Monday, July 30, 2012

International Mass Media: July 11

By Lindsay Boyle

On Wednesday, July 11, the third International Mass Media summer course was held in Copeland Hall at the Ohio University campus. During each class, two SUSI scholars give a lecture about their own country’s media systems, journalism practices and political cultures. All of the lectures are streamed live through Ohio University distance learning and are available online to 35 students who are taking a summer class instructed by Dr. Brook Beshah.

The SUSI summer institute — in which scholars from all over the world come to the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at OU to study journalism and media — is funded by an annual renewable grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Study of the U.S. Branch in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs.

Prof. Taimoor Noori

In his presentation, Taimoor Noori first described the reach of various types of media in Afghanistan, explaining that both commercial and state-owned TV and radio are currently the most prominent and effective.

Though media on the Internet does impact what appears on TV and radio, Noori said that its reach is minimal throughout his country.

Print publications are doing the least well of all formats, which Noori said is likely due to the low levels of literacy in the country. Afghanistan has no official national newspaper.

In addition, Noori explained that citizens overall are deprived of many media outlets because the current regime does not allow them. However, because of the large amount of international troops stationed in Afghanistan, he said that several international news organizations are present, though they come and go.

Noori himself works for the New York Times doing correspondence about an ongoing war. He explained that the presence of such international publications is important, because their criticism of the current regime encourages local outlets to do the same — something he said he feels could bring about change.

SUSI scholar Taimoor Noori listens to a speaker during a morning class.

When local journalists criticize the government, however, it is not without risk. Although there is no official censorship in his country, Noori said threats from the reigning regime have become increasingly common in recent years. Such threats range from detainment to lawsuits to assassination attempts.

In addition, Noori explained that the government sometimes denies the stories written by journalists by saying the journalists are spreading rumors and lies, or that they are spying for Iran or Pakistan. Such comments can endanger the journalists’ lives and tarnish their reputations.

Also working against the journalists — or at least the ones who work for Western media — is that many Afghans believe Western media work for their own interests, not to bring change in Afghanistan. According to Noori, many Afghans also believe that Western alliance forces have misled them by not making good on their promises to bring peace, stability and prosperity to Afghanistan.

Overall, Noori described most people in Afghanistan as being critical of the government, logical and open-minded. He said that they may need organizational help and assistance to create a more peaceful and stable nation, but otherwise would prefer to no longer be disrupted.

Dr. Alexsandr Kazakov

SUSI scholar Dr. Alexsandr Kazakov began his presentation with a brief introduction of his institution, Saratov State University.

Afterward, he explained his hopes to learn more about the United States, as well as his desire to dispel some existing stereotypes about Russia. He mentioned some of those stereotypes and how they were not true for him, which brought about laughter in the classroom.

Kazakov then transitioned into a brief history of media development in Russia in the 20th century, from media under leader Joseph Stalin, to Nikita Khrushchev, and onward.

In Russia today, Kazakov explained that the main sources of information are, in order, TV, print, Internet and then radio. He said that national, regional and local levels of media are pretty evenly split.

After explaining that there are more than 26,000 papers in circulation, Kazakov reminded his audience that Russia is a huge country with a large population. He said a good aspect of that is that there is no existing monopoly of information or opinion in Russia.

According to Kazakov, there are two primary approaches to media in Russia, and most Russian media outlets fall somewhere in between the two.

SUSI scholar Dr. Alexsandr Kazakov presents a lecture that is streamed live through OU distance learning, and is available online.

He said the first approach is one that is critical of the current regime and affiliated with the opposition. In 2000, Kazakov explained that the government started to gag that form of media by banning several national TV channels and papers, forcing some journalists to resign, and forbidding live political talk shows. Russian media is far from free, according to Kazakov.

However, he said the second approach is state-oriented, but does not have state censorship. Instead, it is a quickly rising independent media system that holds press freedom as a key value. Regardless, Kazakov explained that many outlets still think that it is better to generally support the government than to criticize it, or to follow Western interests.

Overall, Russian media fall in a mixed category that is transitioning. More and more outlets are trying to push the limits of what they can cover. That is possible especially through Russia’s uninhibited Internet.

In Russia, social media are becoming more popular, but only among youth, Kazakov said. Despite the small age range using the medium, Kazakov explained that social media still affects politics in Russia. Aside from social media and the Internet in general, though, he said the influence of outside Western media is limited.

Kazakov spent much time prior to the presentation preparing, and said that he felt a bit anxious. Ultimately, however, he said that everything went well.

“I think that every scholar feels anxious, and has butterflies in his or her stomach," he said. "But when it comes to presenting, it’s OK, because the atmosphere is very nice, it’s very calm, and nobody asks you very difficult or rude questions.”

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