Demonstrations this week in Cote d’Ivoire prompt a number of troubling questions, including what it means to be a “state broadcaster” when who heads the state is in dispute. The influence of state-run broadcasters may be diminishing across much of sub-Saharan Africa, but their potential impact on fragile democratic institutions has been highlighted this week in west Africa. Who controls the airwaves may turn out to be instrumental in who shapes public perceptions, and through them, political reality – the protestors in Cote d’Ivoire know this, choosing of all institutions as the focus of their protest, the state-run television station.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 37 journalists have been killed so far in 2010, killed by those who want to silence them. 838 have been killed since 1992. The media are being hounded by authoritarian regimes in many countries still, including some of the most prominent countries in the world today. And as my colleague, Tony Lambino, pointed out only last week, even the internet - once hoped to be the ultimate domain of free speech - is increasingly being mastered by illiberal regimes. They are finding the technological means to muzzle free speech even here. Some are employing thousands of police men and women dedicated to the task.
A newly released assessment of the Afghan media, conducted by Altai Consulting with funding from USAID, is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, its findings shed valuable light on the current state of Afghanistan's media, as well as Afghans' perceptions of the media. One of the more interesting findings is that many Afghans praise state-run network RTA, despite its government bias, partly because the privately run stations are considered too "uncontrolled." The study highlights the importance people accord to respect for local culture, as well as their distaste for divisive politics. Ultimately, though, the roles many Afghans want their media to play - watchdog, agenda-setter, and provider of relevant information (such as on national reconstruction) - coincide with the "ideal" roles of the media enumerated in the recent CommGAP-published edited volume Public Sentinel. An interesting case of academia and the real world meshing, ever so slightly.
Since the last post about Wikileaks on this blog, the site has drawn the world's attention with its release of nearly 100,000 classified military documents from the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Commentators have lined up on multiple sides, alternatively praising the site for its commitment to open information, condemning its disregard for troop security, or bemoaning the lack of explanatory discourse surrounding the data. Andrew Exum, who served in Afghanistan, criticizes the site's fusion of activism and journalism, while my friend Jeremy Wagstaff thinks that it both shows up the traditional media and points the way toward a fundamental re-imagining of journalism itself.
My colleague Shanthi Kalathil is working on a "Toolkit for Independent Media Development," which we have mentioned several times on this blog. One of the points she makes right at the beginning is that donors need to distinguish between media development and communication for development. Communication for development means the use of communication tools - usually in the form of awareness raising campaigns - to achieve development goals. Media development, on the other hand, is about supporting an independent media sector in and of itself, it's a structural approach.
An announcement from our colleagues at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung:
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) launched a new publication series on media issues in Africa
fesmedia Africa, the media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) on the African continent, presented its new publication series earlier this year.
The research papers address students, media practitioners and the interested public. Written by experts in the respective field, they cover a wide range of structural and political issues, like self-regulation of the media, the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for public broadcasting, the role of media in the political process as well as cultural differences in the journalistic practice.
An informal expert meeting on media and development hosted by the African Union Commission (AUC) and the European Commission (EC) in Addis Ababa, March 23-25 agreed a range of practical proposals in support of African media. Participants representing journalists, media owners, media development practitioners, journalism schools and self-regulatory structures in Africa highlighted the important role the AUC can play in promoting media freedom and independent journalism in Africa.
The consultation attended by some 35 participants was the first time the African Union discussed media development with practitioners and marks an important step towards creating a strategic approach of the African Union Commission to media development.
A response to the blog post Beyond Training: Development Assistance in the Media Sector from Wijayananda Jayaweera, Director, Division for Communication Development, UNESCO:
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.
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.
As the Bank and others prepare their response plans for Haiti, it is worthwhile taking a moment to stress the importance of media and communication in the aftermath of the disaster, as well as in the more long-term post-crisis reconstruction period.
In both post-conflict and natural disaster situations, donors focus on filling people’s basic needs: shelter, sustenance, medical care. But there is another basic need that people have in emergencies: information. People need to find out if their loved ones are safe, and if so, how they can communicate with them. They need to find out where they can access basic services. They need to find out if it is safe to go back to their homes, and if not, where they can stay. And in the longer term, they need to reconnect with others in society, to come together to rebuild a nation.