As Eurasianet reports often, journalists in all five countries are routinely silenced by the authoritarian governments for reporting on corruption, abuse of power, and human rights.

So, it is not uncommon for reporters to take pseudonyms to protect themselves from real physical and legal threats. 

Yet a small new study shows that when Central Asian journalists use a fake name, it's not always for fear of retribution, according to Eurasianet.

Bahtiyar Kurambayev of KIMEP University and Karlyga Myssayeva of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, both in Almaty, reportedly find that sometimes news outlets assign different names to the same writer to seem like they have more staff, reasoning that readers will see a larger publication as more credible – and advertisers will spend more money.

Eurasianet notes that in other cases, they find, journalists use fake names to avoid criticism for printing gossip, dressing up press releases as fact, or taking money to publish lies.  

Kurambayev and Myssayeva reportedly base their findings on in-depth interviews with journalists and editors in Kazakhstan, plus a few in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The sample size was small, only two dozen interviewees, and the study was published last month in the Journal of Media Ethics.

The authors blame the region’s elder journalists and universities for failing to impart ethical standards. 

Ultimately, they write, all this “ethical misbehavior” undermines trust in the media.

“An Examination of the Use of Fake Names among Central Asian Journalists”, published in the Journal of Media Ethics in December, examines byline issues and journalism ethics in an Asian context, with particular focus on how journalists invent and subsequently publish articles under various non-existent authors.

The study took place between April and August 2022 in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where ethical misbehavior in journalism is reportedly normalized and academic institutions in the region fail to develop students’ ethical approach to journalism.  The findings suggest that journalists choose to and/or are forced to publish articles using multiple pseudonyms by political, economic, and individual circumstances.  The findings are discussed in relation to the theory of deontological ethics.