Ashgabat, 6 July 2012 (nCa) — The two-day 14th Central Asia Media Conference, organized by the OSCE and the foreign ministry of Turkmenistan, started Thursday in Ashgabat.
The theme of the conference is – ‘From traditional to online media: best practices and perspectives.’
The lead concept on the first day of the conference was that online and social media should be free and self regulatory.
Ms. Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said in her opening address that “Internet is subject to unnecessary restrictions” in too many places.
She said that “no government has the right to block” the content on the Internet. In her insightful speech, Ms. Mijatovic said that “the governments don’t have any role to prevent the people from exchange of information and ideas.”
She said that it was not her intention to challenge the legitimate concerns of governments but blocking of content should not take place without a court order.
She underlined, “There is no security without free media and there is no free media without secure environment.”
Dieter Loraine and Doug Griffin of Albany Associates spoke at length on issues related to regulation of online and social media and also conducted a master class on the subject.
What was said during all these speeches and presentations – online and social media should be open, self regulatory and free from government interference or influence – is absolutely right. There can be no two opinions on the subject. The online and social media should be openly accessible and free of any interference or restriction.
However, this is not the whole elephant. In the story of the five blind men and the elephant, this would be just the ears of the elephant; describing the elephant correctly but not wholly.
In order to describe this elephant somewhat more fully, the following parts must be added that were missing in Thursday’s content of the conference:
Family as the basic unit of society
The fundamental mistake, repeated in most cases of interaction between the east and the west, is the assumption that the individual is the basic unit of a society. Looking from a slightly different angle, this looks like selfishness disguised as pursuit of rights.
The family – the old fashioned nuclear family – is the basic building block of a society. The moment you break the family, all you are left with is human debris. The troublesome fact is that once you break the family apart, there is no way to glue it back together.
It is a hard to accept fact but the social scientists are returning to this inevitable conclusion.
Freedom of media, just like freedom in all other spheres of life, must be built around the family as a basic building block of the society. Once we accept this simple fact, we will find that gap between OSCE and the Central Asia countries suddenly narrowed down.
Rights and responsibilities
This is another running theme in all interactions between the west and Central Asia. There is stress, rightly so, on rights. But what makes it rather lopsided is that there is no equal or proportional stress on the responsibilities that come with the rights.
Freedom without the wisdom to use it is an acid that dissolves the society into molten chaos.
There is a famous Arabic saying: I am not afraid of the sword; I am afraid of the fool in whose hand the sword has been given.
Free, self regulatory online and social media
The online and social media should be free and self regulatory. No one has any issues with this contention.
However, this should be generic freedom, not branded freedom.
If the Central Asian governments must not interfere with the online and social media, the foreign countries, organizations and entities (obviously including OSCE) should refrain from interference through funding.
Funding from foreign sources contaminates the whole concept of freedom. It creates freedom according to xyz, not freedom in its pure form.
This issue is at the core of any kind of disparity between the positions of OSCE and the Central Asian governments. As long OSCE insists on the right of media and civil society outlets to be funded through foreign sources, it can never muster the moral authority to lecture the Central Asian, or for that matter any other, governments.
If the media environment is created under the current policy of insistence on the right to foreign funding, it will put diagonal stress on the fabric of the society. If the civil society groups (NGOs) are created under this principle, it will result in a society divided against itself.
A media free from government influence but under the sway of its financiers is still not a free media.
Poverty and media
Most of the questions during the question and answer sessions came from journalists from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
While this is heartening, the question arises: Is there any connection between an economically weak government and the ability of the foreign influences to penetrate deep into the society?
Does overall poverty foster openness?
Is comparative affluence a barrier against development of a free mind?
The synthesis that forces itself to the surface is that dialogue must continue in ever widening circles, bringing in more participants.
Change from within the system is the only kind of change guaranteed to build on the existing peace and stability. Breaking the system apart without knowing (and without the tools) to rebuild it is not a wise man’s path to progress.
Freedom of expression, just like any other kind of freedom, must be built on the framework of culture and traditions of the Central Asian societies.