Democracy requires free and credible media. That was one of the key messages conveyed by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau during a recent visit to Central Asia.
Trudeau visited Washington’s strategic partners Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which the Biden administration sees as the “light of freedom” in Central Asia, despite continued setbacks in those countries and a recent wave of activists and civil society activists. to detention.
In an interview with VOA, Trudeau said her time in the region was spent mostly having candid conversations with government leaders and non-government representatives.
“It looks very different when you’re in Bishkek or Tashkent,” she admits, “because of the issues facing citizens and the government, you understand better when you can actually sit down and talk. “
“In Uzbekistan, it’s really focused on [President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s] A reform agenda,” Trudeau said. “We also had very clear conversations about media freedom and the issue facing Uzbekistan and the United States — disinformation.
“We spoke very candidly about Russia’s unjust and unprovoked war in Ukraine, and we understand Uzbekistan’s views on that. We spoke about their principled and non-aligned status in this regard,” she added. “We also talked about how to deepen our partnership. Uzbekistan is a vital country for us.”
Candid conversation with Kyrgyzstan
Trudeau also claimed close ties to neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
But even as Kyrgyz media quoted her as saying this part of Central Asia was the “light of media freedom”, supporters of the regime were calling for the closure of media outlets critical of the government. In October, there were mass arrests of activists and bloggers.
“We’ve made our point,” Trudeau said of the moves. “I think such a dialogue needs to be very candid. What we say to our partners in the Kyrgyz Republic is that democracy is best achieved by a vibrant and open media.”
She still sees Kyrgyzstan as a leader in media freedom in Central Asia, and highlights continued U.S. aid.
“Whenever we go on a trip, we bring back a laundry list. … It’s something they want to work with us to explore more. So it’s also our responsibility to make sure those requests are met.”
In Uzbekistan, Trudeau met with the president’s eldest daughter, Saida Mirziyoeva, along with officials and the non-government sector, and her office stressed in a statement that U.S. officials were not there for “missionary missions.”
As one of the top diplomats charged with promoting American values and communicating its priorities, Trudeau told VOA that “it’s an equal partnership” and Washington doesn’t have all the answers.
“As we sit around a table, we need to listen and talk more,” she said. “America needs to approach it with humility and understand that we have as much to learn as we have to share.”
Trudeau praised Mirziyoeva “for her expertise and passion for her country.”
“We talked about women’s rights and gender. We talked about the importance of media freedom. We had a great conversation about disinformation and how it affects citizens of the United States, as well as citizens of Uzbekistan. … Disinformation knows no borders. So we need Solve it collectively. How do we make sure our citizens have the tools they need to recognize it, to know the facts?”
Typically, U.S. diplomats avoid contact with leaders’ families, especially in regions such as Central Asia, where corruption and nepotism are entrenched.
But Trudeau said: “I’m very happy to see [Mirziyoyeva] As head of her foundation, which has done remarkable work not only on women’s rights, the advancement of women business owners, and media freedom. You know, this is a guy who is very passionate and very involved in the subject. I think America will always have people who care about these issues as much as we do. “
When asked by VOA whether the U.S. government viewed Mirziyoeva as a relevant figure in Uzbekistan’s political system, Trudeau replied “absolutely.”
fight false information
How does the Biden administration envision working with Central Asian governments to combat Russian disinformation? These countries are still rated among the most closed societies, and democratic reforms, despite promises, have been slow to progress.
The Kyrgyz government shut down a TV station this year, accusing it of publishing anti-Russian videos, while in Uzbekistan, authorities have been urging the media to remain “neutral” and not publish or broadcast anything questioning Russia’s war in Ukraine. Uzbek journalists told VOA that government restrictions on coverage of the war were not as stringent as they were at the start of the conflict, but they confirmed widespread self-censorship.
“No one has an easy answer to this,” Trudeau said, acknowledging the challenge of fighting disinformation.
“We all saw it. So when we sat in Bishkek and Tashkent, we said, ‘What are you looking at? How does this affect your ordinary citizens? Where do they get their information? Who do they trust? We One thing I hear time and time again is media literacy, making sure people understand how they themselves can be armed as citizens to make these decisions about what’s real.”
Central Asian journalists and bloggers who met with Trudeau applauded the outreach but raised their own questions about the depth of the U.S. commitment: Will Washington follow up? What kind of support can the media community expect from Washington? Will there be more funding, more aid and development programs?
Trudeau said they will see “continuous engagement in response to the needs of countries. …”
“As the information environment changes, we need to meet this need together, because press and media freedom are the front lines of democracy,” she said. “It’s a war space as much as land, sea and air. So, the question is ‘how do we arm ourselves to adapt?'”
This article is from the VOA Uzbek service.