Journalists in Kyrgyzstan Get Help to Deal with Post-Conflict Trauma

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Journalists in Kyrgyzstan Get Help to Deal with Post-Conflict Trauma

Two journalists in the water with a video camera

Local journalists in Kyrgyzstan use a press center in Osh set up by Internews to support post-conflict reporting.

(September 8, 2010) During inter-ethnic clashes in Southern Kyrgyzstan in May and June, many local journalists suffered physical and psychological trauma. Unable to do their jobs and practice their profession because of the immediate physical threat and fear for their lives, local reporters, both of Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnicity, found themselves on two opposite sides of the conflict.

Effects of the Conflict on Journalists

Journalists became targets for attacks; for example, a local state TV crew comprised of an Uzbek husband and a Kyrgyz wife, were beaten by an angry mob. Several journalists had their houses burnt, while others had to be evacuated out of the region altogether. Due to the lack of credible information sources, many journalists (and the rest of the public) believed the rumors and misinformation sweeping the country. As a result, they grew increasingly distrustful of their colleagues from the "other" side.

In the weeks following the conflict, with Internews launching press centers in Osh and Jalalabad to serve as safe places for journalists to gather and work, many local reporters found it difficult to work side-by-side because they continued to suspect betrayal from colleagues of a different ethnic group. A Kyrgyz journalist would refuse to go on a shoot with an Uzbek cameraman, and vice versa.

While the rest of the country as well as the international community wondered why local media coverage was relatively slow to address key issues, local journalists faced an uphill battle to recover from the trauma, rebuild mutual trust, and start communicating with each other in a professional manner.

Providing Post-Trauma Training and Counseling

Internews launched an initiative to bring a group of local journalists to the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan, a place where they could rest, recover and interact with each other in a neutral, non-threatening environment. In late August, a group of 49 journalists from Osh, Jalalabad and Batken were able to relax in the sun while working with professional psychologists on post-traumatic rehabilitation.

Two trainers worked with the journalists – Olga Kravtsova, a professional psychologist who specializes in the post-traumatic recovery of journalists and is affiliated with the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations in Russia and the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma in the US; and Mikhail Munkin, director of Kyrgyzstan’s Association of Psychologists and Psychiatrists, who has experience working with victims of the April-June events in the South.

Kravtsova and Munkin designed the seminar program to combine serious discussion about the nature of trauma and stress with interactive exercises and teambuilding games. The participants also learned self-help and relaxation techniques, filled out specialized surveys to determine their stress level, and had time for individual consultations with the two psychologists.

In the evenings, they watched documentary films from the Frontline collection. After one of the films, the Emmy-winning "Baghdad ER," the journalists had a chance to speak with the film director, Jon Alpert, online from New York City via Skype video conference. And while many of the participants said in their seminar review questionnaires that it was too difficult and traumatizing for them to watch the film, they mentioned their conversation with Jon as one of the highlights of the seminar.

To close the seminar, a local NGO, El Pikir, implementing a post-conflict reconstruction project in Osh funded by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, presented the participants with flash drives and also pledged financial support to those who suffered material or physical damage during June events. Also, the Presidential Administration awarded special certificates to about ten journalists (most of whom have been based at the press center in Osh) who were the first ones to return to work in June. Internews’ Resident Advisor Denis Bevz, producer Elima Japarova and cameraman Tair Tursunaliev were recognized in this group. 

To organize the seminar, Internews partnered with the Osh Media Resource Center, with additional funding for the event from UNICEF and the local Soros Foundation.