Debating The Global Media--in Kazakhstan
By Danny Schechter
Astana, Kazakhstan: Most people wouldn't bother going half way around the world for their fifteen seconds of fame. Ok, so maybe there was little fame to be found but, it was still worthwhile to spend two days flying back and forth to attend the two-day annual Eurasian Media Forum in Kazakhstan, a Central Asian nation that is actually the 9 th largest country in the world, with ultra wealthy oil and gas fields.
It was also one of the few countries in the world that gave up its nuclear weapons. South Africa is another one.
Kazakhstan flickered briefly in our popular culture when the film Borat made fun of the place--it was shot in Romania, not there--and more recently, figured in the investigation into the terrifying actions of the Tsarnaev "Bomb Brothers' in Boston responsible for doing so much vicious damage at the Marathon. It was reported that they had also lived here although local media disputes it. (Two Kazakh kids are said to be in jail now in the US for visa violations although it's not clear how or if they are linked.)
The forum here deals with political and media issues and attracts top journalists and policymakers to hold forth on panels. I was on one with none other than Jimmy Carter's national security advisor. Zbigniew Brzezinski a few years back.
(Zbig is back in the news after the Russian newspaper Izvestia charged that The alleged Boston bomber, the killed Tamerlan Tsarnaev had links with U.S. intelligence agencies through a very long list of connections.
Izvestia , one of Russia's oldest newspapers suggests a link between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and U.S. intelligence agencies through a very long list of connections. Foreign Policy reports that he is being accused o attending classes run by the James Town Foundation who the Russians claim instigate extremism in the region: "Izvestia makes a big deal out of the fact that the Jamestown Foundation's board includes former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the main "ideologists of U.S. foreign policy.")
This issue was not discussed at this year's Media Forum but there were allegations that the US government does not just fight terrorism but backs terrorists like some of the groups that fought in Libya and are fighting in Syria.
What is especially interesting about the Forum that it discussed media and politics together because that's a more honest reflection of how the real world works. Let's face it: we couldn't have elections in America without a mass media that has become the main platform for politicians of every stripe through debates, ads and daily news coverage. Most campaigns are fought in a media that now itself now blaytantly reflects the partisan divides in our culture.
Yet, the forum here has something else missing in American media discourse--a genuine international mix with many and diverse perspectives.
A country that was once part of the Soviet Union with many authoritarian institutions--including a mostly state controlled media--seems more open to real debate than the USA. Perhaps you have to travel far away from the dominance of the mainstream to actually discuss it.
A panel on the Middle East had an actual representative of The Assad government in Syria as well as a Syrian critic. It featured the eloquent British MP and war critic George Galloway along with a fellow at the right-wing Heritage Foundation who was actually critical of the "stupid" way the US government managed its wars.
AlJazeera came in for some criticism. It was argued that the Qatar based channel has been misrepresenting the war there because the Qatari government is also financing arms and mercenaries trying to topple its regime in the name of democracy. It was pointed that the Qatar and Saudi Arabian royal families are not ruling over democracies.