As we observe World Press Freedom Day this month, it is important to realize that there is one main reason why despots the world over strive to stifle freedom of the press. The more authoritarian a country’s government is, the harder it works to suppress the free flow of information. That is because a free and unfettered press can expose corruption, make citizens aware of their rights by publicizing national laws and policies, and facilitate the exchange of ideas and public discussion.
A free press reinforces freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information, and allows individual citizens to make informed decisions. Yet in recent years, according to Reporters Without Borders, “The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media.”
This certainly is true of a number of countries in Central Asia, where media environments are dominated by government-run media and where the influence of Russia and China is increasing.
For more than two decades, the U.S. Agency for International Development has played a critical role in supporting the development of independent media in Central Asia.
Two years ago, USAID began funding a five-year, $15 million Central Asia Media Program implemented by Internews. The goal is to develop a more balanced information environment in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, thus increasing openness among youth and adults toward differing ideas, opinions and perspectives, and in turn increasing civic participation.
To achieve this objective, the program aims to improve the media’s capacity to provide balanced, informed and unbiased reporting, and to increase media and information literacy among citizens so they can recognize disinformation and become more critical consumers and producers of information.
The program also offers training to improve journalists’ skills and strengthen their professional development. It promotes USAID-developed media literacy curricula for primary and secondary schools, and provides legal support to independent journalists and media outlets along with advocacy for improving the regulatory environment.
“The United States values freedom of the press as a key component of democratic governance,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “By fostering a free press, citizens are more informed, active and engaged in political decision-making, and can better hold their governments accountable.”