The media roundtable organized jointly by the foreign ministry of Turkmenistan and the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat was held in the entrance hall of the institute of international relations.
After the brief inaugural remarks by the deputy ministry of foreign affairs of Turkmenistan, Mahri Bashimova, and Ambassador John MacGregor, the head of the OSCE mission, the first session started.
The theme of the first session was: Information sustainability in the 21st century.
The keynote speaker and moderator of the session was Marek Bekerman, a journalist and journalism professor based in the UK. Over the years, he has interacted extensively with Central Asia. Between 2010 and 2012, he coordinated international efforts to reform and modernise Turkmenistan’s media legislation and regulation. He was Project Director for the EC-funded media development project in Central Asia between 2007 and 2009, and journalism education expert for a BBC-led project to modernise media education in Ukraine in 2005-2007. He is fluent in Russian.
His presentation was titled – Aspects of media and information literacy in the society; Global trends on counteracting fake news.
He said that the phenomenon of fake news was a global problem and required a coordinated solution. He advocate a broad based public-private effort for dealing with the fake news.
In his colourful presentation, he raised some rhetorical questions – Why does it seem that media literacy was not needed before the Internet? —– Was the audience smarter? Or has it become dumber? He wondered aloud.
Since it was a gathering of media professionals, Bekerman called for introspection. He challenged the participants to think whether journalism was sick.
Using the Socratic Method, he asked the questions and answered them only partly, leaving the listeners to reach their own conclusions.
Some part of his presentation was devoted to showing that the fake news – actually fake information – comes in all shapes and sizes, masquerading as fact.
Then, he pointed out something that generally escapes the eye. — He warned about the threat of ‘Binarism.’ i.e. assigning only two categories to news/information: true/false.
To hammer the point home, he mentioned some examples of how we create an either-or virtual reality — right-left; pro-western-anti-western; progressive-traditional; liberal-conservative; patriotic-global; religious-secular; etc.
In doing so, he demonstrated that information gets tainted merely by being associated with its source.
Further dilating on the point, he said that Truth is a negotiated process in journalism and it changes as our knowledge of the story and its context develops.
He lamented the destruction of the editorial process (because of a number of factors including the shrinking resources available to the media, the lack of time to give proper attention to a story, etc.)
Near the end of his presentation, Bekerman pondered on some measures to prevent or nullify the fake information but placed the responsibility on everyone because the digital age has nearly obliterated the borders between the content producers and the content consumers.
The next speaker was Ms. Helen Shaw, the Press Attaché of the US Embassy in Turkmenistan. She spoke on ‘Media literacy as a tool to tackle fake news.’
She underlined the importance of media literacy.
[Since media literacy is a vital part of the presentations in this roundtable, it is appropriate to give here a short and generally accepted definition of the media literacy: the ability to critically analyse stories presented in the mass media and to determine their accuracy or credibility.]
She said that throughout the month of May, the classes on media literacy will be available at the American Center on almost daily basis. Anyone can attend.
She said that the classes will be available not only in Ashgabat but also in three provincial centres where the American Center has its presence.
In addition, she said that the libraries affiliated with the US Embassy were brimming with information in the conventional and digital formats and anyone can access them.
[In American Center, we have spelled it as Center and not Centre because this is how American Center is spelled by them]
Shiri Shiriyev, the Director of the Scientific Centre for Strategic Studies of the Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, spoke about the media and information literacy for the youth.
He said that even though the analytical centre was still in its infancy, the contact had been established with the similar structures around the world, particularly in Central Asia.
He said that the youth was trusting, unprepared, and sometimes just gullible against the flow of fake, distorted, and biased information. This, he said, dictates the urgency of proper media literacy for the population, particularly the youth.
Shiriyev drew attention to the need to create a balance between the individual’s right to freedom and access to information.
Igor Sasin, the correspondent of AFP in Turkmenistan, gave a well-prepared talk on ‘Significance of journalism education in countering disinformation.
He said that typically, fake news is spread through fake news sites that often replicate the look and feel of genuine news sources in order to inspire user confidence. It is known that through social networks, false information spreads faster than real news.
The purpose of disinformation can be both the manipulation of public opinion and the increase in traffic to certain web content, he said.
Sasin said that history teaches us that the forces behind disinformation seek to convince the audience of the truth of false claims, seek to question the status of reliable information produced by professional journalists.
He underlined the need for targeted education, real time awareness, and participative prevention to deal with fake information in its entirety.
He said that blaming all social networks for all the troubles of journalism is wrong. Journalism students need to understand how the information environment changes over time and how to respond to these challenges.
He said that the change in traditional information channels has made fact-checking and verification important, as information now has to be verified after it has been circulated at high speed in social networks and electronic media.
Oleg Pavlenko is correspondent of TASS in Ashgabat. He has 20 years of experience in journalism including seven years in TASS. He spoke on the role of state in creating sustainable information space.
He said that one of the main functions of the state in relation to the information space is, of course, regulation, the creation of legal foundations on which this space will exist in a particular society.
In any modern civil society, the existence of the right to freedom of speech, the possibility of expressing one’s point of view, position and self-expression, no one doubts. However, freedom of speech does not mean the ability to slander, insult someone or something, pass off a lie as reality, especially if this can cause damage, he said.
In addition, he said, the state also has the status of an information subject, possessing significant amounts of information about all areas of the country’s life. Accordingly, it must also have its own “voice” in the information space; the state must communicate with the people by expressing its “official” point of view on certain events, phenomena, changes in the life of the country.
The state, having professional media at its disposal, is able to set the necessary high standards for the entire media space of the country, to resist the pressure of amateur information from the blogosphere, which can pursue its often selfish interests that are not related to the interests of society. By providing access to objective and reliable information, for which professionally trained journalists and editors are also professionally responsible, the state is able to ensure the stability of the information space, resistance to the effects of fakes, post-truth, and other internal and external negative factors, said Pavlenko.
He said that the information environment does not stand still. You and I are literally witnessing the emergence (and sometimes quickly dying) of various media formats, new ways of packaging and presenting information. Streams, podcasts, live – a couple of years ago there were no such words. Therefore, it is important for the media, including state media, not to stand still, to speak with their audience in a changing language.
The second session of the roundtable was under the theme: Information policy in the era of domination of social media.
Since we did not attend the second session, we are presenting here the relevant portion of the report of Orient, slightly condensed for the sake of brevity. This report was written by Bekdurdy Amansariyev, who is the chief editor of Orient and was one of the speakers at the second session.
During the second session, the international expert of the OSCE Yakub Parusinski spoke on the topic “The role of social networks in the information space” and explained how the state can effectively use social networks and introduce them as a tool for strategic communications.
IIR Vice-Rector of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Gulshat Yusupova presented a view of social networks as a tool for cultural exchange.
According to Gulshat Yusupova, social networks have made it possible to turn the world into a global village by reducing the distances between people, and have become the platform on which we can understand the language, lifestyle, professional and educational activities, interests, sports, entertainment of people from other countries. These new media can be a very effective channel for popularizing national culture around the world, Yusupova said.
She also spoke about the project, which the specialists of the Technological Center of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan are currently working on, is an information portal dedicated to the work of the Turkmen poet Magtymguly Fragi.
The editor-in-chief of the ORIENT news site Bekdurdy Amansariyev, in discussions with colleagues, raised a rather complex and ambiguous topic of using political PR technologies in the digital age, when, thanks to the growth in the number of all kinds of new media and their audience, information has become one of the fastest growing, but sometimes unmanageable resources which states cannot always control.
The increased interest in PR-technologies in the field of politics is associated with a number of processes. Open aggression has never been approved by the world community. Hence, the need arose to search for new sources of power. The constant development of theories of communication and influence on mass consciousness has made this field of knowledge very popular.
Today, it is PR technologies based on digital media that have become a new branch of power, on which the geopolitical and geo-economic processes taking place in the world depend.
Despite the relative novelty of the term “information war”, which began to be actively mentioned in the media after the operation “Desert Storm” in 1991, this phenomenon is not something fundamentally new for mankind. The speaker gave several examples of this from history: back in the 5th century BC, during the Greco-Persian wars, King Xerxes spread rumors about the innumerability of his army in order to intimidate the Greeks, and the Chinese strategist and thinker who lived in the 6th century BC, Sun Tzu in the treatise “The Art of War” he wrote that war is a way of deception, and he was sure that victory is not on the battlefield, but outside it.
In the modern world with its total Internet, and, in particular, in social networks, ideal conditions have been created for conducting information activities: freedom of expression, lack of censorship, accessibility of receiving and transmitting information in any form. PR technologies in this field are built differently than in the media, where they have a vertical orientation – roughly speaking, from top to bottom. The media stands, as it were, above the society and “releases” information to it.
And in social networks this orientation is horizontal – from the user to the user, and on this way the message can acquire details, opinions, etc. It is important to understand here that the mass effect of the impact of political PR technologies is based not so much on logical arguments and facts, but on an emotional impression.
The main feature of the use of PR technologies is the fact that the consumer of information (reader, viewer, site visitor, etc.) is not a witness to specific events, and therefore will be guided exclusively by media materials.
From the media, he learns not only about the event itself, but the main thing is that he will immediately receive its assessment, moreover, emotionally colored. In this case, skillfully prepared and timely submitted information becomes his own assessment of events that he did not even see.
“We can see this today on the example of large international media, which, using PR technologies, have the opportunity to impose their point of view on the consumer of information, even if it was initially alien to him,” Amansaryev noted.
Often, the one who, professionally using PR-technologies, more quickly and effectively presents the audience with a favorable assessment for himself, rather than the one who truthfully covers events, wins in the information confrontation. Although the truth in a multipolar world is, as you know, a relative concept.
In order for this concept not to devalue completely into something that has its own budget, marketing, PR and other “white noise”, there is a need for information neutrality. Turkmenistan, as a state with a foreign policy neutral status, adheres to a neutral policy in its information activities.
As a country that has put forward a global initiative supported by the United Nations, “Dialogue is a guarantee of peace”, Turkmenistan stands in the media space for the formation of a new security architecture, a new ecosystem of cooperation and consolidation of efforts in the fight against common challenges and threats.
“Our landmark is what brings people together! We have chosen this slogan as a guide in the work of the ORIENT website. This is our main PR strategy in the media space,” summed up the editor-in-chief of the news web resource, which has the status of the first officially registered independent news agency in the country.
The press attaché of the Turkish Embassy in Turkmenistan Khairettin Bektash also joined the debate. He spoke about the principles of interaction between governments and owners of social networks in the fight against disinformation, giving an example of tackling this important issue from the experience of his country.
The Internet has greatly facilitated access to information, but cannot provide a proportional increase in the accuracy of news. And if in journalism the fact of news is subject to verification, then for social networks it is enough just to “hear” a certain message so that it spreads quickly, the press attache noted.
He also spoke about how disinformation is fueled by the beliefs of individuals, calling this phenomenon a “world beyond the truth”, in which social networks become a means of manipulation, using bots and other tools to spread fakes. Bektash cited data from the Reuters Digital News Report 2021, where the gap between the level of trust in news in the media and the level of trust in news in social networks is widening: 44% versus 24%, respectively.
…Following the results of the round table sessions at the Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, sessions of questions and answers on topical issues were held, and in general, the participants of the discussion approved this format of an open dialogue, speaking in favor of its continuation. /// nCa, 18 April 2023
To be continued…