A panel on Afghanistan featured a member of the Karzai government who was optimistic about the future and Pulitzer prize-winning US journalist Roy Gutman who was anything but.
There were divided opinions on whether Afghanistan can survive a US troop phase out but there were also facts I hadn't heard before about existing pro-Taliban voices in the Parliament now as well the government's efforts to negotiate. It was pointed out that the internationally trained Afghan Army may be able to replace the Americans who are supposed to pull out in 2014, but that the police are incompetent and corrupt despite all the money invested in their forces.
There was lots of concerns about the continued export of Afghan opium that is not just going to the West but through Russia as well,
There were several media panels with journalist Greg Palast challenging those who would regulate the internet in the name of protecting the public. "The Internet is the solution to government censorship," he insisted.
I added some concerns about all the money governments, including my own, are spending in monitoring and trying to regulate the online world in the name of cyber security. It is not just a potential threat to internet freedom, but it's already happening. I said, with many in the room nodding in support.
The final session looked at media trends for the future where many print publications in the US, but not necessarily in other regions, are facing challenges to their business models and survival. At the same time, social media and many online networks are thriving.
Media freedom is at risk, several journalists argued, more from the corporations that own and control media--including more right wing enterprises like Koch industries that intend to buy more media outlets, rather than from government controls.
Another part of the problem is that the lines between news and entertainment are getting fuzzier, while more commercialization threatens investigative journalism.
The Forum's founder, Diriga Nazarbayev, the daughter of the country's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, closed the llth session of the forum held now in a brand new and fancy media center in the country's recently built capital Astana, with an appeal for more media literacy education.
She spoke of children able to operate IPads before they know how to read, and yet do not really know how the "brave new" media environment they have been born into works. She suggested media education must become part of school curriculums
In her opening speech, she noted how the media changed just since the Forum began.
"We have been evolving amid a global media revolution," she said.
"We see that in the past 10 to 15 years alongside the development of satellite and cable television, wider use of the Internet, smartphones, tablet computers and other technical novelties media started playing a much more substantial role in the life of people and the society, compared with how it was, for instance, 10 years ago.
"The media revolution and new technologies have changed our world beyond recognition. The changes that took place literally before our eyes never fail to amaze us.
"Among certain groups of the audience this causes some kind of exhilaration, euphoria and heightened expectations that new technologies, per se, will solve all life problems. However, the good and the bad go hand in hand. Sometimes distinguishing one from the other is very difficult."
Discussions like these are important. It is significant that this one was organized with the support of a government not known as supporter of a free press, and drew delegates and speakers from all over the world.
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