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Media (R)evolutions: A 'deep and disturbing decline' in media freedom worldwide

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

It is widely acknowledged that a basic precondition for inclusive, democratic societies to function is a well-established and protected freedom of the press. A free press is one where political reporting is strong and independent, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and media are not subject to burdensome legal or economic pressures. Under these conditions, free debate, challenges to authority, and new ideas are all possible.
 
Nevertheless, “there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels,” in recent months according to the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The World Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking and report on global media freedom around the world, produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). RSF attributes much of the global decline to antagonistic politics, new security laws, increased government surveillance, and physical attacks on journalists that all stifle the spirit of investigation and send chilling messages to journalists and media outlets. 
 
This map shows the countries where media are free to report the news and where the media is strictly controlled.
 
World press freedom visualised
Infographic: World press freedom visualised | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

 

Payment by results in aid: hype or hope?

Duncan Green's picture

Is payment by results just the most recent over-hyped solution for development, or is it an effective incentive for accelerating change?

Madeleine has a 17 month-old daughter who was born at the village's primary health facilityWhen reading up on payment by results (PbR) recently I was struck by the contrast between how quickly it has spread through the aid world and how little evidence there is that it actually works.

In a way, this is unavoidable with a new idea – you make the case for it based on theory, then you implement, then you test and improve or abandon. In this case the theory, ably argued by Center for Global Development (CGD) and others, was that PbR aligns incentives in developing country governments with development outcomes, and encourages innovation, since it does not specify how to, for example, reduce maternal mortality, merely rewards governments when they achieve it.

Those arguments have certainly persuaded a bunch of donors. The UK government (pdf) says that this “new form of financing that makes payments contingent on the independent verification of results ... is a cross government reform priority”. The UK’s department for international development (DfID) called its 2014 PbR strategy Sharpening Incentives to Perform (pdf) and promised to make it “a major part of the way DfID works in future”. David Cameron, the British prime minister, waxes lyrical on the topic.

But I seem to be coming up against a long list of potential problems with PbR. Let’s start with Paul Clist and Stefan Dercon: 12 Principles for PbR in International Development (pdf), who set out a series of situations in which PbR is either unsuitable or likely to backfire. For example if results cannot be unambiguously measured, lawyers are going to have a field day when a donor tries to refuse payment by arguing they haven’t been achieved. They also make the point that PbR makes no sense if the recipient government already wants to achieve a certain goal – then you should just give them the money up front and let them get on with it.

Quote of the week: Angus Deaton

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Angus Deaton at a press conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences"Politics is a danger to good data; but without politics data are unlikely to be good, or at least not for long."

- Angus Deaton, a British-American economist. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare. The Nobel Prize website writes, "To design economic policy that promotes welfare and reduces poverty, we must first understand individual consumption choices. More than anyone else, Angus Deaton has enhanced this understanding. By linking detailed individual choices and aggregate outcomes, his research has helped transform the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and development economics."

Blog post of the month: How an award winning elementary school teacher is solving environmental equations using the bicycle

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In April 2016, the featured blog post is "How an award winning elementary school teacher is solving environmental equations using the bicycle" by Leszek Sibilski.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” - Albert Einstein
 
When I wrote, “How the bicycle can drive green development on planet Earth” last year in March 2015, my hope was to raise awareness and encourage a few bicycle enthusiasts to further promote the use of the most efficient tool ever designed by the human mind and hand. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that this blog would inspire an environmental education teacher who teaches grades K-5, Jenna Shea Mobley, from Springdale Park Elementary School in Atlanta to use the material presented in the blog as the impetus for her project that went on to receive the 2015 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators!
 
In her interdisciplinary curriculum design she combined lessons from science and math to help students focus on the effects of pollution and the human footprint on the environment. Math allowed her students to use multiplication and division to solve word problems and create models to form equations that represented the problem. I must admit, as a teacher, I like to dream big from time to time, but I would have never dreamt of integrating math, science and a pinch of social science into lessons that used the bicycle for children in third grade.
 
Ms. Mobley’s curriculum also included a component that encouraged social action.  Her students were encouraged to write letters to Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, asking him to reduce air pollution around Atlanta.

Information is power: Silvio Waisbord on how digital technology changes the public sphere and notions of privacy

Roxanne Bauer's picture
How do digital media affect traditional theories of the “public sphere” and power? Are we living in a modern-day panopticon?

The notion of the “public sphere” is useful worldwide to consider how citizens can and do articulate demands to the market or to states. The public sphere is generally conceived as a place (figurative or literal) in which citizens can share information, debate issues and opinions, and restrain the interests of the powerful elite. This space is critical to the formation of public will and the transmission of it to official authorities.

In contrast, the Panopticon is a design for a prison or jail which allows watchmen to observe all inmates at all times without the inmates knowing whether they are being observed or not.  The idea has been used to discuss online privacy, as individuals are often unaware of how governments and companies collect and use the information they gather about them online.  Moreover, the revelation that governments and companies work together to “spy” on citizens, as revealed by Edward Snowden revived the concern that a modern-day panopticon might be possible.   

But these concepts raise another important question: How can the public sphere, which aims to limit excess power, continue to function if the state is monitoring citizen activity?  Much of the information that is collected and tracked online is willingly shared by individuals as they search the internet, use mobile apps, and contact friends and family. This activity is vital to the future of a public sphere around the world, but it also allows governments and companies to intrude in our private lives.

Silvio Waisbord explores these two evergreen, yet very immediate concerns. He argues that while digital technologies have improved the capacities of states and companies to track human activity, digital media can also be used for democratic purposes. 
 
The modern public sphere vs. The online panopticon

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.
 

The World Press Freedom Index
Freedom House
Published every year since 2002 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states. Because it is well known, its influence over governments is growing. Many heads of state and government fear its annual publication. The Index is a point of reference that is quoted by media throughout the world and is used by diplomats and international entities such as the United Nations and the World Bank. The Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country. It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country.

Non-Western Ideas for Democratic Renewal
Carnegie’s Rising Democracies Network
It is commonly asserted that Western liberal democracy is losing credibility and that the international community must be more open to tolerating, and even encouraging, non-Western political models in developing and rising powers. Calls for non-Western forms of democracy have been around for many years but are now becoming louder and more ubiquitous. This trend can be expected to deepen as an integral element of the emerging post-Western world order.  The desire of people outside the West to contribute new ideas to democratic regeneration and to feel stronger local ownership over democracy is healthy. More needs to be done to nurture a wider variation of democratic processes and practices. 

Tackling cholera through radio in Kenya

BBC Media Action's picture

David Njuguna, a mentor for BBC Media Action Kenya, looks at how a volunteer-run local radio station is helping prevent cholera in Kenya.

Kamadi, presenter at Mtaani Radio in Nairobi, Kenya
Kamadi, presenter at Mtaani Radio in
Nairobi, Kenya

Last year Kenya was facing a devastating cholera outbreak. It started in the capital, Nairobi and by June 2015, a total of 4,937 cases and 97 deaths had been reported nationally.

According to public health officials, the spread of cholera in Nairobi particularly affected people living in slums. Frequent bursting of sewer lines, poor sanitation facilities and heavy rains played a major role in the outbreak. Poor hygiene practices – such as not washing hands before eating or preparing food – also contributed to the spread of disease. The outbreak eventually petered out, but the environment and practices that contributed to the spread of cholera continue to pose a threat.

In a quiet courtyard, away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi’s Kawangware slum, a community radio station was planning a response.

Local radio

Mtaani Radio, run by a team of volunteers, was a hive of activity when I walked into their studio last week. They were recording content for ‘WASH Wednesdays’, a show looking at ways listeners can improve their health and hygiene. The show, reaching over 100,000 people in the Kawangware community, was just about to start.

Campaign Art: Press Freedom

Davinia Levy's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Tuesday, May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. This day, which marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, was established by the UN General Assembly in 1993. Since then, 3 May is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.

This international day gives us an opportunity to assess the state of press freedom throughout the world. Since 2002, the organization Reporters without Borders (or RSF for its acronym in French), keeps and updates the World Press Freedom Index, which ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. In the 2016 index, northern-European countries take the top 3 spots for highest freedom. You can see each country’s detailed score and full report by clicking on the country’s name. In aggregate terms, according to RSF, there has been a “deep and disturbing” decline in media freedom globally and regionally.

To highlight the connection between increased global attacks to journalists, while at the same time represent the power of information and free press, the association of Canadian Journalist for Free Expression created in 2014 the following posters.

          

How civil society and others achieved the Paris Climate Agreement

Duncan Green's picture

Michael JacobsA brilliant analysis by Michael Jacobs of the success factors behind last year’s Paris Climate Agreement appeared in Juncture, IPPR’s quarterly journal  recently. Jacobs unpacks the role of civil society (broadly defined) and political leadership. Alas, it’s over 4,000 words long, so as a service to my attention deficit colleagues in aid and development, here’s an abbreviated version (about a third the length, but if you have time, do please read the original).

The international climate change agreement reached in Paris in December 2015 was an extraordinary diplomatic achievement. It was also a remarkable display of the political power of civil society.

Following the failed Copenhagen conference in 2009, an informal global coalition of NGOs, businesses, academics and others came together to define an acceptable outcome to the Paris conference and then applied huge pressure on governments to agree to it. Civil society effectively identified the landing ground for the agreement, then encircled and squeezed the world’s governments until, by the end of the Paris conference, they were standing on it. Four key forces made up this effective alliance.

The scientific community: Five years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was in trouble. Relentless attacks from climate sceptics and a number of apparent scandals – the ‘climategate’ emails, dodgy data on melting Himalayan glaciers, allegations surrounding its chairman – had undermined its credibility. But the scientists fought back, subjecting their work to even more rigorous peer-review and hiring professional communications expertise for the first time. The result was the IPCC’s landmark Fifth Assessment Report, which contained two powerful central insights.

First, the IPCC report introduced the concept of a ‘carbon budget’: the total amount of carbon dioxide the earth’s atmosphere can absorb before the 2°C temperature goal is breached. At present emission rates, that would be used up in less than 30 years. So cutting emissions cannot wait.

The other insight was that these emissions have to be reduced until they reach zero. The IPCC’s models are clear: the physics of global warming means that to halt the world’s temperature rise, the world will have to stop producing greenhouse gas emissions altogether.

The economic community: But it was a second set of forces that really changed the argument. Since the financial crash in 2008–2009, cutting emissions had fallen down the priority lists of the world’s finance ministries. The old orthodoxy that environmental policy was an unaffordable cost to the economy reasserted itself. A new argument was required.

The things we do: Why those who see the world differently are always wrong

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Have you ever been in an argument that ended badly, after which you expected to receive an apology? Did the apology come or was the other side also expecting one?  Have you ever done an audit or technical assessment and wondered how a team of professionals could have come to such seemingly erroneous conclusions?  How can that be?  How is that people can have such different views of the same thing?  

One reason misunderstandings occur is that people tend to be naïve realists. That is, we believe that we see social interactions as they truly are. Anyone else who has read what we have read or seen what we have seen will naturally perceive them the say way as we do… that is, assuming they’ve pondered the issue as thoughtfully as we have. In short, our own reality is true, so those who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased.
 
However, one of the most enduring contributions of social psychology is the understanding that two people can interpret the same social interaction in very different ways, based on their own personal knowledge and experiences.
 
Tim Harford, the Undercover economist at the Financial Times, recently wrote about naïve realism, calling it the, “seductive sense that we’re seeing the world as it truly is, free of bias.”  He goes on to say that this is such an attractive illusion that whenever we meet someone that contradicts our own view, we instinctively believe we’ve met someone who is deluded rather than question our own rationale.

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