With the growing number of journalism training programs being conducted in the developing world, it would be interesting to know how these programs are designed and assessed. For instance, are they focusing on the right success factors? Are they comprehensive or strategic enough? As stated by Shanthi Kalathil in her how-to-guide on media development, “a program that plunks down a sum of money for ‘training journalists’ then measures success by the number of journalists trained is unlikely to have a substantive impact.” Instead, she recommends piecing together a series of programmatic activities shaped by strategic insight into the country’s media sector. This is precisely what the World Bank’s Governance Team in Zambia did with an investigative journalist training program in Zambia.
A few weeks ago, the Economist provided an interesting take on social media, the Arab Spring, and the Reformation era. The article, How Luther Went Viral, claims that centuries before Facebook and the Arab Spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation era. Led by Martin Luther, the Reformation was a period of religious revolt that led to the division of Western Christianity and the start of Protestantism. The developments of this period were propelled by the advent of the printing press, which the article describes in rich detail. But it begins by making an interesting claim about how Luther and his allies promoted the message of religious reform with the social media of their day—pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts. So basically, the central argument of the piece states that what happened in the Arab Spring is what happened in the Reformation era: a new form of media provided the opponents of an authoritarian regime an opportunity to voice their concerns, affirm their discontent, and mobilize their actions.
One of the ways in which the world we live in today feels very different from the one we lived in even a decade ago is how ‘connected’ we all feel these days. It does seem that there are issues that we all talk about, personages and celebrities that we all know, and technological means of information sharing and exchange that we all share. Yet, can we say that one of the consequences of globalization is that we now have a global public sphere, especially now that Fareed Zakaria of CNN calls his talk show ‘The Global Public Square’?
You will recall that a public sphere is a metaphor for a space that still exists in some contexts: the village square, the town hall… a place where people come together to talk about common concerns, a process that leads to the crystallization of public opinion. Beyond the level of the village or the small town --- situations where most inhabitants can conceivably gather and talk – the public sphere becomes a grand metaphor, but a useful one. As Denis McQuail asserts in his classic text on communication theory, in most national contests today the ‘media are now probably the key institution of the public sphere, and its “quality” will depend on the quality of the media’. [See McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory, Fifth Edition, page 566.]
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.
In my last blog post I wrote about the dangers of biased communication to a fair and level political playing field. In Western media systems the political polarization of media reporting (I hesitate to call it "news") is a somewhat recent phenomenon, but it's stark reality in countries where the media is owned by the government or a few influential political factions. Biased communication is not only problematic with regards to misinformation of the public.
In fragile states in particular biased communication can keep conflict alive, stir up unrest among the population, and endanger the formation of one unified idea of a nation. In fragile and post-conflict countries, communication, including the mass media, should ideally contribute to restoring a shared national identity and strengthen citizens' loyalty to their country. But consider the case of, for instance, Iraq: Ownership of private media is in the hands of competing political and ethnic factions. Their respective broadcasts reflect conflicting agendas, potentially widening the gap between Iraq’s communities, weakening a sense of national belonging and furthering the development of competing identities along sectarian lines, setting the country on a course of partition.
Freedom of expression and media freedom - most contentious issues not only in autocracies but, seemingly increasingly, also in democracies. It's a fine line between regulating the media and strangling it. Who should be protected by media regulation? The media? The public? Freedom of expression? The government? National security?
Let's start with the media. Does the media need protection? Surely - at least to some extend media systems need to be shielded from being overwhelmed by economic and political interests. If we assume that a free and balanced media is fundamental to a healthy balance between the state and its citizens there need to be safeguards that allow journalists to report without fear of repercussions.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 37 journalists have been killed so far in 2010, killed by those who want to silence them. 838 have been killed since 1992. The media are being hounded by authoritarian regimes in many countries still, including some of the most prominent countries in the world today. And as my colleague, Tony Lambino, pointed out only last week, even the internet - once hoped to be the ultimate domain of free speech - is increasingly being mastered by illiberal regimes. They are finding the technological means to muzzle free speech even here. Some are employing thousands of police men and women dedicated to the task.
I promised in the previous post on this topic to offer a way of taking internal political processes seriously as we seek to strengthen media systems around the world.
I have noticed over the years that groups working to strengthen media systems around the world concentrate their attention on donors active in international development. This is understandable for two reasons. Donors have money and you go to them if you want an initiative funded. Second, donors - either alone or collectively - have influence in many countries. Once in a long while, they are able to bring about change just by insisting on it and being prepared to fund the process of change.
But there is one big reason why donors alone cannot strengthen media systems, especially in authoritarian political systems. And that is power... the acquisition and retention of power.
I've been with CommGAP for four months now, and since the fall semeser starts at University, it's time for me to take a little break and go back to school. Intermissions are handy occasions to reflect, and I'll make use of this occasion with some thoughts about the role of communication in governance, and my experience at CommGAP.
After more than 10 years of communication practice and training, it often startles me how people are not aware of the crucial meaning of communication in our everyday lives, politics, and yes, development. After four months of development work, I feel that this lack of awareness is shortsighted to the extreme. Here are my top 3 reasons: