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Professor Fights For A Free Press
by Sarah Kopman-Fried

Photo Courtesy Tim Kenny

Kenny and his class at the Faculty of Journalism at the University of Bucharest, 2005.

"There is not even a word for reporter in any Central Asian language that means the same as it does here," said Kenny, while discussing the challenges faced by journalism students in the region. "It's difficult to produce even the remnant of any real news story."

Because of the constant commingling of journalism and public relations in Kazakhstan, very few of Kenny's students were ever actually able to practice what they had studied.

"Most people are forced into PR and if they're not forced, it's certainly a lot safer," said Kenny, who emphasized that reporting in Kazakhstan is not for the faint of heart. Repercussions for writing a news story that the government does not approve of range from a simple slap on the wrist to being beaten or even killed.

"People disappear in Kazakhstan," said Kenny. "As a reporter you know that. If you write something the government doesn't like, you can just disappear. You really have to be a fool not to consider the ramifications of what you're writing over there."

Because most journalism students in Kazakhstan are aware that they may never be able to legitimately practice what they study, many are forced to leave their families and their homeland if they wish to find real work. To make matters worse, without extensive knowledge of another language, this becomes nearly impossible. Thus, many of Kenny's students were ultimately forced to go into public relations or similar professions in order to attempt to use their writing skills.

However, the struggles faced by students in both Kazakhstan and Romania at times feel dwarfed by those that Kenny witnessed in war-ravaged Kosovo, which he termed a "failed state."

"The education system was just abysmal," Kenny said. "Most people didn't have an education at all, let alone a college education."

Kenny blamed most of this problem on the sectarian violence between the Albanians and the Serbs that had plagued the country for the past few decades. In response to this, the people of Kosovo began to educate their children outside of any real school system, so as to further separate from the Serbs. Most of this education was conducted by large families or clans and was not seen as being particularly important priority.

"There's just no real belief in the need for education," said Kenny. "That may change, but there was no outcry to make schools bigger or better. They just didn't see that education is the way of the future."