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Beyond Training: Development Assistance in the Media Sector

Antonio Lambino's picture

UNESCO plays a critical role in promoting media development globally.  The organization’s Communication and Information Sector regularly sends out statements condemning attacks against journalists and updates on the state of media freedom in various countries.  Yesterday, I received an e-mail announcing that UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) had chosen to support 84 media development projects around the world.

But the numbers worry me a little.  The total package amounts to 2.1 million USD spread out over 84 projects.  That’s around 25,000 USD per project.  Allocations range from 7,000 (strengthening journalism training capacity in Cameroon) to 80,000 USD (much needed assistance to a Haitian journalists’ association).  This list of projects tackles a limited set of issues compared to those addressed by the broad media indicators framework IPDC itself released in 2008. 

A few years back, IPDC consulted a global group of experts toward crafting a framework of indicators for assessing media.  Included in the framework are the following categories: regulatory systems; plurality and diversity of media; media as platform for democratic discourse; professional capacity building and supporting institutions; and infrastructural capacity for independent media. 

For this year’s round of media development assistance, however, IPDC prioritized projects based on a more modest set of criteria: “promoting freedom of expression, increasing media pluralism by fostering community media, and capacity building of journalists.”  A large majority of project titles denote training, capacity building, and related activities.  A minority deals with freedom of expression and community media.

It’s quite clear that the bulk of funding has been allcoated to training and capacity building, which can be good in themselves, but comprise only a fraction of the media development agenda.  Of course, IPDC was limited to the 95 proposals submitted, but one might argue that providing assistance toward developing other types of proposals is within their organizational remit.  And incidentally, 84 were selected out of 95!  That’s an 88.4% acceptance rate -- very high for a competitive selection process.  Spreading out resources widely can be a good thing but it also runs the danger of diluting the chances of supporting the achievement of larger, long-term impact.

As I reflected on the list, a couple of questions came to mind.  First, have avenues been explored toward broader media development interventions?  For example, the UNESCO media indicators framework includes regulatory systems and media as a site for democratic discourse.  Second, have efforts been made toward the sustainability of these projects?  For instance, what strides have been taken toward implementing the oft-repeated phrase: “donor coordination and long-term assistance”?  As regards mainstreaming media development dimensions into country diagnostics, UNESCO’s media indicators framework has been endorsed by IPDC’s Intergovernmental Council made up of around 35 states.  Are there indications of buy-in from those responsible for crafting country-owned poverty reduction strategies and country assistance plans of donors?  Have efforts been made to build coalitions with relevant communities of policy and practice, such as those leading on access to information, freedom of expression, and participatory governance?

I pose these questions because the media system, more than any other institution, holds the promise of providing the space for robust citizen participation and meaningful public deliberation.  For this reason, media development requires sustained attention from the broader international development community and systemic interventions that include, but certainly go beyond, training and capacity building.

Photo credit: Flickr user


Beyond Training; The role of IPDC (The International Programme for the Development of Communication) - By Wijayananda Jayaweera I wish to comment on few matters concerning your blog on the recent IPDC decisions to support 84 media development projects. Firstly, I entirely agree with you on the need of sustained attention from the development community to support media development in a strategic manner. In fact, the IPDC endorsed Media Development Indicators provide a framework for the development community to devise such coordinated strategies at country level. But far more important is that such strategies are developed in a multistakeholder partnership where local ownership of the processes is assured and participation of media community and civil society is guaranteed. In 2009 multistakeholder partnerships in Croatia, Ecuador, Maldives, and Mozambique have used media development indicators for media sector assessments and have developed evidence based recommendation to improve the media sector development. UNESCO supported these assessments outside the IPDC frame work and will continue to do so, so that the development community can take the resulting recomendations on board when they prepare their country strategies. However, the concerns expressed in the blog on recently approved IPDC projects appears to be misplaced, apparently because the specific role the IPDC plays in the context of broader UNESCO media development programme has been less understood by the blogger. Firstly IPDC is not the only entity in UNESCO which supports media development. IPDC lies within a larger Sectoral programme of UNESCO, which deals with advocacy for freedom of expression and press freedom, media legislation, safety of journalists, journalism education, media literacy, gap assessments based on Media Development Indicators etc. ( for details pl visit ) The IPDC is a multilateral funding mechanism, which relies totally on voluntary contributions, to assist those who are making efforts to expand opportunities for media development in their own countries. It is true that IPDC has a limited number of priorities which include training projects, besides community media and networking for press freedom and related issues. These priorities have remained the same since 2003, and numbers and types of projects vary from year to year. The 95 projects considered by the IPDC this time are chosen by 33 UNESCO field offices after screening over 140 proposals they have received. Being a demand driven programme IPDC has to rely largely on project submitters who know better which type of projects can catalyze their own efforts. Analysis of most “training projects” ( I prefer to consider them as capability building projects) show that besides training objectives these are about events which provide space for stake holders to dialogue, network and reinforce their endogenous media development efforts. In this context let me briefly explain as to why the IPDC assistance becomes so important. • IPDC plays a unique role as a multilateral funding source for credible local media development actors, be they media organizations, journalists’ associations, communities wishing to establish community radio stations, media training institutions, journalism educators, civil society organizations, seeking opportunities as drivers to expand press freedom and media development in their own countries. Often these local actors are not considered to be eligible for Official Development Assistance and the IPDC modality enables them to receive multilateral support without being subject to government endorsements. • IPDC support has an intrinsic value because UNESCO as a source of support is well known to be the mandated UN agency to foster free media. Moreover, the beneficiary media and civil society organizations can receive support without compromising their independence and integrity as support from a particular foreign country could be perceived negatively both by media and their critics. • IPDC projects are not stand alone projects. In fact, they allow UNESCO to sustain its partnerships with local stakeholders upon whom UNESCO prefers to rely on for change. The continuous annual support provided by IPDC to these partners produces cumulative effects. The projects as interventions are proposed and implemented by the beneficiary organizations under UNESCO’s expert guidance. The projects are considered when they contribute to sustain endogenous efforts over the years in a programmatic manner; (for evidence of the cumulative effects of IPDC support please see the extracts of an Executive Summary of the Evaluation Report of IPDC interventions in Nepal – reproduced at the end) • IPDC financial support is modest but adequate. The contributions are manageable for local organizations. The interventions have a strong sense of local ownership and they do not skew the local playing field by introducing external structures, international salaries etc. We all know that compared to other sectors official ODA in support of media development is very meager. While we tend to argue for the case, there is hardly any evidence to show a discerning link between poverty reduction and development of free, independent media. Development of free, independent and pluralistic media is necessary not because we want media to support poverty reduction, but it is about building democracies and developing capabilities to enjoy fundamental rights. As for the blogger’s concern of country-owned poverty reduction strategies and media development, I agree lot more work has to be done to get governments and development community to recognize pro-poor communication including media development as an integral part of such strategies. We all know that irrespective of the fact that the studies such as the one led by Deepa Narayan under the auspicious of the World Bank highlighted “Lack of Voice” of the poor as a fundamental issue in poverty, hardly any PRSP negotiated between governments and development agencies and banks addresses the issues of having those voices heard. However, IPDC support in many countries had a catalytic impact in bringing the issue of community media by and for the marginalized to the forefront. The more recent examples are community radio policy formulations in India and Bangladesh where in both cases sustained support to community media activists were provided through IPDC, and it is certainly an example of the cumulative effect and level of engagement it created through sustaining support to the activists groups over the years. Finally, the argument about large projects verses so called small projects has to be viewed in the light of the long term benefits and impacts of time bound large projects versus capability building for sustained endogenous efforts. I often hear the arguments about transactions costs, the same amount of work to be done by the donors for large and small projects etc , etc– but all of these are concerns which tend to forget the importance of increasingly engaging local actors, their expectations, needs and capacities. They need constant international support without having to go through cumbersome donor procedures and long gestation periods. IPDC could certainly do more if it can receive more voluntary contributions from donors. Evidence shows that the development of free independent and pluralistic media is a process first and foremost driven by local actors. As in the case of development of democracy, their efforts cannot be substituted by external interventions. Therefore, capability development of local actors is a key for media development as IPDC does, and evidence proves that it is working - and media development has to go hand in hand with democratic developments, which are often determined by many other factors. Nonetheless, considering that media development is yet to find its place in official development assistance programmes, we certainly need an engaged discussion with the development community and banks. IPDC support to Nepal – an Evaluation Executive Summary of the Evaluation submitted to the last IPDC Council (click to see the full report) Nepal’s mountainous geography, its lack of infrastructure and low rates of literacy underscore the critical importance of radio as a vehicle for information and communication. IPDC have long played a catalytic role in the development of independent radio in this country. In spite of a protracted civil conflict that witnessed severe limits on press freedom and other basic rights, Nepal remains one of the most vibrant and resilient media environments in the region, not least for its remarkable experience in community radio. IPDC support to community radio has been a strategic, defining factor in the growth of the sector. The Programme has regularly supported small, distinct projects which catalyzed the growth of the sector at different times by promoting replicable models, establishing precedents and benchmarks, and building the capacity of key organizational players. Between 1993 and 1997, IPDC played a key role in the establishment of the country’s first independent broadcaster, Radio Sagarmatha. In 1999, the Programme was instrumental in setting up Nepal’s first rural radio licensee, Community Radio Madanpokhara. In 2002, IPDC provided critical support to Radio Lumbini, the region’s first cooperative broadcaster, and Radio Swargadwari, a station in heart of the country’s armed conflict. In 2006, IPDC supported the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters in a broad, sector-wise initiative. Early on, IPDC succeeded in placing media development squarely within the national development agenda. IPDC and UNESCO have conferred a strong sense of legitimacy to the movement for independent and community radio in Nepal, particularly in its early days and subsequently during the period of civil conflict when media operations were extremely difficult to maintain and press freedoms were severely restricted. IPDC engaged local groups at a critical time in the country’s development and was the first international agency to put its weight behind community radio. The establishment of specific stations, supported by IPDC, was interwoven with the growth and development of Nepal’s overall media system. The initial project implementers continue to be at the forefront of the movement’s growth in Nepal. Radio stations supported by the Programme - Sagarmatha, Madanpokhara and Lumbini - are internationally recognized and the models they offered – for better and for worse –have been widely replicated. Although the sector in Nepal faces many challenges, the IPDC approach of relatively small projects, each building on the outcomes of previous projects and addressing current sectoral needs has contributed to the gradual build up of national capacity – both of individual stations as well as national organizations and associations - which offers Nepal the best possible chance in facing current and future challenges.

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