Very often, extremist groups use online channels to promote ideologies inciting society’s most vulnerable, including young people, to violence. This has resulted in the spread of disinformation and biased views on sensitive social, political and religious issues that can easily be exploited.
Against this backdrop, the EU-supported project ‘Contributing to stability and peace in Central Asia through media literacy, improved reporting and regional cooperation’ has sought to increase the capacity of local journalists, activists and press officers to produce high-quality content while encouraging a more critical reading of news.
Funded under the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) since 2018, the project is implemented by the international non-profit Internews. Activities include training sessions, national and regional workshops, and the setting up of fact-checking platforms to flag disinformation.
To consolidate and advance these activities, the European Commission has this week allocated additional € 4 million in support of the project.
To promote regional collaboration and the co-production of content related to peace and stability, Internews has hosted several public workshops, forums and informal meetings bringing together government agencies, the non-governmental sector, experts and media professionals. These enabled participants to acquire skills necessary to reach higher standards of reporting focused on preventing violent extremism.
In cooperation with the Kyrgyz Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Commission on Religious Affairs, Internews organised a first regional cross-border media forum in December 2018. After positive feedback, a follow-up event for journalists, activists and experts was hosted by the Kyrgyz Counter Extremism and Illegal Migration Service several weeks later.
‘Today, we see that international terrorist organisations and religious extremist organisations are actively using the internet and social networks for communication, recruiting activities and self-promotion,’ said Erlan Bakiev, who heads the service.
‘There is no doubt that these organisations use the best media experts. Therefore, in the counter-fight against them, it is important for us to increase the media literacy of ordinary citizens, media professionals and public servants.’
With the support from Internews, Tajikistan’s Institute of Islamic Studies and the Ministry of Internal Affairs hosted a similar workshop with media professionals, civil society representatives and activists in February 2019.
Media and teacher training
To help local media produce reliable content to counter disinformation and violent narratives, Internews has provided a capacity-building programme on conflict-sensitive reporting, conflict mitigation, and digital security. The programme – which also focused on citizen journalists and government public relations officers – included hands-on workshops on how to cover sensitive topics professionally.
‘I believe that regular training is necessary for civil servants, media representatives and bloggers in order for the population to receive quality information from reliable sources,’ said Janybek Kojoev, a Kyrgyz regional government spokesperson who used the training to improve his social media skills.
The project has also been key in promoting media and digital literacy – as well as critical thinking – among university and high school students.
Internews hosted two events for teachers and media professionals from five Central Asian countries to share experiences, generate ideas and develop projects. An independent jury selected the 10 most viable projects, which received small grants from Internews.
Participant Ikbolzhon Isakov, a Kyrgyz activist and media specialist, used the knowledge he acquired to implement a training programme for imams. This led imams to realise that they had to provide online messages in addition to Friday sermons to help prevent violent extremism.
Fact-checking and media literacy
To track and verify false information circulating online, including material disseminated by extremist groups, Internews and local partners launched a pilot for five national fact-checking platforms. These detect and prevent the spread of disinformation.
Launched in October 2018, the ‘Three dots. Know what you browse’ online campaign is regarded as the pioneering online media literacy tool in Central Asia. With thousands of followers and subscribers across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, odnoklassniki.ru and Telegram, the campaign promotes critical thinking and has received positive feedback from local and international media watchdogs and experts.
(Banner photo: Important result of the Eduthons – cooperation of educators from Central Asia. School and university teachers, lecturers, deans and professors of journalism from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan made a group photo. Photo credit: Internews.)