There is a fascinating story in this week's edition of The Economist ('Calling the shots' May 3rd 2008 page 72). It is about the media in India. Apparently, some top Indian newspapers are signing 'private treaties' with businesses. According to the story, the newspapers accept payment for ads in the form of shares in the advertiser's firm. The magazines very legitimate concern is that this increasingly popular practice is exposing Indian newspapers to growing conflict of interest... The magazine also quotes an India media activist , Sevanti Ninan, and he says this practice will "grow and grow in a media which anyway has little notion of conflict of interest." The great danger in a situation like that is that headlines will be bought and paid for without the public knowing who is doing the paying. The integrity of the newspapers in question will be greatly damaged if this is revealed, but the real problem is that the public will not know the truth and public opinion will be manipulated by hidden puppet masters.
I sat down the other day with a group of specialists from a Country Team within the World Bank. We were discussing efforts to improve the governance system in that country and how a Program like ours - CommGAP - could help. It was a good meeting and we agreed on a way forward. But several of the specialists in the room raised a common enough challenge.
What is the basis of the claim that 'People, Spaces and Deliberation' are central to how you achieve good and accountable governance durably? One way of buttressing is to step back and reflect on two competing interpretations of governance, really, politics. The first interpretation of governance or politics is that it is purely and simply the business of the elite.
For those of us who grew up in developing countries, political discourse about poverty is an everyday thing. Political campaigns in the Philippines, for example, place poverty upfront and center. Candidates for local posts, such as barangay (village) councilor, all the way up to the highest office in the archipelago invariably campaign on poverty issues. For instance, memorable slogans from relatively recent elections include "para sa mahirap" ("for the poor") and "pagkain sa bawat mesa" ("food on every table"). Not at all surprising in developing country contexts where poverty and inequality are so ubiquitous.
These reflections ran through my head as I attended a brown bag lunch CommGAP organized a couple of weeks ago on a Panos London publication entitled "Making poverty the story: Time to involve the media in poverty reduction", authored by Angela Wood and Jon Barnes. Presented by Barnes at the brown bag, it incorporates research findings from six African and Asian countries. The paper makes the case that mainstream media are essential in boosting public awareness and debate on poverty reduction.
I was surfing the web, looking for some material on “leadership”, when I came across this music video-clip which I found striking and wanted to share with you. And not because it is my favorite type of music…
Public opinion is a critical force in politics, including all aspects of governance. To provoke hostile or negative public opinion is to invite a gigantic hammer or a wrecking ball. And I am saying that not because I want to be dramatic but to capture some of the scale of what is happening in the current global financial crisis. For, financial markets are also affected by the power of public opinion.
I recently attended an event hosted by the New America Foundation. Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli Foreign Minister and Minister of Public Security , spoke about the shortcomings of the Annapolis Middle East Peace Process, how to address them, and the broader regional picture. In his discussion about the requirements for brokering peace in the region, Ben-Ami stressed the importance of including powerful non-state actors in the process. He underlined that, in order to get the “buy-in” of the general Palestinian population any agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians needed, in addition to President’s Abbas’ democratic legitimacy, to be legitimized by the support of popular leaders among the militia leaders and prisoners. The former Minister pointed out that in the Palestinian society, as well as in the region at large, powerful socio-cultural-political forces had emerged that needed to be included in the negotiation process if it was meant to succeed. He sternly warned that any furthering of the current policy of exclusion would mean an end to the Annapolis process and preclude progress towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict and the two-state solution. His assessment is being shared by Henry Siegmann, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ United States/Middle East Project.
Almost any newspaper is filled with stories about conflict from around the world. Even in the deepest province the reader will find a report on atrocities in Darfur or suicide bombs in Iraq.