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Report Launch Event: Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19 & Media Consumption in Central Asia

By Events, Projects, Research

Report Launch Event: Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19 and Media Consumption among Vulnerable Communities in Central Asia

 

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) in cooperation with Internews, released its new study: “Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19 and Media Consumption among Vulnerable Communities in Central Asia”. The report is part of the “Strengthening Resilience to Radicalisation and Disinformation in Central Asia through Independent Media (Phase II)” project, produced with the financial support of the European Union and implemented by Internews.

To mark the launch of the report, ENC and Internews organized an online event that took place on Friday, 11th of December 2020, featuring key opening remarks by Ambassador Peter Burian, European Union Special Representative for Central Asia, Marc Fiedrich, FPI2 Head of Unit at the European Commission, and Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive at Internews. The panel consisted of Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director, Andreas Marazis, ENC Head of Research for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Shairbek Dzhuraev, Co-founder and President of Crossroads Central Asia. Ilhan Kyuchyuk, MEP from the Renew Europe Group and Rapporteur for Uzbekistan in the European Parliament wrapped up the event with his closing remarks.

Amb. Burian started by highlighting that post-COVID-19 recovery, while being very challenging, is also a unique opportunity to build back better. The importance of the ENC and Internews report is therefore crucial, as it helps the EU rethink its approach and better apprehend groups that were never focused on before. This societal participation is crucial in contributing to sustainable and inclusive governance.

A major constraint in standing up to the crisis is the uneven digitalisation happening in Central Asian countries, which undermines both governmental and societal efforts to address the pandemic. Among implications of this digitalisation is the limited access to reliable information due to the inability of state agencies to provide official data on time and attempts to conceal the scope of the problem. However, increased digitalisation can mitigate the effects of the crisis, especially for people living in rural and remote area.

Labour migrants, for example, which is one of the communities ENC and Internews focused on, were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, as they are not part of any social protection from their home nor host countries. This creates grievances and ground for radicalisation, and explains that, whereas most people joining ISIS from other parts of the world do so because of ideological reasons, recruits from Central Asia are lured based on economic incentives and misinformation.

Marc Fiedrich agreed that the pandemic has brough the issue of disinformation into all societies around the world, and that working on this issue will help us understand how manipulation of information is being used and what challenges the media are facing in Central Asia. To ensure that information is not used to undermine democratic institutions or to advocate violent extremism, it is important to support the media and civil society organisations (CSOs) but also government institutions, religious leaders and active citizens. Mr. Friedrich highlighted the importance of the report as a way to further nuance our appreciation of the different problematics in Central Asia.

Jodie Ginsberg emphasized that access to trustworthy and accurate information is not just a public good but can genuinely save lives, which is why this report is particularly important today. Ms. Ginsberg stated Internews’ ambition that journalists and media from Central Asia will use this report as a reference point in their own projects covering vulnerable communities, as it highlights the important gap of evidence on how vulnerable communities have been affected by the pandemic. Stakeholders, including governments and the international community could also learn from it, and use it in their communication strategies by creating people-centred stories and make the voices of the vulnerable communities heard.

During the panel discussion Samuel Doveri Vesterbye presented the methodology of the study, a tailor-made and rapid online analysis methodology based on a quantitative data survey of approximately 2,000 respondents across vulnerable communities in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as 500 qualitative semi-structured in-depth interviews with all three vulnerable communities and 120 “elite” interviews with content producers (journalists and bloggers) across Central Asia. He also refered to the desk research and the consultations with academics and fields experts that took place in order to identify the different vulnerable communities and the research gap.

Moving on to the key findings of the study, Mr. Doveri Vesterbye elaborated on the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. The findings suggest that labour migrants and ethnic minorities were the most impacted groups, reporting high level of unemployment and labour uncertainty. Another very clear pattern is that women are a particularly exposed sub-division within already vulnerable communities, especially regarding unemployment and uncertain work status rates. In general, 20% more women reported unemployment compared to men. 

Andreas Marazis explained the study’s findings related to trends and patterns of media consumption in Central Asia, which revolve around three categories: the media preferences, the internet access to information restrictions, and the language preference and availability for information consumption. In terms of media preference, data from the vulnerable communities and content producers suggest that the two main sources are television and the Internet. With regards to the different platforms, social media (mainly Instagram and Vkontakte), and instant messaging applications (WhatsApp and Telegram) are the most used. On the issue of Internet restrictions, 36% percent of refugees and stateless persons reported Internet restrictions in their country of residence. However, for ethnic minorities in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, it goes up to respectively 56% and 50%. Finally, the findings show that vulnerable groups favour the Russian language, with the exception of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, thus revealing a linguistic gap in terms of local news.

Shairbek Dzhuraev  focused on the impact of COVID-19 on media consumption. The pandemic became an unexpected source of danger to our physical well-being in addition to a sudden change in our way of life (shutdown of offices, closing of borders, lockdown). There was a significant increase in news consumption, especially related to the virus (statistics, precautionary measures), followed by a reverse effect of disengagement and demand for non-COVID-19-related content. Instant messaging services, in particular Telegram, Instagram and Zoom, saw a major growth in usage as a result of the pandemic. In terms of trust, there were three important trends found. Firstly, in Central Asia, international media are more trusted on COVID-19-related matters. Secondly, there is a discrepancy between those considering online media or television as the biggest source of unreliable information. Finally, there is no consensus on what type of information is actually “fake news”. As a result, debunking disinformation became a priority for content producers.

As a conclusion, Ilhan Kyuchyuk highlighted the importance of focusing on vulnerable groups in Central Asia, as challenges of Central Asia become part of the EU challenges as well, and cited for example illegal trade, terrorism, migration and climate change. When hit by a pandemic, it is even more crucial that the EU helps and supports groups that were the most affected: it is both an ethical and pragmatic choice, as when vulnerable people are suffering, they can become victims of disinformation and radicalization.

You can watch the recording of the report launch event below

Deciphering disinformation and fact-checking methods

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The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), together with the EU Delegation in Turkey and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Turkey (FNFT) implemented a new project on “The Future of Europe & Turkey Through Education” Online Training Programme in 2020-2021, building on identified best practices of the Turkey Training and Lecture Programme 2018-2020 (TTP). A group of 60 opinion shapers composed of members of Civil Society organisations (CSO), journalists/bloggers, students and academics across Turkey, including urban centers such as Adana, Diyarbakir, Samsun were invited to participate in the four online training sessions, which took place throughout November and December 2020. The first session covered the topic of Deciphering disinformation and fact-checking methods (26/11/2020), the second was dedicated to Understanding how GDPR works (02/12/2020). The third session was on the topic of Transparency and Investigative Journalism (04/12/2020), while the fourth and last sessions was about Mapping access to funding in Turkey (08/12/2020).

ENC – Internews PVE Online Fellowship Programme

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ENC – Internews PVE Online Fellowship Programme

ENC, in cooperation with Internews Central Asia, organised during the first half of September 2019 their second fellowship programme as part of the EU-funded regional project on Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) in Central Asia “Contributing to stability and peace in Central Asia through media literacy, improved reporting and regional cooperation”. The project focused on national and regional efforts to prevent radicalisation in Central Asia through increasing the capacity of journalists, teachers, civic activists and media professionals (through training activities, workshops both on national and regional level, and innovation laboratories) in the production of high-quality media content and raising the level of critical media consumption of representatives of civil society, decision-makers and ordinary public.

 

ENC study: the impact of COVID-19 on media consumption among vulnerable communities in Central Asia

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ENC study: the impact of COVID-19 on media consumption among vulnerable communities in Central Asia

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with Internews Central Asia, presented the preliminary findings of their new study during an online event, which took place on August 6th, and was live streamed on Facebook. The study aims to provide a mapping of media and information consumption among three target communities (labour migrants, refugees/stateless persons and ethnic minorities) during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also identifying their vulnerabilities and risks of social exclusion.
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Andreas Marazis, ENC Head of Research, Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director and Shairbek Dzhuraev, co-founder and director of Crossroads Central Asia shared early findings of their research on media consumption among vulnerable communities in Central Asia, the impact of COVID-19 and the link between access to information and poorer socio-economic conditions.
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The first results arising from the quantitative data survey, which reached thousands of interviewees, showed that COVID-19 had a tremendous impact on the living conditions of these communities. Over 50% of labour migrants in the region are currently unemployed, a number which is due to increase over time, while poverty among refugees is becoming more widespread.
At the same time, the findings demonstrated that these communities lack coverage in most media platforms (TV, radio, press and online media) across the region and need to be more representated through different minority languages beyond Russian.
The results also indicate that the levels of uncertainty for all groups rose, including unemployment. However, labour migrants and refugees/stateless people are far more at risk of job uncertainty. Concerning income levels, refugees and stateless people reported the lowest levels, followed by labour migrants, whereas ethnic minorities reported the most financially secure status among the three groups.
The graphics below demonstrate some of these figures:
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When it comes to media consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of internet is widespread among all communities with an absolute majority confirming online platforms as their preferred medium to access news and information, with the exception of Uzbekistan, where social media usage is low in comparison. Language concerns on COVID-19 information are also high among all groups and range between 10 and 20% of individuals within these communities desiring other languages than the ones available to obtain information.
Overall, there were varying degrees of trust towards government in terms of their handling of the new Coronavirus and availability of information, standing at 50/50 in most countries. However, many individuals simply did not have access to diverse and/or quality information, or the tools to access it.
ENC and Internews Central Asia will continue their research until the end of September 2020, looking into finalising the report by the end of October 2020.
You can access the video of the online event here.

Online discussion: The human dimension to EU-Uzbekistan relations: youth, exchange, and a better life

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Online discussion: The human dimension to EU-Uzbekistan relations: youth, exchange, and a better life

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with the Embassy of Uzbekistan to Belgium, organised an online discussion on 16 July 2020 dedicated to “The human dimension to EU-Uzbekistan relations: youth, exchange, and a better life”.

This discussion aimed at identifying common ground with Uzbekistan on the improvement of relations through fellowships, people-to-people contact, exchange and youth aspirations. Important notions like increasing the visibility of the EU, and a better understanding of the needs of young people were highlighted throughout the event. Uzbekistan’s new reform process was also underlined as key to advance the new Enhanced Parternership and Cooperation Agreement, a milestone in EU-Uzbekistan relations, and much needed to foster youth development, business environment and economic cooperation.

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The debate was moderated by ENC Managing Director, Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, and featured remarks by Ilhan Kyuchyuk, MEP from the Renew  Europe Group and newly appointed Rapporteur for Uzbekistan in the European Parliament. Mr.  Kyuchyuk took this first opportunity to share his thoughts on the EU relations with the country since his nomination, noting that the current momentum is very positive seeing as reforms well on going ahead of the signature of the new Enhanced Parternership and Cooperation Agreement. While there are challenges, he noted that there is also a lot of room for the EU and Uzbekistan to “get to know each other better” and foster opportunities of cooperation in priority areas such as civil society engagement, education, sustainability, water management, labour migration, connectivity and radicalisation. He added that nothing is sustainable and stable without democracy and people-centered policies, which the ENC has been promoting through fellowships and training for Central Asian young academics.

Andreas Marazis, ENC Head of Research for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, presented his paper for the first time, which was the background to the discussion,  and provided some insights on the notion of good life in the region and the main results of his research. He noted that Central Asian youths rank family, wealth, economy, health, employment, social status and security as the main priorities for a good life, in line with European priorities too. In the views of Central Asians, this concept is closely interlinked with socio-economic development and better relations with European partners.

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The pannel also featured H.E. Ambassador Dilyor Khakimov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the EU, a representative of Akmal Burkhanov, chair of the Yuksalish (Progress) National Movement, Maciej Madalinski, Deputy Team Leader  for Central Asian countries and Mongolia at DG DEVCO, Gulnoza Ismailova, Vice Rector of University World Economy & Diplomacy and Sanja Valiev, Deputy Director of the Institute of Strategic and Interregional Studies.

All speakers agreed that the focus on youth is an absolute priority for Uzbekistan and Central Asia, underlining that the EU should support prosperity and resilience, living up to the new EU Strategy for Central Asia, both in urban and rural areas, promoting exchanges, people-to-people contacts, funding opportunities for civil society organisations, vocational trainings and women representation.

You can find the full discussion: here

The Future of Europe and Turkey Through Education: Online Learning Initiatives for Youth in Turkey

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The Future of Europe and Turkey Through Education: Online Learning Initiatives for Youth in Turkey

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), together with the EU Delegation in Turkey and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Turkey (FNFT) implemented a new project on “The Future of Europe & Turkey Through Education” Online Training Programme in 2020-2021, building on identified best practices of the Turkey Training and Lecture Programme 2018-2020 (TTP). A group of 60 opinion shapers composed of members of Civil Society organisations (CSO), journalists/bloggers, students and academics across Turkey, including urban centers such as Adana, Diyarbakir, Samsun were invited to participate in the four online training sessions, which took place throughout November and December 2020. The first session covered the topic of Deciphering disinformation and fact-checking methods (26/11/2020), the second was dedicated to Understanding how GDPR works (02/12/2020). The third session was on the topic of Transparency and Investigative Journalism (04/12/2020), while the fourth and last sessions was about Mapping access to funding in Turkey (08/12/2020).

NATO Public Diplomacy Division (PDD) Grants

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NATO Public Diplomacy Division (PDD) Grants

European Neighbourhood Council, in cooperation with the Centre for Global Studies “Strategy XXI” and with the support of NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Kyiv, organised during 2018 a two-day conference in Kyiv including a high level discussion in the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the Verkhovna Rada, with the objective of fostering new thinking and alternative security policy formats for NATO/EU relations with Ukraine.

Two-day High Level Conference in Kyiv: “Ensuring Security in Ukraine and Eastern Europe: New Formats for NATO/EU Cooperation with Ukraine”

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Two-day High Level Conference in Kyiv: “Ensuring Security in Ukraine and Eastern Europe: New Formats for NATO/EU Cooperation with Ukraine”

European Neighbourhood Council in cooperation with the Centre for Global Studies “Strategy XXI”, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and with the support of NATO Information and Documentation Centre (NIDC) in Kyiv, held a two-day conference entitled “Ensuring Security in Ukraine and Eastern Europe: New Formats for NATO/EU Cooperation with Ukraine”. The two-day high level conference in Ukraine was a key opportunity for policy-makers in Kyiv and for NATO and EU officials based in Ukraine and Brussels to discuss for the first time about alternative formats of cooperation between the EU, NATO and Ukraine in the framework of the EU-NATO Enhanced Cooperation, focusing specifically on Cyber Security and Strategic Communication.

Understanding Future Values: Youth and Interaction across the EU and Turkey

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Understanding Future Values: Youth and Interaction across the EU and Turkey

The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) in cooperation with the Center for Public Policy and Democracy Studies (PODEM) have implemented a 14-month research project within the “Civil Society Dialogue between the EU and Turkey Program”(CSD-V)”, which focuses on youth perceptions in European countries and Turkey, and understanding the socio-political values of the youth and their views on EU-Turkey relations. The study focuses on university-level youth in Turkey and the selected countries of the European Union (Germany, the Netherlands, France and Belgium) with the objective to explore not only their perceptions towards life domains but also their value-sets, including but not limited to life satisfaction, family values, gender values and self-expression values, the latter of which shows the extent of shifting towards a culture of tolerance and political openness. ENC and PODEM looked at the potential impact of intercultural mobility on youth perceptions and the assumed global consciousness through a robust fieldwork study including university students from Turkey who have travelled to Europe for the Erasmus Program, and those from Europe who travelled to Turkey for the same reason. The study also seeks to gather information that would allow the exploration of university students’ attitudes toward the most pressing issues presently confronting Europe, Turkey and the EU, and how their perceptions towards Turkey and Europe, and Turkey-EU relations are evolving in line with the current political, economic and social agenda. ENC and PODEM presented the findings of their project during the final project webinar “Understanding Future Values: Youth and Interaction across the EU and Turkey” which took place on Tuesday 20th of October 2020 and featured keynote presentations by the new Head of EU Delegation to Turkey, Ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut and the Director General for Relations with the EU, Ambassador Basak Turkoglu.

ENC-EUCAM Fellowship Programme

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ENC-EUCAM Fellowship Programme

Over the course of 2018 until the end of 2020, the CESS office in Groningen hosted 5 groups of each 3 EUCAM fellows for periods of 12 weeks including a ‘research week’ and a ‘debating week’ in 4 Brussels for each of the 3 groups. These visits included items such as visits to the European Parliament; informal interview meetings for research purposes with relevant officials from the EU, as well as training by ENC senior external advisors, roundtables with Belgian academic institutions, and the organisation of public events. The fellows were young nationals from Central Asian states, working in academia or civil society. ENC is a partner institution of the EUCAM.