BISHKEK -- More than 120 Central Asian and international specialists participated in a recent forum to discuss the role of mainstream media, as well as of social networks and messaging apps, in countering extremism.
Journalists, government officials and representatives of non-governmental organisations gathered for the three-day forum, "Prevention of Violent Extremism and the Role of Media", December 6-8 in Bishkek.
Analysts showcased "examples of how independent media, civil society organisations and government agencies can interact and strengthen their relationships with their communities, especially with young people, women, and ethnic and religious minorities", according to an Internews statement December 6.
The forum was organised by Internews, an international non-profit organisation, Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry and the Kyrgyz State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR).
The discussions held at the forum "will help strengthen national and regional co-operation in order to enhance dialogue in the region and will become an important basis for addressing the causes of radicalisation", organisers said.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
The event, part of a European Union (EU)-funded project seeking to prevent radicalism in Central Asia through media literacy implemented by Internews, contained three parts: "Yesterday", "Today" and "Tomorrow".
"On the first day, we conducted reports and presentations on completed projects," Farhod Rahmatov, Internews project director for Central Asia, told Caravanserai.
"The next day, we discussed the initiatives being implemented," he said. "On the final day, we reviewed the discussed information, and the participants voiced their recommendations for future projects."
The project is focused on regional and national efforts to prevent radicalisation in Central Asian states, according to Rahmatov, and it trains and supports journalists, civil society activists and media specialists to that end.
"The efforts are aimed at producing very high quality media content and raising the level of critical media consumption by representatives of civil society, decision-makers and ordinary citizens," he said.
EU Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Eduard Auer stressed the need for open political discussions.
"We have to create platforms on which the opportunity will exist for political discussions on various topics, including extremism and terrorism," he told Caravanserai.
"Such discussions, covered by independent media, will certainly help," he said. "People will make the right choice, and it will be a good step in fighting violent extremism."
Countering extremist propaganda
Media coverage of battles, as well as media-published photographs and videos showing terrorists, can inadvertently promote extremist activities, Kyrgyz Deputy Interior Minister Mirlan Kanimetov told forum participants.
"In this issue you need to be extremely careful, because wrongly presented information attracts new supporters of extremist organisations," he said.
"Journalists need special knowledge, and this forum will be another important step in countering violent extremism."
Terrorists are using all possible methods for recruitment, Fatma Ahmed, Africa account director at Albany Associates International, a public relations firm, told the forum.
"Terrorists might even help the poor in order to gain their trust and then recruit them to their own ranks," said Ahmed, who is based in Kenya.
"[Terrorists] bribe people with promises and work them over with ideological propaganda," she said. "They use all sorts of ways to spread their ideology on the internet."
"In countering them we must also use the whole arsenal of methods and means," Ahmed said. "For example, we see that people like short animated videos. They share them eagerly on social networks. This form of visualisation can be used to fight extremist ideology."