Uzbekistan Government’s Media Friend in Seoul

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by Nathan Hamm on 3/7/2012 · 18 comments

The Korea Times has a long, strange history in its coverage of Uzbekistan. Back in 2004, the paper carried a story by Vitaly Fen, Uzbekistan’s ambassador to South Korea, on Uzbekistan’s imminent greatness. In 2005, Fen wrote a piece post-Andijon calling the events unfortunate, but trumpeting the government’s pursuit of stability and the benefits of Uzbekistan for investors. A month later, a Korean politician rumored to have a fondness for taking bribes and violating election laws, wrote an article in the paper supporting the Uzbek government’s narrative for the Andijon massacre. In 2006, the paper published a whole series of articles singing Uzbekistan’s praises in honor of the country’s fifteen years of independence.

The Korea Times is still publishing fluff pieces in English on Uzbekistan that look ripped from the pages of any of Uzbekistan’s state run newspapers. This time, they’ve run a story on a conference on education recently held in Tashkent. Content-wise, there’s nothing so terrible, though it is the kind of “gee-whiz, isn’t Uzbekistan on the right track and doesn’t its government have its crap together” kind of coverage that Karimov’s government loves to see in its domestic press and whenever possible, from foreign press. The thing is as dry and content-free as a Karimov speech. Here’s a random excerpt.

Uzbekistan is one of the developing countries seeking to take lessons from Korea’s education experience. The central Asian country established diplomatic ties with Seoul in January 2002 after it became independent from the former Soviet Union in September 2001.

In an ambitious effort to upgrade and reform its educational system, the Uzbek government, under the initiative of President Islam Karimov, hosted an international educational conference last month: “Fostering a Well Educated and Intellectually Advanced Generation – A Critical Prerequisite for Sustainable Development and Modernization of a Country.”

OK, that wasn’t so random. I wanted to highlight that they screwed up the year Uzbekistan became independent…

Anyhow, a lot of the rest of the story is, in fact, a summary of a Karimov speech just going over figures and reform plans that almost certainly have nothing to do with reality.

Thank goodness the Times is on the case because now maybe Uzbekistan’s embassies and state information agencies can throttle back trying to get the word out about the event to the whole damned world. (I did find mentions of the conference in several other non-Uzbek government controlled outlets, but they were all to say that someone from country x was going to attend.)

In response one of our earlier posts on the love affair The Korea Times has for Uzbekistan, an employee of the paper commented that pay-for-positive coverage is common in the South Korean media. And it’s not uncommon for countries to try to market whatever their cause might be. Kazakhstan does it all the time in the US and Europe. Azerbaijan has gotten in on this too with its recent Khojaly campaign to garner international sympathy in their ongoing dispute with Armenia. What’s interesting about Uzbekistan is how singularly bad it is at getting its message out through international media. (Though creating a positive, believable message might be a bit tough, to say the least.)

At least they can count on The Korea Times to consistently say a kind word or two (that investment climate is still awesome!, all indications otherwise aside)…

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This post was written by...

– 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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Justin March 8, 2012 at 5:41 am

Nathan it’s a great pity you allow your language to lower the tone of your otherwise pretty good articles.

Nathan March 8, 2012 at 9:56 am

Out of curiosity, what would you recommend changing? Is it the use of “screwed” and “damned ?”

Dmitriy March 9, 2012 at 9:30 am

Don’t change that.. It’s 2012 for crying outloud.. NY Times uses much more upfront language then that

Nathan Hamm March 9, 2012 at 11:39 am

I agree. I was just curious what it is he finds wrong.

Metin March 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm

maybe it is ‘pay-for-positive-coverage’, maybe not. South Korean business looks to be doing well in Uzbekistan. This may explain positive coverage.

Nathan Hamm March 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm

If the guy who commented in the past is correct, it is common for South Korean papers to take money for positive coverage.

I’m skeptical that South Korean businesses are doing particularly well. Don’t forget that it took GM buying Daewoo and incorporating their production into GM’s global strategy to get the auto factory back online. Of course, that’s just a big business. The golf club raid and its “tax investigation” justification suggest that the South Korean business community gets shaken down like other businesses. Unlike western businesses, they seem to keep quieter about it.

Oh, and does anyone know if South Korea has an analogue to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? I get the impression they don’t, which certainly would make doing business in Uzbekistan easier.

Metin March 9, 2012 at 3:00 am

South Korea probably has an analogue of ‘Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’, as it is member of OECD, an organisation which has rules on ethical business practices.
I think it is wrong to suggest that South Korean businesses are more successful than western businesses (in Uzbekistan or elsewhere) just because of bribes. It is also wrong to suggest that only koreans bribe, as westerners are not angels as well. For example, there were allegations of bribery by the US companies paid for Nazarbaev.

Nathan Hamm March 9, 2012 at 11:51 am

You’re right that westerners aren’t angels. The case in Kazakhstan you’re referring to resulted in a prosecution under the FCPA. The case resulted in acquittal because the defendant successfully argued he was buying access at the behest of the US government.

However, if the little bit I’ve learned about South Korean business and political culture — at least the lofty heights of it — is indeed true, there is more comfort with engaging in and tolerating corruption than there is in the west.

Avo March 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Well Nathan, some get paid for positive and some for negative… That, perhaps, is the goal of a professional journalist, isn’t it right?

You guys earn your bread on making up the stories. But, I find the article on the Korean Times much more bearable, than your filthy comment on it. No offence.

Nathan Hamm March 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I think you’re confused about a lot of things like what journalism is and what the writing on this site for the most part is and is not.

I’d be happy to talk about what it is you find so nasty about this. I do think it is noteworthy that The Korea Times is apparently along among English publications outside of Uzbekistan that publishes news about Uzbekistan similar in tone and comment to what comes out in official Uzbek news releases. In part because of your association with Uzbeks and/or Uzbekistan, I have to assume you think it’s slanderous for me to suggest there’s something wrong with this.

Avo March 12, 2012 at 6:28 am

I do appreciate fair and objective journalism. But, I do not, for a second, underestimate what sort of agendas certain journalists may carry.

Democracy, as you understand it, cannot be enforced upon peoples. Violations can be found anywhere, even in your native country, right at this moment.

The nastiness of your articles is that this kind of approach does not help, but exacerbates the situation in those countries. And you must know that. Certainly, there are changes to positive side, while a lot more problems still remain.

My association with that country and/or its people is not as important as yours. And I do think most, if not ALL, of the articles on this website re specifically Uzbekistan, are slanderous.

Nathan Hamm March 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Since I’m accused of both being too critical and too supportive of Uzbekistan, I’ll pat myself on the back for a job well done. Pissing off both sides means I’m probably doing something right.

Yes, there are some positives in Uzbekistan. Sadly they are few and getting fewer.

Kim Jong Il March 12, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Listen people, even if I am dead I can still get you. As an experienced statesman I do agree with comrade Avo and must say that this type of articles do further author’s own agenda, not the people’s. As you all know I banned the Internet in my own country so excuse my ignorance if it is the author’s responsibility to objective and think if the article is endangering any lives on the ground. Because I thought it was not. Maybe there is some type oath, similar to the Hippocratic oath, where the journalist give their word to be objective. Be as it may, I do think that this article does not help ordinary people in that country. That being said I do not think we can demand the author to behave one way or another. We can politely ask and see if our author complies.

By the way, now that I am in Hell I would like to say that Hell is not that bad as they say. I am enjoying myself here, I prank call God everyday, there is free BBQ everywhere as you can imagine. My only complain is they play Justin Beiber songs all day, interspersed with Bill Cosby stand-up shows. Jeez! The phrase “funny as hell” is a misnomer….

Avo March 22, 2012 at 5:43 am

Lol… Leaders are there to lead, not to be led. Morality is not something that is standard, that can be agreed upon by all and everywhere, and looked at from the same angle.

I am more than sure that you cared more about your people than Mr Hamm does through his demagogic tactics…

Guy Fawkes March 27, 2012 at 10:59 am

People? What people?

Anyway, some new developments from Hell… My cell buddy is Qaddafi over here and told me that for some strange reason Assad is dying to get here…

passer by March 9, 2012 at 5:32 am

The danger of this is that such stories are used back in Uzbekistan by the authorities to silence “ungratefull” citizens for not seeing “great achivements of the country acknowledged and admired by developed countries of the world”. The Korea Times and others (including many experts from the west who often praise Uzbekistan policy in different conferences in Tashkent) help Uzbek officials to force ordinary people to beleive in things that dosent exist, like high ecomonic growth and millions of job places which are created only in the paper.

Nathan Hamm March 9, 2012 at 11:51 am

I concur.

Charles P March 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for the article. It helps me explain an article that I saw in Korea Times on July 31, 2011 called “Freedom of Religion and Belief”.
It’s a heavily edited, and much smoother version of the second half of this article on “Culture, Religion” on the website of the Uzbek embassy in Washington, D.C. The order is different in the KT article, and the English is much improved, but the content and the points made are the same, that locals and foreign nationals of all faiths have a high degree of religious freedom in Uzbekistan.

This seems a clear case where not only the tone, but also the content of a KT article on Uzbekistan has been provided to the author.

I’ll try to include the links, but I assume your spam filter may not like them.

Uzbek Embassy in Wash.:

KT article:

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