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Kyrgyz Republic Fellows Implement In-Country Projects to Strengthen Media Pluralism

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Kyrgyz Republic, April 2020 – Five Media4Democracy Fellows have made significant progress in implementing new initiatives – both individually and collectively – and have introduced changes within their own media organisations to promote independent and plural media in Kyrgyzstan. This is a finding of Media4Democracy experts who visited Bishkek in February to close the Fellowship programme – Strengthening Media Institutions in Support of Media Pluralism – implemented by Media4Democracy in collaboration with the EU Delegation to the Kyrgyz Republic.

Media4Democracy experts Mogens Blicher Bjerregård and Henrik Ahrens made the assessment after working for six months with the Fellows, a group of leaders of important media institutions in the Kyrgyz Republic. During the programme, the experts provided training, mentoring and support – and their final programme evaluation has just been submitted to the EU Delegation in Kyrgyzstan.

The core of the Fellowship programme involved a three-week intensive training and mentoring programme in Copenhagen in October 2019, during which the expert team delivered a customised curriculum focused on the unique challenges unfolding in Kyrgyzstan. The Fellows were hosted in Copenhagen at the Danish Union of Journalists and held meeting with peers and experts from Danish media institutions and media outlets.

While in Copenhagen, each Fellow developed a project concept and activity plan that framed their activities and enhanced engagement with stakeholders since their return to Kyrgyzstan – with Fellows receiving remote support and mentoring from Media4Democracy for a follow-on four-month period.

Since the Fellows’ return home, the context for freedom of expression and media has deteriorated significantly in the country in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections. In addition, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has introduced a state of emergency in parts of the country which further restricts media in those places.

Even so, the EU Delegation reports that the Fellows have been able to rise to the challenge and are drawing on their new skills and leadership abilities fostered by the Fellowship programme and leveraging the increased cooperation between them to face the increasingly complex circumstances.

Significant achievements of the Fellows and their organisations to date include:

  • Increased collaborative working: The programme resulted in significant collaboration and mutual support between the Fellows’ organisations, which together make up a significant part of the media institutional sector in the country. Three Fellows and their organisations are delivering a joint project to ensure synergies and maximise resources when reporting on elections.
  • Strengthened field of Investigative Journalism – Gulmira Esengeldieva of the Investigative Journalism Foundation has improved the governance, structure and funding base of the organisation and supported the publication of in-depth investigative journalism pieces. As a result of the programme, her organisation has a stronger chance of being invited to join the Global Investigative Journalism Network.
  • Enhanced – Nurzhan Musaeva at the Media Development Center was inspired by meetings with similar organisations in Denmark to create links with Facebook and steps towards recognition as a third party in Kyrgyzstan, which would signify a huge step towards its efforts to address fake news, disinformation and hate speech.
  • Improved Media and Information Literacy – Directly inspired by a visit to the Danish School of Media and Journalism, the Media Development Center is also working with the universities to deliver training on media literacy to students and is discussing ongoing reform of the curriculum.
  • Enhanced cooperation of Kyrgyz language media – Aisuluu Tekimbaeva has brought fresh momentum to the newly-established Media-Act Association, creating a platform for open dialogue across Kyrgyz-language media in the country and is better placed to listen and respond to their needs.
  • Legal Analysis – Bektur Osmonbaev’s Legal Clinic Adilet published a ground-breaking comprehensive analysis of the legal framework for media in Kyrgyzstan along with recommendations for priority law and policy reforms, helping to create a stronger joint advocacy position across the sector.
  • Election reporting – Begaim Usenova has led the Media Policy Institute’s initiative to eventually publish a gold-standard election reporting toolkit aiming to have wide take-up across the media sector. Media Policy Institute is part of the consortium of European NGOs that implements the EU-funded project “In Support of Sustainable Media Sector Reform for Elections-related Conflict Prevention in Kyrgyzstan” from December 2020 to May 2021. The project aims to strengthen the capacity of media in Kyrgyzstan to operate as drivers of democracy during the 2020 parliamentary elections and beyond. To this end MPI has created a network of media outlets and institutions to discuss common challenges during elections, creating a lively online and offline debate about electoral reporting.
  • Covid-19 – In response to the need for provision of accurate, factual information during the epidemic, Fellows are equipped to play an effective role and in addition are discussing activities with the EU Delegation.

During the final field mission in February, Media4Democracy experts participated in the Fellowship programme’s closing session hosted by the EU Delegation at which Fellows presented their achievements and their plans to continue to work individually and together to strengthen media independence and pluralism in the country.