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Public Discussion

Quote of the week: Julia Buxton

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"In any society that enjoys free speech, the tenor of political rhetoric and exchange is a key indicator of the health of its underlying norms. Increasingly throughout the liberal world, the language of misogyny, racism, homophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia has become unexceptional, if not mainstream. The significance of this turn in public discourse is not merely that high-profile individuals can deploy such speech from public offices, but that it can so readily be shrugged off, with outrage dismissed as outmoded “political correctness.” What we are witnessing, however, is not a push-back of the bounds of civility but norm regress: an unraveling of the slow, incremental shift in public attitudes that has over many decades made human rights a lived expectation and made bigotry and hatred in all its forms an anathema."

- Julia Buxton - Acting Dean and Professor of Comparative Politics in the School of Public Policy, at the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.

Buxton, J. (2017), What scholars must do in a time of norm regress. Governance. doi:10.1111/gove.12270

Photo credit: Central European University.

 

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.

Is Candor Terribly Overrated?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In both the professional life of the individual and in the operations of the public sphere, candid communication is reputed to be A Very Good Thing for two reasons. First, it is reputed to promote integrity, and, second, it is reputed to further the search for truth. In an ideal world, both things are probably true. Yet, when you think about some of the hard realities of these two domains, you wonder if candor is not overrated.

Let’s begin with professional life. In the workplace, candor has at least two great enemies. The first enemy is a truly formidable posse: the fragile egos of bosses. Dale Carnegie’s ubiquitous self-help manual, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has as one of its pragmatic lessons this one: To win an argument is to lose a friend. If that is true, what happens if you out-argue or puncture the fulsome intellectual balloons of your boss? Perhaps we should adapt Carnegie and say: ‘Candor kills a job –yours.’ Still, it is amazing how many meetings open with the boss saying: ‘I want everybody in this room to be frank. If I am the one messing up, let me know point blank’.

Right. It is no surprise that 360 degrees evaluations of bosses are usually made anonymous.