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Independent Media

Editorial decisions, economic decisions: The funders’ role in West African media

Nonso Jideofor's picture

While independent journalists are bastions in support of good government, “independence” is not always an available choice. In Nigeria, for example, in a highly competitive job market that underpays and has little respect for journalists, many sway their coverage according to explicit and implicit political pressures and are sometimes expected to take bribes. One member of the media explained it this way:   
 
“If there’s a cholera outbreak from contaminated water sources and the Ministry of Water Resources is doing an event, reporters will cover the event and not bother about the cholera outbreak itself. This is not because they don’t care; [editorial choices] have mostly become economic decisions. The Ministry will pay for the event to be covered, that is how the system works. You aren’t supposed to pay for news but you can pay to make news.”
 
In a media landscape like this one, where economic and editorial decisions are in conflict, international donors can provide vital financial support to independent media organizations, empowering them to hold governments accountable. But as my team at Reboot detailed in a report published this summer, providing strategic support requires a holistic approach, beyond program funding.    
 
Because of its flourishing media ecosystem, Nigeria is a powerful regional case study for how funders might take such an approach. Even though Nigeria formally ended state-owned media monopolies when it deregulated broadcasting in 1992, the government maintains informal control of the news through political patronage, corrupt practices, and direct threats and violence. This is true both at the federal level as well as subnational; state and local governments, to varying degrees, use these tools to bend media coverage.
 
Examples can be found across West Africa, such as in Ghana, where we learned that the practice of purchasing coverage is so widespread it has entered common parlance under the word “soli,” or solidarity money. In this landscape, independent media struggles to be truly independent.  
 
Nevertheless, the rise of the digital age is democratizing coverage control in West Africa. Citizens are breaking news and analyzing stories through social media. Their voices are transforming media—upending the traditional media models and inspiring new ones—and demanding that media uncover corruption and hold leaders accountable. This citizen-powered media landscape has in turn pushed the government to become more responsive to public discourse, potentially driving more citizen engagement.

The anti-corruption agenda is in danger of forgetting its principal asset: An independent media

James Deane's picture

Sitting in a large, rain pattered, tent in the grounds of Marlborough House in London last week, I had to admit to a mixture of frustration and admiration.  Admirably hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the conference was the civil society and business gathering prefacing the major Anti-Corruption Summit organised by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. 
 
First, the admiration. Both the outcomes of the Summit and the immense energy by civil society and other leaders in informing and influencing it, are impressive.  Registries of beneficial ownership, fresh agreements on information sharing, new commitments requiring disclosure of property ownership, new signatories to the Open Government Partnership and open contracting Initiatives, the commitment from leaders of corruption affected countries and much else on display this week suggests real innovation, energy and optimism in advancing the anticorruption agenda.
 
The frustration stems from a concern that, while there is much that is new being agreed, one of the principal and most effective existing assets for checking corruption has barely featured in the discussion so far – and it is an asset which is increasingly imperilled.
 
It isn’t just people like myself who point to the critical role of an independent media.  As I’ve argued in a new working paper, when any serious review of the evidence of what actually works in reducing corruption is undertaken, it is the presence of an independent media that features consistently.  In contrast, only a few of the anti-corruption measures that have been supported by development agencies to date have been effective. 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Transparency, Accountability, and Technology
Plan International
The recently launched Sustainable Development Goals have kicked off a renewed development agenda that features, among other things, a dedicated emphasis on peace, justice, and strong institutions. This emphasis, encapsulated in Goal #16, contains several sub-priorities, including reducing corruption; developing effective, accountable, and transparent institutions; ensuring inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making; and ensuring access to information.  Indeed, the governance-related Goals merely stamp an official imprimatur on what have now become key buzzwords in development. Naturally, where there are buzzwords, there are “tools.” In many cases, those “tools” turn out to be information and communications technologies, and the data flows they facilitate. It’s no wonder, then, that technology has been embraced by the development community as a crucial component of the global accountability and transparency “toolkit.”

Freedom in the World 2016
Freedom House
The world was battered in 2015 by overlapping crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These unsettling developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

Contesting the Role of Media in Fragile and Conflict Afflicted States

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

Just last week, there was an international outcry over Burundi’s approval of a new media law that forbids reporting on matters that could “undermine national security, public order or the economy.”  A number of organizations like Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have condemned the new law as an assault on press freedom. According to the BBC, party officials in Burundi believe the law will prevent journalists from inciting ethnic hatred and endangering national unity. A number of media advocates have argued that this legislation has regressed important progress in the country’s reconciliation process. Burundi, a country struggling to restore peace after more than a decade of civil war, faces a challenging process of establishing citizen state relations. As noted in a report by Henriette von Katenborn-Sachau, in 2005, Burundi’s private media played a significant role in facilitating public trust and building support for the acceptance of the Arusha Accords.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


Different Take on Africa
Good Governance vs. collective action

"It’s time for donors to get out of their addiction to Good Governance! No country has ever implemented the current donor-promoted Good Governance agenda before embarking on social and economic development. This was true for rich countries before they became rich, and it is true for the rapidly ‘catching up’ countries of Asia today. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are no exception. They are therefore not helped to get out of poverty by donor insistence on prior achievement of Good Governance, meaning adoption of the institutional ‘best practices’ that emerged in much richer countries only at a later stage in their development. This is a main message of the Joint Statement of five research programmes, which has just been published. You may also like to see the PowerPoint presentation of the Joint Statement." READ MORE

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

ICT Works
Four Obvious Yet Completely Wrong Assumptions About Technology Use in the Developing World

“I am Patrick Meier and I’ve spent the past week at the iLab in Liberia and got what I came for: an updated reality check on the limitations of technology adoption in developing countries. Below are some of the assumptions that I took for granted. They’re perfectly obvious in hindsight and I’m annoyed at myself for not having realized their obviousness sooner. I’d be very interested in hearing from others about these and reading their lists. This need not be limited to one particular sector like ICT for Development (ICT4D) or Mobile Health (mHealth). Many of these assumptions have repercussions across multiple disciplines.”  READ MORE

#3: It's About Dignity and Poverty, Not About Facebook

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011

Originally published on February 8, 2011

Frank Rich, op-ed columnist at the New York Times, made a very important point this week: Revolutions are not about Facebook and Twitter. Revolutions are about human dignity and hunger. It seems that a few journalists are trying to push the (mainstream) media's fascination with the role of (social) media in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran toward a more realistic point of view. After a prime-time CNN talking head stated that social media are the most fascinating thing about the events in Egypt (!), some senior journalists seem to have had it with the ICT hype. Rich tries to pull attention to why people rise up against their government: "starting with the issues of human dignity and crushing poverty."

Developing Independent Media: New PDF Available

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

We've already blogged about the release of our new publication, Developing Independent Media As An Institution of Accountable Governance, but we wanted to let people know that the PDF is now up and available for download here. Previously, the full version was available online but not for download; hopefully, this will now make the toolkit more accessible, particularly in areas without reliable broadband access.
 
We've had some good reactions so far to the toolkit, and hope that it'll continue to prove useful to the broader policy and practitioner community working on issues of good governance, voice and accountability. We welcome additional constructive feedback; please comment here or feel free to email me directly at skalathil1@worldbank.org

Why Media Literacy Matters

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

For those of us who care about the media and its role in society and politics, the recent events surrounding News Corp in the UK have provided plenty of fodder for conversation. While there are many ways to analyze the situation, one aspect which has proved interesting to follow from a CommGAP perspective is the debate over how competing media outlets (or even the ones owned by News Corp) are and should be covering the story. This Washington Post article unpacks some of the ownership ties and potential (or perceived) conflicts of interest behind the coverage, noting that corporate affiliations have raised suspicions about the independence and objectivity of coverage.

Developing Independent Media as an Institution of Accountable Governance: A New CommGAP Toolkit

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The link between governance and media systems is now widely acknowledged in the donor community. However, many governance advisors are unfamiliar with why, when, and how to provide support to an independent media sector, and as a result, this crucial piece of the governance reform agenda is sometimes neglected. CommGAP is working toward bridging this gap with our newest publication: Developing Independent Media as an Institution of Accountable Governance: A How-To Guide. (You can read the full text here and order the book here). Author Shanthi Kalathil provides hands-on advice for donors, foundations, and others who are interested in media development, but don't quite know how to go about it.


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