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

Encouraging Investigative Journalism in Kyrgyzstan

Workshops introduce participants from across the country to essential practical skills
By IWPR Central Asia
  • Journalists at an investigative reporting course in Karakol, which ran on June 23-27 June. (Photo: IWPR)
    Journalists at an investigative reporting course in Karakol, which ran on June 23-27 June. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Graduates of the Bishkek training course display their certificates. (Photo: IWPR)
    Graduates of the Bishkek training course display their certificates. (Photo: IWPR)
  • IWPR Central Asia director Abakhon Sultonnazarov talking about the new training material. (Photo: IWPR)
    IWPR Central Asia director Abakhon Sultonnazarov talking about the new training material. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Trainees at the June 16-20 course in Osh work on a group exercise. (Photo: IWPR)
    Trainees at the June 16-20 course in Osh work on a group exercise. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Trainer Oleg Khomenok at the Bishkek workshop, held on May 19-23. (Photo: IWPR)
    Trainer Oleg Khomenok at the Bishkek workshop, held on May 19-23. (Photo: IWPR)

“People today need more than just news,” investigative journalist Oleg Khomenok said. “Sooner or later, people begin to think about where their tax money goes and how well the authorities manage this money, so they need media coverage of this. They need answers that only the media can deliver. Investigative journalists can provide this.”

Khomenok was speaking at an IWPR workshop in Kyrgyzstan where he trained local reporters in how to do investigative reporting properly.

Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country with a fairly democratic system, but periodic political turbulence and ongoing economic problems have resulted in a weak state where corruption is endemic and regulation limited. The need for scrutiny is as strong as ever, and the specialised skills needed to investigate complex issues are vital.

“We need to develop investigative journalism as a genre for the sake of Kyrgyz society, as government agencies don’t always function honestly and transparently and corruption is widespread. All these negative things must be identified, exposed and addressed,” said Nurgul Samatova, a correspondent from the TV programme Ala Too.

A series of three five-day workshops were held by IWPR’s Bureau for Investigative Journalism in Bishkek, Karakol and Osh between May and June, 2015. A total of 50 people participated, drawn from nationwide and local outlets like Yntymak television, E1TR, Public TV, CA-News.org and K-News. The participants also included human rights defenders.

The sessions covered preparation and planning for investigative stories, data collection methods, verifying sources and assessing their reliability, the use of open-source information,  and awareness of overt and covert surveillance. Practical sessions covered interview techniques and the use of multimedia to create infographics and other visual effects.

Lawyers from Kyrgyzstan’s Media Policy Institute led sessions on the protection of sources, risk mitigation, accessing documents and other information from government agencies, the rights and mutual obligations of journalists and government officials.

“The trainer provided step-by-step instructions for working on an investigative piece – where to start, how to organise the information, and how to act in certain situations,” said Nazira Jusupova, editor of community radio website Kyrgyzmedia.com, who attended the Bishkek training course. “The resources we were introduced to were also very helpful, as they can help us to work on financial fraud, and we were shown portals, websites and communities where we can develop our skills.”

Khomenok cited the work done by reporters to hold officials to account in Ukraine, including the detailed investigations into the assets and business transactions of former president Viktor Yanukovich and his circle.

“Often in workshops where the trainers are foreign, the information they give doesn’t chime with local realities,” said Gulzat Gazieva, editor at the Osh office of the ELTR broadcasting company. “During this one, however, Oleg Khomenok took account of the specifics of journalism in this country, all the more so since Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine have many points of convergence, like general history, the political and economic situation – the same problems and challenges.”

Among the course materials given to trainees were copies of IWPR’s Russians and Kyrgyz-language translations of Story-Based Inquiry: A Manual for Investigative Journalists, a UNESCO publication.

At the end of each course, journalists were asked to outline plans for an investigative piece they would produce. They are now working on these, with editorial support and legal advice provided by IWPR’s Bureau for Investigative Journalism.

“It’s great that the Bureau doesn’t just run training courses and then say goodbye to the journalists,” said Samatova. “It keeps in touch with them, supporting and developing their ambition to do investigative journalism.”

Jyldyz Bekbayeva, an Interfax correspondent in Osh, also stressed the importance of follow-up support.

“Editorial departments in Kyrgyzstan aren’t interested in investigations because they require a lot of time and resources,” she said. “Local journalists now have an opportunity to launch investigations because even if our editorial offices aren’t interested, IWPR is ready to provide support as needed and a platform for publication. That’s very important as a way of helping this new genre develop.”

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism and the training courses it provides are funded under two IWPR projects: the European Union-funded Creating a Culture of Investigative Journalism for Fostering Democratic Reform and Strengthening Capacities, Bridging Divides in Central Asia, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.