The independent media outlet Vocativ.com just released a documentary about a Central Asian country whose name they couldn't be bothered to Google search. Predictably, the documentary lacks balance, nuance and other things that traditionally make for good journalism.
To be fair, many people struggle to spell a country mainstream media regularly derides as “vowel-challenged”, but not many of those people are making a documentary about that country called The Land of Kick-Ass Women, Wild Weed and Rising Extremism.
Kyrgyzstan is the name most commonly used for the country Vocativ's host Mikey Kay tells viewers is “not to be confused with Kazakhstan or Kurdistan”, while its official name is the Kyrgyz Republic.
Vocativ gets both wrong, firstly in the website's introduction to the film:
While you may not be able to find it on a map, Kyrgyzstan (aka the Kyrg Republic) faces a crossroads in history. Less than 25 years after achieving its independence, the former Soviet republic is now a prize coveted by the two main forces competing for hegemony in Central Asia: Russian President Vladimir Putin and radical Islam.
And secondly when the producer of the documentary, Joe Stramowski, promoted it on Twitter:
— Joe Stramowski (@JoeStramowski) January 6, 2015
Kay also refers to the capital, Bishkek, which he visited for filming, as “Bishek” during the documentary. The documentary is hash-tagged #TheWildEast.
Perhaps Kyrgyzstan should not feel singled-out. After all, some of Vocativ.com's other recently published material encompasses titles such as My Breast Twerking Video Got 30 Million Views, and I'm Appalled, The Oligarch Wanted Sex With His Dog: Tales From Ukrainian Hookers and Mormon Men Wage War Over Beards. Yes, Beards.
But the Kyrgyz Republic has suffered at the hands of dumbed-down documentary-makers before. In fact, Vocativ's documentary on the country succeeded in out-Viceing Vice, whose film on bride-kidnapping has almost 3,000,000 views on YouTube. Vice wasn't particularly respectful of a sensitive subject, but did manage to consistently spell the country's name correctly.
Vocativ's main hook for the video seems to be Islamic radicalism, which Kay fears “is knocking on the door of Central Asia”. The authors of a recent Chatham House paper argue fairly convincingly that this threat is close to a myth, despite the fact that a small number of Kyrgyz nationals — probably slightly more than a hundred — have joined the ranks of the radical ISIS group in Syria and Iraq. Viewers of this documentary might assume that the remainder are all selling marijuana, telling fortunes and bashing gays as they prepare for a future jihad. The fact that “Kyrg” women “kick ass” is a small reprieve in a largely damning portrayal that skips over grey areas for the black and white selling power of the ISIS.
Incidentally, when referring to the “deep data analysis” that provided the research for the documentary, Vocativ.com regularly cite centralasiaonline.com, a resource dubbed Propagandastan by one foreign journalist that writes regularly on the region. Funded by the U.S. Department of Defence, the website is one of the more bizarre attempts by Washington to make friends with the region's authoritarian governments, specifically by helping them exaggerate the threat posed to their countries by Islamic radicalism. This then serves to justify crackdowns on non-traditional Islam, Jehova's Witnesses and anybody else Central Asian administrations choose to certify as ‘extremist’.
Vocativ's documentary can be watched below: