Why Central Asian journalists hide their names
It’s not always for fear of reprisals. And it can undermine trust in journalism.
Central Asia is a tough place to be a journalist. As Eurasianet reports often, journalists in all five countries are routinely silenced by the authoritarian governments for reporting on corruption, abuse of power, and human rights.
So, it is not uncommon for reporters to take pseudonyms to protect themselves from real physical and legal threats. (Several Eurasianet correspondents use pen names; we always disclose when they do.)
Yet a small new study shows that when Central Asian journalists use a fake name, it's not always for fear of retribution.
Bahtiyar Kurambayev of KIMEP University and Karlyga Myssayeva of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, both in Almaty, find that sometimes news outlets assign different names to the same writer to seem like they have more staff, reasoning that readers will see a larger publication as more credible – and advertisers will spend more money.
In other cases, they find, journalists use fake names to avoid criticism for printing gossip, dressing up press releases as fact, or taking money to publish lies: “Deceptive material paid for by undisclosed sources […] is a fixture of contemporary media in Kazakhstan.”
Kurambayev and Myssayeva base their findings on in-depth interviews with journalists and editors in Kazakhstan, plus a few in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The sample size was small, only two dozen interviewees, and the study was published last month in the Journal of Media Ethics.
The authors blame the region’s training programs and universities for failing to impart ethical standards. (Fault could also be ascribed to the Soviet legacy, in which journalism served the needs of the state, and today’s post-truth political culture – no less prevalent in Central Asia than in the West.)
Ultimately, they write, all this “ethical misbehavior” undermines trust in the media, already a battlefield for partisan warriors: “Deceiving and misleading audiences and commercializing fake names damages the potential of gaining and maintaining public trust, something that is already hampered by growing public animosity toward the news media, weaponization of fake news, delegitimizing the profession of journalism by some political actors, subjective reporting, and private sector and state-coordinated disinformation campaigns, among other challenges the news industry faces.”
*Clarification: The authors do not blame “elder journalists” but “academic institutions.”
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