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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.

Rethinking Social Accountability in Africa

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

Mwanachi, a Swahili word that means ordinary citizen, is the name of a governance and transparency program that was funded by the UK’s Department for International Development for five years in six African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leonne, Uganda, and Zambia. This program is the focus of a new report entitled Rethinking Social Accountability in Africa by Fletcher Tembo, who served as Director of the Mwanachi program since its launch in 2008. The report acknowledges the important role of several actors in in strengthening citizen demand for good governance, including civil society, media, elected representatives, and traditional leaders. At the same time, it challenges common notions of effective citizen-state relations that focus on a preoccupation with actors and actor categories. Instead, it argues that effective social accountability programs should focus on relationships and contextual realties that are driven by 'interlocution processes.' In other words, processes that address the complex web of incentives and actions through actors that are selected for their game changing abilities.

Provocative Voices: Profiles in Blogging

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

Inspired. That's how I felt after reading Profiles in Blogging, a new report published by the Center for International Media Assistance that examines how bloggers around the world practice their craft. Christopher Connell, an independent writer, editor, and photographer who was also former bureau chief for the Associated Press in Washington, provides a window into the experience of eight bloggers from Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Ghana, Yemen, Philippines, China, and Cuba. He provides an interesting narrative about each blogger, noting their important role in filling information gaps and their evolution into influential bloggers. He also examines how these bloggers find their audiences, the obstacles they face in practicing their craft, and, most inspiring (as least in my view), what motivates them.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Frontline SMS
New Resource: Using SMS as an Effective Behavior Change Campaigning Tool

“Behavior change campaigning is inherently interactive. In order to encourage positive behavior change it is important to not only push campaign messages out to people, but to listen to the responses. To run a campaign which has a real impact, you need to listen to ensure you’re being heard. This is one of the main reasons why SMS – as a widely accessible and inherently interactive communications channel  – is an ideal tool for campaigning.

This is the topic explored in a new resource which FrontlineSMS is releasing with Text to Change today; best practices when using SMS as a behavior change campaigning tool. This resource has been put together collaboratively to provide an introductory guide, suggesting some key points which can usefully be considered if you are planning to use SMS as a campaign tool. The resource is by no means exhaustive, but it outlines some key considerations which can hopefully serve to help guide discussions around best practices in SMS campaigning.” READ MORE

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Global Voices Advocacy
Nepal: Facebooking Revolt and Censorship

"Arab spring has brought  winds of change into Nepal. On Saturday, May 7, group of young people gathered near Maitighar area of capital Kathmandu demanding speedy resolution to the current deadlocke caused by delay in formulating new constitution. Inspired by a Facebook page Show up, Stand up, Speak up, they conducted peaceful protest and caused quite a stir among local media and politicians not used to citizen media inspired direct activism.

As this bold step by the youth gathered attention, some are criticizing it as a cosmetic move and elite activism which has failed to connect with the mass. “Facebook revolution” is also being called an elaborate hoax." READ MORE

Media Cloud
Media Cloud, relaunched

"Today, the Berkman Center is relaunching Media Cloud, a platform designed to let scholars, journalists and anyone interested in the world of media ask and answer quantitative questions about media attention. For more than a year, we’ve been collecting roughly 50,000 English-language stories a day from 17,000 media sources, including major mainstream media outlets, left and right-leaning American political blogs, as well as from 1000 popular general interest blogs. (For much more about what Media Cloud does and how it does it, please see this post on the system from our lead architect, Hal Roberts.)

We’ve used what we’ve discovered from this data to analyze the differences in coverage of international crises in professional and citizen media and to study the rapid shifts in media attention that have accompanied the flood of breaking news that’s characterized early 2011. In the next weeks, we’ll be publishing some new research that uses Media Cloud to help us understand the structure of professional and citizen media in Russia and in Egypt." READ MORE

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Guardian
The future of development: Goodbye aid and MDGs, hello global goods and well being

"The future of development. What a title. It's fraught with hostages to fortune, bear traps and day dreams.
I pick 2030 as "the future". Partly because, 15 years after the first set of millennium development goal (MDG) targets I expect poverty (percent and numbers) in Asia to be much lower, and in Africa I expect the decline to be strong too. But partly because it is far enough away to think a bit more freely."

Women and ICTs: Different Strokes?

Sabina Panth's picture

Mainstreaming a gender perspective is considered essential in assessing the implication of any development program, project or policy on men and women. This holds true of the modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as well, as research studies are showing a significant gap between men and women in their access to and understanding of ICT opportunities.

Media’s Role in Civic Education

Hannah Bowen's picture

In an article last week in the Ghanaian Chronicle, two parliamentarians called upon the media to educate the public on parliament’s role and procedures. This plea sounded very familiar after hearing similar statements from Ghanaian politicians interviewed last summer as part of the AudienceScapes project. Several of the policymakers complained that part of the challenge of communicating about development issues with the public is how little people understand the structure or responsibilities of the various government agencies working on key policy issues like health, education, agriculture, or trade. As one Ghanaian policymaker lamented, very few people know about key elements of the policy process including the decision-making process, budgeting, and actual government activities.

FOI: Through the Looking Glass

Paul Mitchell's picture

I was passing through Accra recently and while walking through the lobby of the hotel was stopped by a poster for a regional conference on Freedom of Information and at the same time ran into several colleagues and old friends. It was an interesting exercise to be very aware of an issue and personalities but be on the outside looking. The conference was well attended, drawn by the start power of former US president Jimmy Carter, his center and high level activist and political figures from Africa. The Carter Center which has been at the forefront of this work is able to draw attention to and raise the profile of the issue in West Africa.
 

But what did it all mean to local people? When I asked Ghanaians working or staying at the hotel about the conference, there was very high recognition but mostly it was linked to former President Carter. But the issue drew little recognition or excitement. Ghana did announce that after years of languishing on the books an FOI bill would be introduced into Parliament. But to the people outside of the conference this would have little impact on their daily lives. Their worries were much more about food, shelter, safety, schooling and the actions of the government in power on their lives. 
 

Quote of the Week

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"... we must first recognize a fundamental truth that you have given life to in Ghana: development depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans. ... In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples' lives. ... Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions."
 

- Barack Obama

President of the United States

in a speech to the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra, Ghana, on July 11, 2009

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