Selective Repackaging

by Nathan Hamm on 5/22/2009 · 1 comment

Bloggers, especially those of the 2002-2004 vintages, are pretty much parasites; we consume and reprocess other media. So those of us who built their schtick around blogging on Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan, have had a hard time of it the past couple years. There has been less reporting on the region, and while there was always plenty of bad reporting on the region from 2001-2005, it sometimes seems that the proportion of fairly uninformative or downright bad reporting on the region has risen from 2006-2009.

Case in point: “Bible Banned in Uzbekistan” from Religious Intelligence

In this article, author Judy West shamelessly rips off yesterday’s Forum 18 article on the same subject. In the process, West sensationalizes the story and eliminates all the context and nuance that Felix Corley includes in his version.

What is going on is much clearer in Corley’s story from the get-go. The title makes it clear that the Bible and a “Mel Gibson film” (which most readers would correctly assume to be The Passion of the Christ as opposed to Gibson’s more awesome works of art like Payback and Mad Max) have been banned in one part of Uzbekistan, Karakalpakistan. Both articles start out with a few more details.


Nurulla Zhamolov, the senior religious affairs official in Karakalpakstan Region in north-western Uzbekistan has banned the Bible, the Mel Gibson film “The Passion of the Christ”, and other religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The bans state that the material – which also include a hymn book, a Bible Encyclopaedia, a Bible dictionary, and a children’s Bible – is “banned for import, distribution or use in teaching.” The material was confiscated during police and NSS secret police raids and it remains unclear what further activity the authorities may undertake following the bans, or how widely they will be used. No officials in the region or the capital Tashkent were willing to discuss the raids and the country’s harsh censorship of religious literature, which applies to religious literature of all faiths. The latest known prisoners of conscience studied the works of Said Nursi, a Turkish Muslim theologian whose works are banned.

West’s version is word-for-word exactly the same except for her use of the phrase “Forum 18 News Service is reporting” in place of “Forum 18 News Service has learnt.” The reader would be forgiven for coming away with the impression that those currently possessing Bibles are the only people now allowed to own them in Karakalpakistan. However, Corley’s fuller version of the story notes that there are some details that are unclear about the story.

The bans were set out in “expert analyses” provided for court hearings of local Protestants, and revealed in court documents and a prosecutor’s office letter seen by Forum 18. Forum 18 has been unable to obtain copies of Zhamolov’s “expert analyses”.

It also remains unclear whether Zhamolov’s ban on the Bible includes a ban on the Russian-language Synodal version, a nineteenth-century translation widely used not only among Russian-speaking Protestants but by the Russian Orthodox for private reading outside church services (which are in Church Slavonic).

The point of this isn’t to point out someone ripping of Forum 18 or accuse anyone of spreading half-truths about Uzbekistan. Rather, it is to lament the unfortunate state of reporting on particularly Uzbekistan, but all of Central Asia. There still are those like Forum 18,, RFE/RL, EurasiaNet, etc., but it’s damned difficult to do good reporting on anything but big geopolitics and energy deals. Consumers of information are even more removed from news on social issues and human rights. If someone selectively repackages a story, excising important context, the potential difficulty of providing more balanced perspectives increases, especially when stories lose their context in the course of a jump to English from local languages. My particular concern is that the more alarmist versions of stories are those that end up coming to the attention of pundits, partisan think thanks and PACs, and, heaven forbid, members of Congress like Chris Smith who every so often make hay out of stories like “Uzbekistan Bans the Bible.”

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 1 comment }

Shohmurod May 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Not every Blogger has a staff of eyewitness reporters (or buddies confirming bits of info) from the site of the news. Should we take Bloggers’ information as “reporting” in the first place?

I think, blogging is mostly opinion and analysis, and some more informed than the rest. So it matters a lot how informed and selective the reader is on what should be accepted as fact and what as opinion.

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