'Hunger for Information’: Kyrgyz Residents Value Community Media

31 March 2021

Media pluralism and independent journalism need local talents. UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) supported the education of 39 journalism teachers at 11 Kyrgyz universities. These teachers spread professional knowledge on “Community Media” to their students.

“Community media are of great importance not only for a certain region but also for the entire Republic of Kyrgyzstan, since events, problems and achievements of rural residents remain aloof from the nationwide information flow”, tells us Kymbat Bolotbekova. She teaches journalism at Kyrgyz State University. Though a rather small country with 6.5 million people, Kyrgyzstan is a mostly mountainous country, which makes it difficult to reach rural communities, even for national media. UNESCO, therefore, supports reaching and hearing these communities through the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC). Together with the Association of Community Media of Kyrgyzstan, UNESCO Almaty launched the “University-based Learning of Community Media Specialists” course.

Journalist students discussing community media at Kyrgyz State University. ©UNESCO/Kymbat Bolotbekova

Dr Elira Turdubaeva, president of the Association of Communicators in Kyrgyzstan which unites all journalism teachers in Kyrgyzstan, conducted training for Kyrgyz educators on journalism and guest speakers from New Zealand and Australia who have both teaching and practical experience with community media. Before implementing the course “Community Media” at Kyrgyz universities, local producers of community media in Kyrgyzstan delivered seminars on the development and challenges of their day-to-day work. Over several weeks, journalism teachers learnt how to design a course and how to teach a “Community Media” course. According to Turdubaeva, “our project aimed at launching a new course on adapting UNESCO model on journalism education to the regional context of Kyrgyzstan. “Interestingly, a large number of beneficiaries are women! Academia and journalism, in general, are very ‘female’ in Kyrgyzstan”, Turdubaeva adds.

Studying what Community Media is – and why it is important

As a first step, IPDC’s “Community Media” project raised awareness among journalists and teachers of the very existence of community media. After learning and exchanging the importance and function of local media, they spread their professional knowledge to their students through the course “Community Media” in their education programs; the IDPC provided teaching material and a course guidebook. Over one semester, journalism students at 10 universities practised using and improving community media resources, working with mobile technological devices, and conducting research on a small budget. Teachers also initiated summer internship opportunities at community radio stations and multimedia centers.

Intrigued by this training, Begimay Almazova, a masters student of journalism at Kyrgyz National University, started researching the “Tendencies and Perspectives of Community Media Development in Kyrgyzstan” in her master thesis. She conducted in-depth interviews with editors and volunteers of 14 local media and radio stations in Kyrgyzstan, heads of municipalities, members of rural communities and analysed focus-group discussions on community media. “One of my observations is”, says Almazova, “that inhabitants of remote villages have a ‘hunger for information’. Community media meets these needs. Rural residents value and trust local community reporting, even though it might not be completely professional.”

Student Begimay Almazova conducts a focus-group interview with school teachers and village people in Kizil-Bulak (Osh Oblast). ©UNESCO/Begimay Almazova

Pandemic affects learning-environment: lack of equipment and internet access

However, COVID-19 made the learning environment more difficult than in previous years. “The pandemic had a very severe impact on our course. In many regions the internet connection did not work and we therefore often missed classes”, recalled journalism student Zarylgul Mederkulova (Kyrgyz State University). Ainura Eraileva, teaching “Community Media” at International Kuwait University in Bishkek, noticed that the course suffered from some students' lack of digital equipment. Likewise, student Gulniza Zhunus kyzy (Osh State) University, stressed difficulties that occured while learning remotely. Nevertheless, “we were learning through using new technologies ourselves”, she concluded. On community media, she emphasizes that “there is a need to support more community media centers in villages – because they play a very important role in delivering information to local communities”.

At the moment, there are three community radio stations airing in Kyrgyzstan, and 21 community multimedia centers. “Community media informs, brings people together and provides an opportunity to keep up with the times. Local issues are raised and discussed through their media. This is exactly what our regions lack – joint discussions of local problems”, urges Kymbat Bolotbekova.

In 2020, 11 Kyrgyz universities developed and taught community media within the IPDC project:
  • University of Central Asia
  • Kyrgyz National University
  • International University of Kyrgyzstan
  • International Kuwait University
  • Kyrgyz State University Arabayev
  • Ala Too International University
  • Osh State University
  • Bishkek State University
  • Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University
  • American University of Central Asia
  • Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University

Students discussing community media. ©UNESCO/Kymbat Bolotbekova

International media experts and teachers developed the community media course for Kyrgyz universities, Bishkek, November 2019. ©UNESCO

Download community media course in Kyrgyz, Russian and English languages here.
COVID-19; CI Response to pandemic; open education resources

Permanent link: http://en.unesco.kz/hunger-for-information-kyrgyz-residents-value-community-media