A group of four journalists from Uzbekistan traveled to the United States this past week for a series of seminars and meetings with local journalists. World Partnerships Inc., an organization based in downtown St. Petersburg, brought the journalists to the U.S. to further their educations in various media and to learn about U.S. journalism practices.
I met with them Friday afternoon to discuss American blogging practices and answer their questions about the overall media climate in the U.S.
Speaking mostly through an interpreter, each journalist asked questions varying from opinions on foreign policy, international relations, and access to information and government practices through the media.
However, it was the questions they answered that were among the most compelling. The group shone a light on how fortunate Americans are to live in a country where the free press is truly free.
Each journalist, including independent blogger Muslimbek Khamraev, Muradulla Shambaev, a correspondent for Jahohir Magazine, Davronbek Tadjialiyev, editor-in-chief of ziyouz.com Information Agency, and Margarita Urmantseva, editor of pixland.uz, explained how reporting works in Uzbekistan.
While American journalists are accustomed to open government laws and the Freedom of Information Act allowing access to countless government documents and correspondence, these journalists can report only on limited information.
Holding government officials there is particularly challenging when writing any type of opinion-based column or critical article is simply not the norm.
As Urmantseva, explained, the closest an article critical of the government comes is one containing an analysis from an expert on whatever the topic is.
Meetings do not include public comment. Concerned citizens have little access to address their government and instead can supply comments into a sort of suggestion box. Those comments are most often left anonymously.
The group said they reserve independent opinions to private social circles and keep any dissenting conversations out of the public eye. Simply put, their reporting is limited to just the who, what, where and when. Why and how seem to be evasive and investigative journalism is a staunch challenge when compared to the United States.
The conversation was particularly enlightening as a journalist who takes day-to-day access to information for granted. Here, when a Freedom of Information Act request takes more than a couple of days it’s maddening, but we at least have access to the information.
Clarification on budget numbers, economic development questions or just a simple comment are often a telephone call, text or email away.
I attended the meeting with the intention of being a resource for young professionals abroad – to give them an understanding of modern U.S. blogging. As it was put in an email request, my meeting with them would give them the ability to “gain a greater understanding of the cultural and political influences in U.S. society.”
Not that they didn’t take away their own thoughts, each was taking notes meticulously as I answered questions about my own writing style and livelihood, but the “greater understanding” may have been left on me.
In a profession where you’re never really unplugged and 9 to 5 isn’t really a thing, it’s refreshing to be reminded that journalism in the U.S. is not dead. Sure the glory days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers are long gone, but they’ve been replaced with a bustling 24-hour news cycle for all its pros and cons. Reporters still have access to government officials and investigative reports continue to roll out by the day.
The access reporters have now may be as great as ever and, compared with other countries where freedom of the press is not held in such high regard, journalists in countries such as the U.S. enjoy great freedoms of information.
For at least a few days, I’ll stop taking all of that for granted while I stop to appreciate the challenges journalists abroad face everyday – some of them for no pay at all.
Janelle Irwin writes about government and goings-on in the Tampa Bay area for SaintPetersblog. She also hosts a weekly news and politics talk show Fridays on WMNF Community Radio. Column courtesy of Context Florida.