ASTANA – With the world’s attention focused on events in Ukraine and changing dynamics in the Middle East, the April 23-25 Eurasian Media Forum in the Kazakh capital became the focal point for insights and debate about the issues.
Welcoming a record number of delegates to the annual conference, now in its twelfth year, forum Organising Committee Chairperson Dariga Nazarbayeva acknowledged some of the leading global commentators, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and top TV presenter and journalist Vladimir Pozner, who had gathered to discuss the current situation.
“Dramatic and, unfortunately, the tragic developments in a number of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, the ongoing war in the Middle East, processes taking place in Asia, allow many observers in the world to talk about the end of the period, which may be called the Post-Cold War period,” Nazarbayeva told delegates from dozens of countries representing the media, governments, non-governmental organisations and other thought leaders.
She added, “The lack of stability in the world is reflected in the content of the forum’s agenda.”
“Many written, and unwritten rules have ceased to operate,” she said, pointing to changes in recent years that gave rise to the talk of a new world order. “Another sign of the times of global change is that the centre of the world political and economic agenda systematically shifted to Asia.”
Forum’s first day topics included the “New World Order: the Global Crisis and its Impact on the Rest of the World”, “Iran’s Nuclear Programme: Winners and Losers?” and “The Middle East Tinderbox,” focusing on the situation facing Syria and who holds the key to resolving the conflict.
The Eurasian Media Forum continued to live up to its reputation for debate and the gathering of some of the finest minds involved in current world affairs.
“In Syria every day, human blood is spilt. Fratricidal war continues, but we believe that the world attention will also be on this long-suffering land,” Nazarbayeva told the conference.
She also noted that many of the discussion topics appeared to be a repeat of previous years, given the nature of longstanding issues.
“Only some two months ago, the Sochi Olympics, with a worldwide television audience of a billion people and billions of dollars spent on media budgets, confidently claimed to be the major humanitarian and media event of the year, but unfortunately it is now tragic events in Ukraine, events around the Crimea,” she said.
The unfolding situation in Ukraine, “a good friend and a reliable trade partner with whom we have much in common,” meant that the tragic events were “just personal,” she said.
Nazarbayeva emphasised the rising influence of social media in the reporting of current world affairs.
“Events in Ukraine have generated a tsunami of misinformation, the lion’s share of which is spread through social networks and blogs,” she said.
She noted many countries in the region have taken unusual steps to counter the spread of information on social media, with Turkey blocking and then unblocking Twitter and Facebook and the Russian State Duma adopting the first reading of a bill equating popular bloggers to the media.
“Emotional discussion of this decision unfolds before our eyes. I think that we’re all here in this hall, participants and guests of the Eurasian Media Forum, are staunch and consistent advocates of freedom of speech and freedom of the media,” she said, adding that “we are no less responsible as advocates of the mass media because nothing destroys society as much as irresponsibility.”
“Many conflicts in the world today arise and develop the most negative scenarios because of the inability and unwillingness to engage in dialogue. People on both sides of the fence often live Maidan [square in central Kiev and focal point of the revolution] myths and mutual fears, which only increase distrust and excite enmity and hatred,” Nazarbayeva said.
She concluded that the only way to counteract this trend was to develop “a dialogue, trust and mutual understanding,” which were the founding tenets of the Eurasian Media Forum.
“We are all very different and stick, sometimes, to diametrically opposed views. Nevertheless, we are gathered here today in our beautiful Astana because we believe in common sense, because we want peace and tranquility on earth. Thank you for this,” said Nazarbayeva.
Popular international broadcaster Riz Khan, who was host of the forum’s opening discussions, said it had reached its “pre-teen” year and next year would celebrate its 13th iteration. He saidthe Eurasian Media Forum, like a growing teen, had come of age and had earned its place as one of the most respected events of its kind in the world.