With discussions ranging from the crisis of trust in the media, to the question of a shifting world order and the legalisation of marijuana, the topics covered at 2019 Eurasia Media Forum in Almaty were as broad as they were curious. Speakers were in the dozens, hailing from almost every continent, but few would argue that the most controversial came from the United States.
Steve Bannon, chief strategist in President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was joined by politician George Galloway among others for a panel discussing the questions of a shifting world order. Lambasting liberal western governments as a “Frankenstein monster”, Bannon stuck closely to the anti-western narrative which characterises his public persona. A disappointing but perhaps predictable dynamic among such a reactionary panel made Austrian politician Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the singular view on the side of the European Union’s existence, a marginal voice.
Among the most lively and arguably most urgent discussions was a panel on the precarity of digital media in today’s world. None of the speakers could argue that the current model of media consumption, and the relationship between journalist and reader, had completely broken down, though there was more hope than might be expected that out of the ashes there could emerge a media model more suited to our digital times. The elephant in the room, however, was the arrests of several Kazakh journalists and ordinary citizens who, at the time of the forum, were sitting in police stations after calling for a free and fair presidential election due to take place just weeks after the forum.
While the forum made some good inroads into putting Kazakhstan — Central Asia’s most prosperous nation — on the international map, its next iteration needs to see a spotlight directed to Kazakh speakers working independently from the state. If Kazakhstan wants to use this event to share its vision for the future with the rest of the world, it’s their voice we need to hear.