From potholes to child labor, community issues in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are being addressed and resolved by citizens using online forums that have been launched by local media outlets with the assistance of Internews.
For the last two years, Internews has been working intensively with more than a dozen local media outlets in Central Asia to help them move from a traditional, top-down, text-centric style of journalism to a more inclusive model. This has involved redesigning their web presences to include multimedia elements, and integrating commenting, polling, and other interactive features. In some cases, Internews worked with the outlets to launch the first website they’ve ever had.
Internews also helped editors and journalists radically redefine their relationship with audiences. Nearly all of them have added a “Public News” section to their website, where users can post their own stories, photos, and videos about goings-on in their own communities.
This is an unprecedented opportunity for many of the people these outlets serve, who rarely had the chance to make their voices heard outside their own neighborhood. “Public News” has often become the most popular section of the outlets’ websites.
Online discussions are encouraging the public to hold officials accountable, stand up for their rights, and proactively seek solutions to local problems. Here is a small sampling of issues that have been resolved through community action spurred by citizen journalism on these sites:
- Internews’ partner media outlets in Kazakhstan encouraged users to post photographic and cartographic evidence of potholes and dangerous conditions along roads in their communities. In Uralsk, authorities responded on Lada.kz to questions from readers about their plans to conduct repair work. Nasha Gazeta n Kostanai produced bumper stickers with a slogan calling for visible progress. Repairs to dozens of kilometers of roads began.
- A state-owned construction company had withheld salaries from its employees for nearly three months. One of the employees attempted to slit his own wrist with a razor in protest. A reader reported the story on Otyrar.kz (Shimkent, Kazakhstan) inspiring local activists to pressure the company to pay employees their rightful wages. Local authorities took note: the corporation was forced to provide back pay to its workers and provide medical care at its own expense to the man who had attempted suicide.
- A group of eighth-grade girls in Uralsk, Kazakhstan published a story on UralskWeek.kz about how they were forced to clean town dumps during lessons about the Soviet tradition of community volunteer labor days (“subbotniki”). Human rights organizations and local activists launched an investigation as a result of the article and an order was issued prohibiting use of child labor to carry out public services. The school director and those responsible for the “lessons” were punished.