Nigora Salimova
editor of the Almalyksky Rabochiy newspaper and the website
For how long have you been working in journalism, and what is the place of environmental issues in your work?
I have been in journalism for 17 years. For the last two and a half years, I have been working as an editor; before that, I was an ordinary correspondent. Our publication is socio-political; we focus on social issues and highlight those topics that are important to society. This project is my first experience in environmental journalism; I have been interested in the topic for a long time, but in our city, it is somehow not very customary to talk about the environment. Although there are problems, people talk about them, but no effective measures are taken. We, of course, write articles aimed at the development of environmental consciousness among the population; we urge to protect nature, but most often, this is a shot to nowhere. Almalyk is an industrial city, and there are enough problems here, but these topics are not really raised in mass media.
What do you think is the reason?
The reason is that it doesn't change anything; maybe people just don't want to waste their breath. All media in our country operate in different conditions. Somewhere there is still censorship; somewhere it's not allowed to cover this topic. I didn't notice this before, but as I got involved in this topic, I realized that somehow our society is not ready to make decisions. They may say, "Oh, everything is bad! Do something!" People expect some action from the media, from the government, but they themselves do not want to do anything. Everyone is trying to speak anonymously so as not to appear anywhere. We were just lucky with the heroine. We found such a gutsy woman: she agreed to being filmed and calmly told everything; we didn't have any problems with her at all. It's just good luck. Because the majority follow the principles "this is none of my business" and "leave me alone." Everyone shifts the responsibility on to someone else: "Solve this problem somehow without me." Most do not want to participate in anything.
There were many other important topics in this project, but you chose "air;" what is the reason?
The problem of polluted air is the most urgent in our city. Concerning waste, for example, the system is functional: waste collection and disposal do work. People sometimes themselves fail though: some simply cannot carry a bag of trash to the trash can. But the problem of air pollution is the number one problem, a disaster, some kind of unsolvable problem.
How is it manifested?
Well, sometimes, you go outside in the morning, and there is a cap of smoke over the city. A dark, thick cloud. You walk through the city, and you have a burning sensation in your nose; it's really hard to breathe. In the last year or two, it has become a little better than before, but all the same, it is all there. Then you hear here and there that oncology patients and patients in other clinics in the capital are mainly people from Almalyk; those people mostly have serious respiratory diseases. We weren't able to get the statistics that would confirm my words. These data are hidden, not published, it is impossible to get them. But at the same time, people discuss it privately , "I was in a hospital, and half of the ward were people from Almalyk." For Almalyk, we collected the most recent information on disease incidence, and it was almost impossible to understand these data: some complex tables, years and diseases were all mixed up, as if it all was done deliberately so that no-one could understand anything. We did an interview with a doctor; she confirmed that air quality greatly affects the health of the population, but she said that the diseases are not immediately detected; respiratory diseases may not be felt for a long time, and by old age, irreversible processes start. That is, polluted air is a time bomb. We need to talk about this, because people do not understand the size of the problem.
What sources did you turn to for information?
We contacted Uzhydromet; they responded immediately and gave us the data. We made a written request and received a written response. We gave this data to Pavel; he prepared graphs for all countries. Later, Pavel said that he would use data from the website; he trusts it more. Another source of information for us was a family from Almalyk: a son and a mother who suffer from respiratory diseases and attribute their diseases to polluted air. We also tried to talk to representatives of an environmental movement, but we did not get to the point of requesting data: they assured us right away that there were no problems in the city, and we did not argue with them. An employee of the AMMC (Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Complex, a city-forming enterprise) claimed that they had everything thought through, that work was underway, that new filters were installed in production, and everything was being done to improve the situation. We also had information that the filters installed at the factory delay the production process and consume energy, so they are often simply not turned on, unless there are inspections coming. We did not have a source to confirm this information, so of course we could not include it in the material.
But those are the rumors?
Yes, that's what people say casually. We also have an Ecoparty; it used to be a movement, and now it's become a party. Representatives of this party say that everything is fine in Almalyk; they say that they can provide all the data. I understand what data they have: everything is probably perfect in them.
How and where did you look for a hero for your material?
We first searched for a hero on social media. Our most active page is on Odnoklassniki, where we have 6 thousand very active citizens who are vigorously discussing the problems of the city. We announced that we were looking for a hero and repeated our announcement several times. There were a lot of comments, people complained about their problems, agreed how important it was to talk about air quality, but no-one wanted to become the hero. "I can say my opinion, but I will not be the hero of the article!" I gave an assignment to all my colleagues to look for a hero. One of the colleagues said that he had relatives who were willing to speak. We made an appointment, came to their home, filmed them, did all this. The video and the interview were good, but we didn't take any photos. The photographer was supposed to come to the heroine on a different day, but the heroine refused another meeting. In any case, we are very grateful to her for agreeing to being filmed and for being open. Her son refused to be interviewed.
Why do you think people refuse interviews, are they afraid of public censure or repression from the authorities?
I think they are afraid of the authorities. Society will not condemn them in any way; it may even praise and respect them. People are afraid that local authorities will treat them differently and that there will be some problems. This may not happen, but people still have fear and worries.
What are the fears of the population: fines, job loss, prison sentences? What are people afraid of?
I can't say for sure. They are afraid of everything. In our case, the heroine is a pensioner, and she already, it seems, has nothing to be afraid of, so she says what she thinks. Many are afraid of their supervisors; they are afraid that they will lose their jobs. Everyone has their own fear.
In the material, you use cards. Who are they for?
Visual content today works much better than text; we are constantly doing this as we see that people do not want to read long texts; visualization is perceived much better. Our cards are aimed at a wide variety of audiences; they will be useful to both those who make decisions and those who ask questions. I think cards are a good way out, and they need to be used; they can be used for a long time; they can be posted on various media; I think it's useful.
Before working on this project, the participants didn't know each other; they were working on different things. How quickly did you find common ground in the team?
Very quickly. I concluded for myself that the representatives of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were very experienced as they had already had projects like this and they knew what to do and how; we had no problems at all. We were lucky with the leader of the group (Maria Kolesnikova); she has strong organizational skills and leadership qualities, and she knows how to diplomatically distribute responsibilities, so the team worked coherently and in good coordination. I really enjoyed working with these people; I hope this is not our last project.
What did you learn in this project?
I learned a lot. For example, about the way independent data is collected in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: Pavel has his own system; he himself receives data, analyzes it, compares it to other data. We are lagging behind them in this respect; I wish we were as active and people were more understanding and acted on things; that is, I wish they did not just speculate but actually did something. I was delighted with the dedication of our participants; it was inspiring. I would very much like to work with them in the future. I also learned to convey information in a material a little differently; I will use the acquired skills.
You said that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are one step ahead of Uzbekistan; why do you think that is?
I think it's about the cultural and mental characteristics of each individual society. We all have the same problems with the environment; our governments react to problems in about the same way, so everything depends on the activity of citizens. Action is needed; inertia and unwillingness to do something are our main problem. That is why we are lagging behind Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; they are just more active. I went to their media, looked at their websites, and saw the way they write articles on these topics. It's very different from how we do it.

In general, we have very few articles on this topic. Some activity has just started. Now, the Fund of the First Lady of Uzbekistan has taken up environmental issues; this was a long-awaited thing for us. They themselves will monitor air quality and study problems. If they study them, they will begin to take further measures. That is, we are just starting to take our first steps. It seems to me that we need to talk about this openly: like in our project, use both visualization and modern presentation, and work together in the region. We didn't have anything of the kind. Besides, I noticed one regularity both on our website and in the republican media: articles on environmental topics get the smallest numbers of views. People are not yet ready for this information; they do not yet understand how important it is; it needs to be told and shown to them.
What was the most difficult thing for you in this project, and what was the most enjoyable?
I was very worried that we would not be able to get the data, but we were lucky: we immediately received the official data and found the hero. In some things, friends helped us, or just people sympathetic to the cause. Everyone agreed to what we requested, and everything worked out for us. The most pleasant thing was to see the result of our work: the joint article. When I saw it, I felt satisfaction. That is, we did not work in vain, we did a useful job.
Diana Svetlichnaya
project mentor
Maria Kazakova
design, layout
The project is implemented by n-ost (Germany) and the International Center for Journalism MediaNet (Kazakhstan) in partnership with the Center for Media Development (Kyrgyzstan), and the editorial offices of (Uzbekistan) and Asia-Plus (Tajikistan), as well as the online magazine Vlast (Kazakhstan) with the support of the Federal Ministry of Economic

Cooperation and Development of Germany.
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