The other night I received two emails simultaneously from friends alerting me that Michael Specter was to be a guest on the Colbert Report. Intrigued, I quickly set my DVR to record the show.
I’ve only watched the Colbert Report once before despite its immense popularity among friends. I have to say that I pretty much couldn’t get through the commercial laden half hour. Steven Colbert is part of the Daily Show revolution of fake news shows that lampoon the real news. Colbert’s shtick is to satirize right wing talk shows and radio as a means of media critique. I think blurring the line between “fake” and “real” news to expose the utter poverty of the latter is interesting. However, while this may seem novel to some, it has clearly reached a tipping point in effectiveness. I find Colbert’s execution a bit trite, predictable, too reliant on pop culture references, and often simply not funny. The Colbert Report is merely a shadow of Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show.
But since the episode was Russia related, I decided to tune in. Specter looked like a deer in the headlights. He seemed to kinda get Colbert’s act, but kinda not. Specter also came across far less nuanced on the show than in his New Yorker article. It appeared that he was ready to pull the noose around Putin for the deaths of every journalist and critic. It was only toward the end that he admitted that he didn’t actually outright accuse Putin of anything in his article except creating an atmosphere for these things to happen. Fair enough, but I can’t help to notice a certain slippage between these two views. It is clear that Specter wants to charge Putin with these crimes outright but he just doesn’t have any real evidence to do so.
For Colbert’s part, he tried in vain to make implicit connections between Putin’s alleged tactics and the Bush Administration. I guess he had to give his American-centric audience something familiar to chew on. But such comparisons are weak in my view and elide some very key differences between both Administrations’ authoritarian impulses. In the end, the show is just not for me.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Here is a sad statistic. As reported in Kommersant,
According to INSI [International News Safety Institute] ,
Iraqleads with 138 murders and unexplained deaths of reporters occurred from 1996 to 2006, 88 reporters perished in Russiaand 72 in over the period. The global news media toll exceeded 1,000. Columbia
The alarming trend is the rising number of news media deaths. The death toll was 103 in 2001, but it widened to 117 in 2004 and to 167 in 2006.
, the problem of reporters’ safety is really grave, said INSI Director Rodney Pinder. Another incident of this kind happened in Russia one of these days, Pinder said, reminding about the unexplained death of Kommersant journalist Ivan Safronov. The INSI director also mentioned the recent murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Moscow
is not the only country that has a deplorable record when it comes to journalists. The survey, “Killing the Messenger,” demonstrates the global disregard for journalists. Some of its overall finding are Russia
- One thousand news media personnel have died trying to cover the news around the world in the past 10 years*.
- Only one in four died in war and other armed conflicts.
- The great majority died in peacetime, covering the news in their own countries.
- Most of those killed were murdered because of their jobs; eliminated by hostile authorities or criminals.
- Nine out of 10 murderers in the past decade have never been prosecuted.
- The news media death toll has increased steadily since 2000. The last full year covered by the report, 2005, was a record with 147 dead. It has since emerged that 2006 was even worse, with 167 fatalities, according to INSI’s annual tally.
- The Top 21 bloodiest countries over the past 10 years have been Iraq (138), Russia (88), Colombia (72), Philippines (55), Iran ** (54), India (45), Algeria (32), the former republic of Yugoslavia (32), Mexico (31), Pakistan (29), Brazil (27), USA (21), Bangladesh (19), Ukraine (17), Nigeria, Peru, Sierra Leone & Sri Lanka (16), Afghanistan, Indonesia & Thailand (13)
- Shooting was by far the greatest cause of death, accounting for almost half the total. Bombing, stabbing, beating, torture, strangulation and decapitation were also used to silence reporting. Some men and women disappeared, their fate unknown.
- In war, it was much safer to be embedded with an army than not – independent news reporters, so-called unilaterals, accounted for 92 per cent of the dead.
- Overall, armed forces – regular or irregular – police and officials accounted for 22 per cent of killings.
- The death toll was evenly split between press and broadcast. But news agencies, which are fewer in number, were relatively badly hit with six per cent of the total.
- Most of those who died were on staff — 91 per cent against 9 per cent freelance — and one-third fell near their home, office or hotel.
*INSI’s researchers counted all news media personnel — journalists as well as support workers such as drivers, translators and office personnel, whether staff or freelance — provided they died because of their work gathering or distributing the news. All causes of death were included, from murder through accidents to health-related.
‘s figures were swollen by one air accident in December, 2005. A military aircraft carrying news teams to cover exercises in the Gulf crashed in Iran , killing 48 journalists and media technicians aboard. TehranPost Views: 119
By Sean — 12 years ago
Since I’ve been giving some attention to the Presidential election in
, I decided to enlist my friend, “Predsedatel’ Mike” for his impression of things in Almaty. “Mike” was kind enough to write something to post on this blog. The following is his thoughts. “Mike” is a scholar who has been in Kazakhstan for several months researching his dissertation. His view from the street gives a much needed picture of the situation concerning the Nazarbayev government’s use of paranoia and intimidation to influence the electorate as well as the status of the opposition, and the expat community’s inability to understand Kazakhstan without Western colored glasses. — Sean Kazakhstan
“An atmosphere of intense fear, and 10,000 phantom hooligans: A report on the Kazakh elections, from a foreign scholar on the ground”
by “Predsedatel’ Mike”
Almaty. Saturday night, December 3rd. The Night before the elections. I was called by a friend, a local, who cancelled our plans to go out to a club. Apparently, there was a curfew in effect. I couldn’t believe that news of this curfew had hit me so late – I hadn’t seen it posted anywhere, I hadn’t seen anything on television, and no one told me. I immediately phoned up my landlord. He “strongly advised” me not to go out that night, and not to go out the next day. There was going to be trouble surrounding the elections. Even if I didn’t confront hooligans and revolutionaries, there were so many police, army and special forces out on patrol, with itchy trigger-fingers, that they might target me, he said. “We could be facing disorder on the level of ‘ the December Events’ ” (In 1986, mass riots surrounding the replacement of a Kazakh party secretary with a Russian one, which resulted in a massacre of over 1000 people). “Just…don’t go out, okay?”. I was scared shitless. So I stayed in.
The next morning, I watched election news. The media outlet Khabar (owned by one of the Nazarbayevs – his daughter, I think) was interviewing people on the street in the lead-up to the elections. “Will you let these disturbances keep you from participating in the election?” “Can anyone stop this election – what do you think of these hooligans, will they succeed?” – Hmm, such pointed questions. I got into a taxi, and went to the expat pub for a quick bite and some darts. The streets were completely deserted. Not a soul. I had never seen it like this, particularly on Sunday, which is such a popular shopping day. I asked my driver why. “People are afraid, because of the hooligans. You know that the opposition has bused in tens of thousands of mambety (rural Kazakhs, typically seen as a dark, drunken, violent force from the countryside – the equivalent of ‘redneck’, or ‘yokel’) to do their evil work, and destroy our democracy”.
Rumors flew around town about these tens of thousands of hooligans – knuckle-dragging apes from the countryside, ready to rape and pillage. To disrupt the elections. To stage a color revolution. Even the opposition spoke of them, claiming that Nazarbayev himself had purchased this lumpenproletariat-for-hire, in order to make them look bad, and to justify further repression. The scary thing is, no one doubted their existence. Somewhere in the city, perhaps hiding in an abandoned factory, there were tens of thousands of barbarians waiting to be unleashed, by one side or the other. People were afraid. Too afraid to go out.
I met up with some friends at the Pub – marines, who hadn’t heard of the curfew. They had gone out the night before, and when the marines ‘go out’, let me tell you, that they go out all night, and all over the city. And they had seen nothing. No one had. Not one smashed window, not one broken bottle. The only violence I saw that night was between an Australian and an Irishman over
Suddenly, all was becoming clearer. The regime was cultivating this atmosphere of fear among the population, in an attempt to get more votes cast for the party of order, the OTAN party, the incumbent President Nazarbayev. They spread rumors of hooligans, of curfews (officially, it turns out, there wasn’t one), of dark forces plotting the overthrow of stability. The regime had even gone so far as to air a television special in the weeks preceding the elections – a documentary on the brutality of revolutions, and how they do nothing but destroy families, peoples’ lives, and entire nations… The fact is, none of this fear is necessary to the stability of this regime – it is the result of a typically Soviet paranoia.
During my time here, I have challenged embassy workers, scholars, and other expats, for their criticism of the Kazakhstani government and Nazarbayev. In making their analyses, they impose so much of the west, so much of what we think democracy is, how a society should be run, and what every decent human being should want, that they look everywhere for real, liberal democratic opposition to the Nazarbayev regime. And they find it everywhere – in the countryside, in poetry competitions, in competing clans, and in murdered ‘opposition’ leaders. Nurkadilov, who was taken out weeks ago, was part of Nazarbayev’s regime until very recently. He was the former mayor of Almaty, and the governor of several oblasts, during his career – all positions which are appointed and important, and which indicate a degree of trust and closeness to Nazarbayev. Their falling out had more to do with the fact that Nurkadilov was more visibly and openly corrupt and brutal than others in the establishment, and was thus harming the public image of the OTAN party. This man was no western liberal democrat reformer, and neither are the rest of the goons that surround him.
The problem is, these expat academic types and government officials talk to the wrong people. They talk to other academics, journalists, and dissidents. But they don’t talk to anyone else. When I say that I think Nazarbayev is truly popular, they look at me with mouths dropped wide open. No. He can’t be. No one would want to live under a democratic facade. Everyone is simply scared.
They’re partially right. Everyone is scared. But, much like the Soviet people living under Stalin, it isn’t all about fear. I consider my informal taxi-driver and shopkeeper political surveys more accurate than the very limited elite that the rest of the expats are talking to. According to my survey, even if the elections were not rigged, the opposition not suppressed, the atmosphere of fear lifted, Nazarbayev would still easily win by a large margin. Because he is truly loved. Sure, people grumble. They complain. Even the staunchest supporters will talk about corruption, and note that Nazarbayev is directly involved. However, he has the following going for him: He is the founder of the state. He moves deftly in international politics, balancing the influence of
America, Russiaand China, and always emerges with a good deal for (66% of oil revenue extracted by foreign companies, for example). His encouragement of foreign investment brings Kazakhstan Kazakhstanreal economic development – this ‘stan is an economic tiger, and the jewel of Central Asiaamidst the collapsing, dilapidated states surrounding it. He balances nationalities policy between advancing a Kazakhstani civic identity, while very gradually encouraging “Kazakhization” in schools and government – with a very fair target of completing the transition to Kazakh in government and public affairs by 2030 – even the Russians think this is acceptable (compared to the situation in Estonia, for example), and are beginning to send their children to Kazakh schools in droves. But most of all, Nursultan Nazarbayev gives the people hope – hope in the future of this country on the world scene. People are proud of this country, and the man at the helm. In a free and fair election, he would easily win somewhere between 70-80% of the vote. Once confronted my assessment, the other expats begrudgingly admit that I’m right.
That being said, Nazarbayev is paranoid, in a frighteningly Soviet way. It seems he can only feel secure with an overwhelming mandate, of 90-95% of the vote. And so, he stages forced rallies of students, workers, the army, etc. He bullies the opposition. And sometimes, people disappear. Nazarbayev is insecure. He doesn’t believe in the genuine love of his people. He considers it fickle, the people stupid, disloyal and easily swayed. And so he terrorizes them as well.
The day that Nurkadilov was killed, everyone spoke in hushed tones. “Did you hear? THEY killed Nurkadilov…”; “THEY murdered him, and threw him in a ditch”. And even the staunchest supporters of Nazarbayev fell silent in some sort of strange mourning. For they genuinely loved their father. But he didn’t need to scare them all into loving him. His irrational outbursts frightened the children, so they crawled into a corner, rocked back and forth, cried, and hugged each other, sharing in their inability to comprehend how father could be so cruel, and attempting to reconcile their love and their fear. With one eye, of course, peering into the darkness under their beds, waiting for ten thousand bogeyman to jump out.Post Views: 112