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EU extends project to combat extremism with media literacy in Central Asia

By Aydar Ashimov

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Journalists, social activists and government employees collaborate at an Internews training last December 6 in Bishkek. [Internews]

NUR-SULTAN -- The European Commission (EC) has said it will provide additional funding for a programme aimed at preventing violent extremism and religious radicalisation in Central Asia.

The European Union (EU) is allocating an additional €4 million ($4.4 million) to the "Contributing to Stability and Peace in Central Asia Through Media Literacy, Improved Reporting and Regional Co-operation" project, which began in 2018.

"Very often, extremist groups use online channels to promote ideologies inciting society’s most vulnerable, including young people, to violence," the EC said in a statement on September 11. "This has resulted in the spread of disinformation and biased views on sensitive social, political and religious issues that can easily be exploited."

In April 2018, international non-profit Internews launched the 18-month project throughout Central Asia with an initial €3.3 million ($3.7 million) from the EU.

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Schoolteachers and university instructors from Central Asia pose for a group photo at an Internews training January 25 in Astana (now Nur-Sultan). [Internews]

In 2018 and 2019, Internews held a series of seminars, forums and informal gatherings that drew officials from government agencies, NGO workers, and media analysts and specialists. These events helped attendees gain crucial skills for creating high-quality content aimed at preventing violent extremism.

For example, last December, Internews teamed up with the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry (MVD) and State Commission on Religious Affairs (GKDR) to hold the region's first cross-border media forum, which took place in Bishkek.

In February, with support from Internews, the Tajik Institute of Islamic Studies and Tajik MVD held a similar forum in Dushanbe that was attended by media professionals, representatives of civil society and activists.

"Internews hosted two events for educators and media professionals from five Central Asian countries to share experiences ... and develop projects. An independent jury selected the 10 most viable projects, which received small grants from Internews," the EC said in its statement.

Meanwhile, the "Three dots. Know what you browse" campaign, which was launched last October, seeks to help develop critical thinking and has become a popular tool for disseminating news in Central Asia.

The project includes the creation of content that promotes critical thinking and is seen by thousands of users of popular social networks.

A 'smart, creative' project

Numerous specialists and participants of Internews' events have given high marks to its efforts.

"It's a very smart, creative project that has brought all the countries of Central Asia together. We're eagerly waiting for it to resume," said Gulnar Asanbayeva of Almaty, the regional media literacy consultant for Internews MediaCAMP.

"I think a very successful team has come together in this project and that all the members have proven themselves to great advantage," said Asanbayeva.

The journalists who have attended the trainings said they have found the project to be beneficial.

"With Internews' backing, there are excellent and highly useful training events for journalists who cover violent extremism," said Munara Borombayeva, a journalist from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Such training and gatherings offer attendees new knowledge, a chance to meet experts and an opportunity to receive grants for their projects, said Borombayeva.

"It's fantastic that the programme is going to continue and that Central Asian journalists and experts will have an opportunity to improve their capabilities," Borombayeva said.

Yernar Beisaliyev, an Nur-Sultan-based political analyst, also extolled the Internews initiative.

"The people of Central Asia weren't prepared for the fake news, disinformation and extremist propaganda flooding the internet," Beisaliyev said.

"The journalists who were encountering difficulties covering controversial, sensitive topics also lacked knowledge. These trainings are correcting this defect," Beisaliyev said.

"I'm learning a lot of new things from the posts in the online campaign 'Three dots. Know what you browse,"' said Arman Imashev, a 23-year-old schoolteacher in Zhambyl Province.

"These days everyone needs to have media literacy so as not to fall for the tricks of fake news, which you can come across on websites or on a broadcast on WhatsApp. I've started to treat information more responsibly, and I don't forward posts if I'm not sure that they're credible," he said.

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