The Role of Social Media in Kazakhstani Journalism: New Traditions and Challenges
Madina Bulatova* and Ayazbi Bеisenkulov
LN Gumilyov Eurasian National University,
- *Corresponding Author:
- Madina Bulatova
PhD doctoral student of
Eurasian National University
Received Date: May 05, 2017; Accepted Date: May 08, 2017; Published Date: May 18, 2017
Citation: Bulatova M, Bеisenkulov A.
The Role of Social Media in Kazakhstani
Journalism: New Traditions and
Challenges. Global Media Journal. 2017,
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Kazakhstani journalism has some peculiarities based on deep-seated traditions and the state of the modern mass media system. New technologies have greatly influenced the mass media. In the last decade, the development of social media has questioned the role of journalists in the society, as well as the existing professional practices and norms. This article studies the main trends and forms of using social media by Kazakhstani journalists in the context of historical backgrounds, and sociocultural and political conditions of the development of Kazakhstani journalism.
Kazakhstan; Society; Journalism; New technologies; New media; Social
media;Blogs; Facebook; Twitter; LiveJournal
In Western democracies, journalists traditionally play the role of
controllers of national governments – a substantial part of the
presswork is to ensure public integrity – promoting the interests
of the business elite. Traditionally, journalists exercise functions
of information keepers and disseminators . The work of a
journalist comes down to gathering, analyzing, checking, editing
and publishing the news. It is expected that a journalist is to
be non-party (in order not to take somebody’s side at public
disputes) and accountable to readers, listeners, and viewers .
Kazakhstani journalism does not fit into the Western paradigm.
It has some peculiarities conditioned by a long historical tradition
of "serving the interests of the state" : first, Kazakhstani media
as an institute were established on the governmental initiative
as a tool to inform, to manipulate and to control the society ;
second, Kazakhstani journalism is directly connected with the
literature – the most famous writers in Kazakhstan were wellknown
journalists (publicists) seeing themselves as "…educators
and supporters of Kazakhstani culture development. Some of
them worked as censors.
The Kazakhstani journalism  school ranks among the oldest in
the USSR. Many scientists date the beginning of the contemporary
history of Kazakhstani journalism to the 1920s . During Soviet
times, journalism acted as a governmental tool influencing the
public consciousness and the existing practice in organizing
socialist construction and political education . According
to Kozybaev , Soviet journalists played the role of state propagandists and organizers cooperating with the government
. On the one hand, as a rule, journalists were members of
the Communist Party and reproduced an official ideological
discourse (propaganda); on the other hand, being a part of "the
intellectual class" they had been always strongly connected with
the Soviet public. It meant perfect moral values and obligations of
a journalist to use his education, social and cultural background
to develop the Soviet society .
According to Zassoursky , in 1970-1985 the role of a journalist in
the society was rather "instrumental", but the situation changed
with the beginning of the perestroika in 1986. At the end of the
1980s, they started politicization of the socio-political segment
of Kazakhstani press. The perestroika enabled Kazakhstani
journalists to easily express their opinions on different social
issues, criticizing the government. In 1991-1995, journalists
practically were "the fourth estate" in the country. But in 1996-
2006 "…unbounded courage towards the local authorities was
replaced by the pragmatic approach focused on periodicals
survival under difficult economic conditions" . The first years
of independence were marked by a number of economical and
political crises. In that period, journalists and editorial staff of
Kazakhstani media lived under the constant threat of retirement,
bankruptcy, forced mergers and takeovers.
Miller  underlines that a close alliance between the mass
media and the government during the 1990s became the basis for the cooperation between the mass media, the business and
the policy in the early 21st century. As old (national) values were
squeezed out by new (market) norms in post-Soviet Kazakhstan,
the role of journalists in the society was gradually balanced
between state and market forces. On the one hand, journalism
acquired a new function – to entertain the audience while
promoting goods and services in the consumer manipulated
market. On the other hand, being in a close alliance with political
and economical groups, the mass media required from journalists
to play the role of "PR workers". The media became a tool for
spreading propaganda of culture, history, national interests .
The condition of Kazakhstani journalism is determined not only
by traditions, but also by the specific features of the modern
media model, which can be characterized as a unique "Eurasian
hybrid model" or "statist commercial model" . This model has
some key characteristics. First, strong relations between the mass
media, journalists and the state are appropriate to it. Second,
these relations are enacted by the common belief – conscious
or unconscious – in the regulatory/critical role of the state (or
state bodies) "in conceptualizing the mass media" . All abovementioned
facts impact the press freedom. As for freedom of the
press, the situation in Kazakhstan can hardly be called enviable.
The country was ranked the 175th among 197 states in the
Freedom House rating.
Nevertheless, under such control "from above" Kazakhstani
journalism does not deny common professional standards and
Paradoxically, the modern Kazakhstani media system is presented
by two main groups: the state-controlled mass media (mainly,
TV channels) and more independent and disloyal to the political
elite commercial mass media. They belong to private persons,
parties or foreign corporations, and, in general, are subject
to indirect state control. The mechanism of such influence is
rather complicated, but one can underline three types of a state
influence on Kazakhstani media (especially, TV): direct control (1),
indirect control of state companies (2), as well as indirect control
through the pressure on owners or media moguls (3), which can
be based on personal relations between government officials and
owners of the private mass media .
As of July 1, 2016, according to the Ministry of Information and
Communication, there are 2763 active mass media registered in
Kazakhstan. The majority – 86% – is print media, 11% – electronic
media, 3% – information agencies.
Now, there are 1156 newspapers and 1269 magazines in the
country. 285 electronic media are also registered, including
169 TV and radio companies (108 TV companies and 61 radio
companies), 108 cable operators and 8 satellite service providers1.
Information agencies total to 41. There are 15 online media in
Russian and Kazakh. Officially, 85% of media are independent and
only 15% are governmental2.
In Kazakhstan there is a state order: the government allocates
vast sums for state and some private media (in Kazakh) to cover
the activity of the state authorities and social projects. For this
purpose, the authorities allocate up to KZT 45 bln (app. $132 mln)
A typical modern Kazakhstani journalist can be described as
follows: 1) a young person (under 40), who most commonly
cooperates with media companies, 2) gets a stable income, 3)
realizes his creative ambitions outside his official place of work,
for example, as a freelancer. Abramov  underlines that
Kazakhstani journalists commonly share professional values of
their Western colleagues. But there is an outside pressure, which
some journalists describe as a special form of censorship.
Hanitzsch et al.  have analyzed a professional journalistic
culture in 18 countries of the world and determined three
different models of journalism: "Western journalism", "peripheral
Western journalism" and "journalism of developed countries".
Within this logic, the journalistic culture of Kazakhstan is included
in the last group and characterized, among other things, by
critical attitude towards changes in political and economic elites,
emphasized willingness of journalists to broadcast a positive
image of the political and business establishment of the country,
and propensity of journalists to motivate citizens to participate in
public activities and political discussions.
The development of the Internet has increased this tendency
recently. The Internet as an open, safe, compatible and reliable
platform serves as a basis for new media due to its ability to transfer
data and information boundless. The growth and development
of the Internet in combination with digital technologies is an
important factor of journalists and media competitiveness.
The Internet provides new possibilities, which can change both
journalism and a level of media influence on the society . In
Kazakhstan, the Internet is divided into "official" and "alternative".
From a formal point of view, the Internet is relatively free from the
state control; any person having the Internet access can criticize
the government, the political system and other governmental
Balance Between Journalism and Social Media
Nowadays, the profession of a journalist is deeply influenced by
Advanced ICT enabled to transfer information from electronic to
digital form. These forms of presentation of different audiovisual
and multimedia information allow organizing the information
production, storage and dissemination processes at a totally new
There is no uniform, universally acknowledged definition for
new mass media so far. But many researchers come to the
general characteristics of new media. First, they are "displaylinked".
Second, they offer a text, an audio and a video, both
static and moving images, at the same time. New media
are interactive in a varying degree. As it was mentioned by V.N. Pavlenko, a representative of the magazine Sovetnik (Moscow),
at the seminar Special Purpose New Media, new media is a
term meaning the appearance of digital computer, information,
network technologies and communications at the end of the
20th century. New mass media produce media products that are
interactive and digitally disseminated .
Some Kazakh researchers think that there are no reasonable
grounds to consider that new media can compete with the
traditional mass media in the Republic . Nevertheless, we do
not share such confidence taking into account a world tendency
of accelerated development of new media.
The enormous potential of the Internet enables the online media
to enjoy superiority on many parameters, as geography of the
audience is almost not limited, except by the accessibility of the
Internet. One can notice a boost of Internet users in Kazakhstan.
According to the Ministry of Information and Communication of
the RK, by 2016 there were more than 10 mln web users in the
country (it is more than 50% of population in the country). 35% of
Kazakhstanis are active web users.
In the expanding media scene, the press, the analogue radio
and TV are accepted as "old" media. New information channels
and information itself, based on digitisation, are determined as
"new media". Another definition describes new media as "digital
communication channels, in which a text, graphic and moving
images, an audio are presented in one ‘package’ and which have
different forms of production, dissemination, reception and
storage of the end product" .
The change in the communication character became a peculiar
feature of new mass media. It is difficult to distinguish mass
and personal communication forms, mass and non-mass media.
The usage of new media has and will have more individual
character. The "demassification" process takes place. New media
expand communication capabilities. New electronic media offer
interactive communication between a user and a producer, as
well as a content disseminator. New mass media provide an
opportunity for interpersonal communication .
Forced merger of editorial staffs, multi-publishing activities,
multi-skilling increase a workload of journalists taking into
account difficulties with functioning of modern media, including
the dependency on the state social order, owners, financial and
industrial groups, business as an advertiser. A journalist of a
convergent publication is time-limited and is not able to study a
New needs of the audience, which at the moment has vast
possibilities to set up a content and to increase its interactivity,
impact the traditionally secret professional journalistic practice
based on the system of editorial control .
Professional journalism problems have deepened since the first
decade of the 21st century, when "new" or web-media started
their development towards Web 2.0.
The appearance of social media increased the capability of
people to interact with mass media and to cooperate by creating
user content and citizen journalism. This up-to-date interactions are implemented and entwined with mass media: the relations
between journalists and the audience/citizens today can be
called "symbiotic". Social media challenge the role of a journalist
and the old journalistic practice and professional culture. Now,
when each person can both consume and "collect, annotate and,
if needed, ensure recirculation of media content by new effective
technologies" , professional journalists face the necessity to
apply new means in order to grip the audience while generating
media content without loss of control over consumers.
Hedman and Djerf-Pierre  underline three groups of journalists,
which use social media: 1) nonusers (and even opponents),
who avoid social media, 2) "pragmatic conformists", who use
social media regularly (but selectively) influenced by industrial
tendencies and professional requirements, 3) "enthusiastic
activists", as a rule, young journalists, who live in the Internet
being almost continuously connected to the blogosphere.
Social media become an important tool for a professional
journalistic work both at the institutional level (media agencies
presented in social media) and the individual level (journalists).
First of all, it can be connected to information search, collection,
transfer and check. Social media ensure online cooperation in
news checking and a new way of crowdsourcing while collecting
and analyzing information to prepare journalistic stories.
Social media are used for communication, for example, with the
media audience , for feedback and dialogues with readers/
viewers, information sources, for professional discussions with
colleagues, etc. Media companies and journalists can execute
marketing events and branding by means of social media.
In the nearest 10-15 years or more, the traditional media will be
in priority in the media market, but publications that will prefer
to work in an old concept are likely to cease to exist. In spite of
skepticism, among the state bodies and the mass media inclusive,
the offered development line can result in a huge consolidation
of proactive civil intellectual wealth of the country, tradition for
solving adversary and urgent issues by dialogues, balancing the
interests and effective actions on problems.
Issues of the Research
The above conclusions raise a number of scientific questions
connected with the issue of how the usage of social media by
Kazakhstani journalists can influence the society and a special
role of a journalist in the society. In this research, we have raised
1. How do Kazakhstani journalists use social media with
2. Do social media influence the professional role of journalists
in the society?
Methods and Sampling
This research was carried out in two stages.
The first stage included the study of 50 blogs of Kazakhstani
journalists registered in LiveJournal. Blogs were selected by
monitoring media web-sites, Google, Yandex, author’s personal contacts and the LiveJournal search engine. We polled journalistbloggers
by the LiveJournal messenger. Journalists were asked
how they use LiveJournal for professional purposes. The feedback
was 98 answers.
At the second stage, we have conducted anonymous depth
interviews with 21 Kazakhstani journalists to better understand
the results of the poll. Journalists were asked about the role
and benefits of social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs) in their
professional activity. In spite of some limitations, we think that
this research makes it possible to give definite answers on the
following questions: how Kazakhstani journalists use social media
and which factors influence the forms of use of social media.
The results have shown that in general pollees use social media
for their professional work rather actively (Table 1). As it was
expected, the number of so called "pragmatic conformists" and
"enthusiastic activists" is higher among young journalists.
Table 1. Use of social media for professional purposes (once or twice a
day) (% respondents).
|Use for professional purposes
|Number of answers in each group
|Number of answers in sampling
To a certain extent, these results prove an opinion that "…for
today the traditional media have become rather ‘a cemetery’ for
some once promising Kazakhstani journalists of middle-aged and
The bloggers’ age (40 years) is explained by the fact that the
Kazakhstani youth, as a rule, is the main cohort of popular online
services and sites of social media. But it would be simple to explain
the results only by "the age-related conservatism". Allocation of
preferences between different social media platforms makes
it possible to discuss a definite model of using social media by
journalists (Table 2).
Table 2. Social media in professional activity (daily).
|Usage of social media, %
|Other social networking services
Facebook is the most preferable online networking service among
the polled journalists: 62% of respondents use it at least once per
day. The frequency of using Twitter by Kazakhstani journalists is
well below – 23%. 25% of polled journalists use another social
networking websites for professional purposes. These results are
partially confirmed by the statistics of using social networks by
the Kazakhstani Internet audience.
Speaking about "the other social networks", first of all, we mean
extremely popular social networks Odnoklassniki and VKontakte.
According to TNS Central Asia, the daily Kazakhstani audience of
VKontakte amounted to 5.8 mln unique authors per month.
Rather high activity in the blogosphere is a peculiarity of using
social media by Kazakhstani journalists. They are active enough
in reading and writing some blogs. Thus, 72% read blogs at least
once per day. 21% of respondents make notes in personal blogs
daily or even more often.
As it was already mentioned, Kazakhstani journalism is connected
with the literature. Modern Kazakhstani journalism differs from
journalism in democratic cultures as it is "literature-oriented" and
has a tendency towards personification . Blogging has become
an appropriate style for those journalists, who are traditionally
inclined to writing long texts, communication with the audience
in a periphrastic manner, and the use of illustrations . These peculiarities of Kazakhstani journalism are illustrated in the
following answer of a LiveJournal journalist blogger:
"Our people need a wide […] open space to publish their immortal
masterpieces. They also need unlimited spaces for blogging, to
make notes, to comment something, to publish news and updates
of their friends" [blogger, LiveJournal, men’s magazine editor].
In fact, journalists try to use the advantages of each service.
Blogging is preferable for long texts; Twitter with 140 characters is
better for short dynamic news, etc. Anonymous depth interviews
enable to identify different models of using social media platforms
for professional activity:
"I prefer LiveJournal and Facebook. All my materials-texts-I
publish in these online social networks regularly. I also have an
account in Twitter, but there are only 500 followers there, so I
use it not so often" [blogger, 37 years, journalist, freelancer,
cooperates with the newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda].
"I often write in VKontakte; as a rule, with this social network I
search for people that are needed for my work. I also have a blog
in LiveJournal, but, in a whole, this service is not so important
for me at the moment, that’s why I do not update it on a regular
basis" [blogger, 27 years, journalist, editor of an online magazine].
"I prefer Facebook. There I publish my materials, have dialogues
with the audience and add some people to my friends. Inadequate
comments are extremely rare. I don’t like inland social networks
like Odnoklassniki and VKontakte" [blogger, 55 years, journalist,
editor-in-chief of an online magazine, correspondent].
The interviews have shown that social media are often used
by journalists to publish the socio-political content. 40% of
respondents take part in socio-political discussions held in blogs.
Besides, Kazakhstani journalists try to earn in social media, PR
and advertising (Table 3).
Table 3. Interview results.
||Search for new ideas
||Search for information for investigative journalism
||Communication with colleagues
||Content publication apart from a key job
||Audience extension, publicity stunt
||Building of media brand awareness (employer)
||Discussion of social and economical points of interest
||Number of answers
High journalistic activity in a socio-political discourse is easily
explained by the peculiarity of the Kazakhstani public sphere. The
Internet in Kazakhstan to some extent replaces "kitchen talks".
According to Gatov , the Kazakhstani blogosphere has become
a disputing core, including a larger part of the public discourse on political and social issues. The respondents have proved a role of
blogs for socio-political discussions:
"I think that it is a habit to use blogs. A blog provides a possibility
to express yourself, to share your thoughts with a huge audience.
This is the possibility to be a part of the society, to have your
area to express your opinion and view. There is no censorship in
blogs. But I have accounts both in Twitter and Facebook. A blog
is a tool to publish and to transmit information that will be open
and available for everybody" [blogger, 46 years, freelancer].
Content publication in social media apart from the key job is
also popular among Kazakhstani journalists. As it was already
mentioned, Kazakhstani mass media and, first of all, national
TV channels are state-controlled . This control (supervision)
takes a form of censorship, which can be also presented as
editorial policy and self-censorship. It has a negative influence on
Besides, Kazakhstani journalists use blogs to overcome editorial
constraints. The respondents told how they use social media as
"I started blogging, because there are things that will not be
published in the newspaper, where I work, but I feel it is necessary
to discuss them in public […], when I want to attract public
attention and to give publicity to some facts, problems or inform
the authorities, I just write a message in the blog. In 90% of cases,
a message becomes noticeable […] and is widely discussed […]. It
is clear that regional or local authorities monitor the information
and discussions…" [blogger, 42 years, online-newspaper zona.kz]
"What should a sideliner do, if he wants to write about a film?
He should create a blog and write there as much as he wants. I
work in some mass media. One gives me the possibility to keep
a blog on its site. But it is only one of my three blogs" [blogger,
Blogging also creates the earning potential, especially for
"A blog has become a part of the media scene, and if my
materials are worth reading, sometimes they are accepted
(and paid) by the mainstream online media. In my work I care about some questions: is the text good or bad, interesting and
not interesting… The term ‘the text does not fit the conventions’
drives me crazy. Today, in journalism it is possible to work with
no middlemen involved. If you work and write well, you will make
a decent living" [blogger, freelancer, 40 years, cooperates with
online media, radio and national newspapers].
It would be logical to assume that Kazakhstani journalists use
social media mainly for publishing profit-making content outside
usual work: in fact, they consider Facebook, Twitter and blogs as
a tool "to earn money by advertisement or PR".
Nowadays, current and truthful information and high quality
dissemination channels are of great importance. Kazakhstan,where
religious, labour, social and political contradictions manifest
themselves more and more intensively, constitutes no exception.
Taking into account forecasts for changes in internal and external
policies, and the socio-economic situation in the years to come,
we think that it is necessary to speak about quality transformation
of one of key participants of public communications – local media
and their role.
Kazakhstani journalism, professional practices and norms have
been always influenced by the relations of journalists with
information sources and the audience. Journalism has been never
isolated from the society, but social media made this cooperation
more intense. Journalists are to adapt to new environment
finding different ways of using social media.
Journalists in Kazakhstan try "to normalize" the use of social
media; they integrate social media into their old practices and
use them as new tools to get ideas, to conduct investigations,
to check facts, to contact with the audience and to disseminate
the author’s content. In this regard, Kazakhstani journalists do
not differ from their foreign colleagues. At that, the research
has shown sufficient peculiarities in the use of social media by
Kazakhstani journalists- differences that can be related to some
The use of social media platforms by journalists can be related
to the fact that in Kazakhstan a journalist is a new profession
in the whole. The difference is marked, when using blogs on
such platforms as LiveJournal. More than 50% of Kazakhstani
journalists told that they use blogs to publish non-commercial
content, beside usual work, and 25% told that they write in their
personal blogs every day.
The use of blogs by Kazakhstani journalists fits into literature
traditions of journalism: opinions and discussions are the most
important. This tradition of Kazakhstani intellectuals reaches new
areas in blogs. The reason can be the specific understanding of
Social media offer an alternative public sphere, where journalists
can write and discuss socio-political issues at the same time in
compliance with the Kazakhstani tradition.
Blogs indicate the move away from the traditional neutral
position of journalists. A journalist is a person who searches for information for the public, prepares and disseminates it,
but Kazakhstani journalists understand journalism deeper and
more extensively. That’s why they understand journalism as "a
defender of national interests, national values". Thus, Kazakhstani
journalism is closely related to the policy. A journalist can be
both a public figure and a patriot. The reason why journalists
undertook a mission of patriots originates from the period when
Kazakhstan acquired the independence. Blogging "personifies"
journalism. A blog concept is compared to the classic journalistic
genres-a column, an essay and a report- it falls within literaturecentrist,
personified specific features of Kazakhstani journalism,
being formed within decades.
Malpractice of journalists and bloggers, who are ready to
meet unusual and new challenges, is a major concern today.
Kazakhstani bloggers are commercially oriented.
It is safe to say that the Internet and mass media internetization
in Kazakhstan have attached completely new importance to the
place and the role of a journalist in the socio-political and socioeconomical
life of the country. A blog is an important platform for
political opposition, and blogging can really influence the political life in Kazakhstan (that is, online activity promotes activity in the
off-line mode). All this factors consistently get connected to the
social media theory, according to which the "passive" audience is
replaced with the "active" one (unpredictable and uncontrolled).
As for journalists, nowadays to keep own blogs and pages is
an alternative to traditional journalism, especially for those
journalists that work in state publications.
In spite of strengthening the governmental control of Internet
communications in recent years, this new public spheres provide
journalists with new professional scenes. Today, social media
create a system of horizontal communications in the society
with the strong traditional vertical of power and control over
communications. In the long term, it can change the professional
role of Kazakhstani journalists providing them with more
independence with regard to the authorities. Regardless of the
existing skepticism, among the state bodies and the mass media
inclusive, the offered line of development can result in higher
consolidation of proactive civil intellectual resources of the
country, traditional settlement of adversary and critical issues
by dialogue, balance of interests and productive activities while
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