2 February 2022
In response to the January 2021 events in Kazakhstan, UNESCO Almaty participated in an online webinar on the safety of journalists when reporting on mass disturbances. The webinar is organised by the public association Kazakhstan Media Network.A wave of protests has broken out in recent years across the globe. There is contestation about labelling such mass events, as can be seen in the terms “riots”, “civil unrest”, “civil disobedience”, which are sometimes attributed to them. This webinar uses the term “protests” as a generic to cover all these forms of mass action in the exercise of the right to association, irrespective of whether there may be elements of violence or not. Along with these protests, there has been a notable escalation of attacks against the press.
On 2 February 2022, an online meeting on the safety of journalists covering protests in Almaty was organized to introduce UNESCO's work on the issue and the interactions at different levels, including government agencies, NGOs, journalism schools, and other partner organizations.
UNESCO presented trends, assessment systems, resources and recommendations on how the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists is coordinated and implemented.
During the webinar, participants shared their experiences covering protests in Almaty.
Madina Aesheva, the journalist of Orda.kz, said: On 5 January 2022 we were on the square, during the protests filming, some aggressive participants shouted unpleasant things to the camera crew. We were wearing identification vests, already in the process peaceful protesters began to warn us to take off the vests, because of the growing aggression, but we continued.
Afterward, on our way to the editorial office, we encountered direct aggression from the protesters. They called for beatings and shouted, "They're filming us, run after them". This group had shovels, rebar, and police batons in their hands. One of the protesters ripped out our camera. I politely asked for it back, but it didn't help.
We were lucky that there were peaceful protesters who broke us out of the encirclement and demanded the equipment back on the grounds of the importance of the press and the fact that we were a friendly party. The camera was returned. But the insults and threats against my colleague did not stop. We had to act on the spot, there was no way to contact the editorial office. In the end, we hid the equipment, took off the identification, and just kept walking. The threats stopped when my colleague put on a mask.
My gender identity, it seemed to me, helped in part. Because one of the peaceful protesters, trying to stop the attackers, shouted: "kyzga tiyme" (translated from Kazakh as "don't touch the girl"). There were no misogynistic remarks from the participants, but the support of peaceful protesters was crucial for my safety and the entire crew.
I would advise women journalists not to react to provocations, not to engage in altercations, especially in conditions of chaos. It is better to think about your own safety, not to react to outburst.
Madina Ayesheva, journalist Orda.kz
Journalist Olga Nastyukova shares her experience in protest reporting.
In 2008, there were a lot of protests - cheated shareholders, mortgage holders, residents of Shanyrak, and later the first protests in Zhanaozen. They were very emotional, sometimes exhausting shooting. But they teach you to work in a team and make decisions in difficult situations. The experience I gained came in handy now, when I became project manager and co-founder of public organization KazMediaNetwork. Together with my colleagues - journalists, editors, and university professors - we are creating a platform for discussing the current problems and challenges facing Kazakhstan's journalism. Recently, after the tragic events of January 2022, we held a series of webinars on the safety of journalists, including in partnership with UNESCO.
What advice can I give to my colleagues who are just beginning their journey?
If you decide to choose this profession - prepare for the fact that the news never ends. There are those detectives where the investigator comes on vacation, rents a hotel room, but something goes wrong - he discovers a crime and starts working instead of enjoying the sea. You will have the same thing.
There will be heroes for stories, topics for news, and interesting stories everywhere. Write, but remember the balance - sometimes you just have to be a person, not just a journalist. Keep a balance between facts and emotions in your texts and between work and family in life. Working hours are irregular, so it's important to focus on sports, eating right and your health.
Journalism is one of the most stressful professions. If you feel professional burnout, if the stress is stronger than you and your emotions are off-scale, even if the events are outrageous and you are in the very epicenter - perhaps you should stop.
Olga Nastyukova, Journalist, Co-founder of public organization KazMediaNetwork, Co-organizer of trainings on journalists.
Kazakhstan Media Network webinars on the Safety of Journalists
UNESCO Almaty provided methodological support, international standards and translated guidelines.