rights issues and spreading it through local media.”

The awards are part of the IWPR project Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection and Education Through the Media. It was run in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights regional office for Central Asia and the United States embassy in Tajikistan.

Entries included reports published regionally in Russian and local languages, from January 1, 2010 to October 31, 2010. IWPR received around 50 applications from Kazak, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik journalists, with each participant entitled to submit up to three articles. More than 100 were received.

The two main categories were print and online media. Special categories focused on coverage of specific human rights issues including women and children rights; freedom of media; freedom of movement; as well as violations of prisoners’ rights.

The panel of judges was made up of leading rights activists, journalists and human rights lawyers from the region.

Media expert and lawyer Shamaral Maichiev said that such competitions raise the standards of human rights journalism. According to Maichiev, the quality of entries varied greatly with some reports lacking objectivity while others demonstrating a balanced approach to the topic covered. Competitions like this will help to encourage high standards for reporting on human rights, he said.

Parvina Khamidova, editor of the Tajik newspaper Asia Plus, called the award “one of the best among such competitions”. She noted that being region-wide, it enables Tajik journalists to compete with their colleagues from other Central Asian countries. Khamidova wants to see the IWPR event take place every year, as it helps to develop the professional skills of journalists writing on human rights issues.

Apart from raising professional standards, experts noted that such competitions encourage coverage of human rights topics which, as many participants pointed out, are not easy for journalists to write about – just trying to get information from the authorities, they said, can result in journalists facing prosecution.

Tajik journalist Ramzia Mirzobekova, who was awarded third place in the print media category, said that more important than the financial reward was the acknowledgement that reports about human rights are in public interest.

“[Such] competitions motivate journalists; there will be more reports which in turn will help to develop the public’s awareness of rights...” Mirzobekova said, adding that this will help to prompt into action state human rights institutions that so far are ignoring many rights violations.

If the media continue coverage of human rights issues, this will positively affect the situation in Central Asia countries which is important for supporting democratic changes, Mirzobekova said.

Abdurakib Kodirov, who won the women and children rights category, agreed that such awards raise the profile of human rights journalism. “Human rights violations here are widespread because the public is not equipped with knowledge about their rights,” Kodirov said.

Yelena Voronina, a well-known human rights activist from Kyrgyzstan, who was awarded first place in the print media section, said she was pleasantly surprised that a series of her reports on the rights of children had been so highly praised by the panel.

“This is not only my victory, it is victory of all children about whom I reported,” Voronina said.

Kazak journalist Jasulan Kujekov, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist, who won the reports about prisoners category, said he used to write about the oil business, but since he turned to doing human rights reports he just wants to continue.

Uzbek journalist Dilbegim Mavloniy, another RFE/RL journalist, who won the freedom of movement category, recalled how hearing that her reports made a difference prompted her to reverse her decision to leave journalism.

“Lately I covered problems of migrants, refugees and issues related to torture. The number of violations was on the rise, there was so much negativity, I just wanted to leave it all... then I received a letter from abroad thanking me that I reported about it,” she said.

According to Mavloniy, refugees from Central Asia are sometimes seen as terrorists on the run. “But after my report some people decided to send them money,” she said.

Tajik journalist Valentina Kasymbekova agreed that writing about human rights is not an easy task as journalists investigating sensitive issues can put themselves in danger, which is why they need to be supported by events like award schemes.

“This ceremony was a real celebration for us,” Kasymbekova said, noting that she was pleased to see that among people who came to share the occasion were members of the Tajik parliament, officials, local NGOs and representatives of international organisations.

UNHCHR regional officer for Central Asia, Fiona Frazer, said that this was a good initiative and thanked IWPR for organising the competition. She also said that UNHCHR would like to renew its support for the provision of adequate housing category next year.

Dina Tokbaeva is acting regional editor for Central Asia, Lola Olimova is IWPR Tajik editor.  



IWPR Human Rights Reporting Awards


Winners in Print Media Category

1st place – Yelena Voronina (Kyrgyzstan)
2d place – Yelena Bratukhinva (Kazakstan)
3d place – Ramzia Mirzobekova (Tajikistan)

Winners in Online Media Category

1st place – Journalist from Uzbeksitan
2d place – Tilav Rasulov (Tajikistan)
3d place – Bakyt Ibraimov (Kyrgyzstan) 

Special Nomination Categories

Children and Women Rights – Abdurakib Kadyrov (Tajikistan)
Torture, Illegal arrests, Imprisonment – Jasulan Kujekov (Kazakstan)
Freedom of Expression – Sergei Rasov (Kazakstan)
Freedom of Movement - Dilbegim Mavloniy
UNHCR Adequate Housing – Valentina Kasymbekova (Tajikistan)
UNHCR Adequate Housing – Asyl Osmonalieva (Kyrgyzstan)
UNHCR Adequate Housing – Mahambet Abjan (Kazakstan)
US Embassy in Tajikistan – Irina Umarova (Tajikistan)
US Embassy in Tajikistan – Fazliddin Hodjaev (Tajikistan) 

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