Close to 60 countries are planning elections this year. Close to 60 chances to change political fates, 60 occasions to uphold democracy by exercising democratic rights. The number of elections that will be truly fair and equal is likely to be lower. Election fraud or election irregularities are rampant problems, and sometimes voters complain about hurdles to free elections even in old democracies. We will learn and see a lot this year, and many new and old problems of electoral systems will come under renewed scrutiny. Election monitoring is an opportunity for development groups to have an impact – and sometimes it’s a matter of media development.
What’s media assistance about anyway? Actually, there’s not really a straightforward answer to this question. I realized that when I listened to Daniel Kaufmann of the Brookings Institute earlier this week at an event hosted by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and Internews. Kaufmann’s answer was that media assistance is about media freedom. A free media is a necessary, although not a sufficient condition for successful media development.
As CommGAP draws to a close, I've been reflecting a bit on what I've learned from the program over the last five years and the many interesting research, practice and policy questions still left to be explored.
For me, CommGAP was one of the first programs to take a critical look at the phenomenon we call "good governance" by drawing linkages between the related but conceptually distinct strands of accountability, transparency, access to information, citizen voice and mobilization, civil society capacity building, media development, public opinion formation, democratic deliberation, and state capacity/ resilience/ legitimacy. I still remember a conversation I had with Sina at a conference many years ago, asking him how he envisioned the "connective tissue" between all these concepts. The CommGAP program, in a sense, was Sina's answer, and I've been lucky to be able to help articulate some of this work.
We've already blogged about the release of our new publication, Developing Independent Media As An Institution of Accountable Governance, but we wanted to let people know that the PDF is now up and available for download here. Previously, the full version was available online but not for download; hopefully, this will now make the toolkit more accessible, particularly in areas without reliable broadband access.
We've had some good reactions so far to the toolkit, and hope that it'll continue to prove useful to the broader policy and practitioner community working on issues of good governance, voice and accountability. We welcome additional constructive feedback; please comment here or feel free to email me directly at email@example.com
The link between governance and media systems is now widely acknowledged in the donor community. However, many governance advisors are unfamiliar with why, when, and how to provide support to an independent media sector, and as a result, this crucial piece of the governance reform agenda is sometimes neglected. CommGAP is working toward bridging this gap with our newest publication: Developing Independent Media as an Institution of Accountable Governance: A How-To Guide. (You can read the full text here and order the book here). Author Shanthi Kalathil provides hands-on advice for donors, foundations, and others who are interested in media development, but don't quite know how to go about it.
I was in Paris in early June to take part in a meeting organized by the OECD Development Affairs Committee (DAC) Governance Network (Govnet). The meeting brought together governance advisers in OECD donor agencies and the media development community to talk about the role of the media in strengthening domestic accountability in developing countries. Govnet is developing practice guidance on domestic accountability. The meeting was productive but it was quite clear that these were global policy networks that had not previously interacted much, if they had interacted at all. Speaking during the deliberations, I made the point that those of us who had been trying to bring the two communities together for quite some time often felt that our first job was translation: making the discourse of one network intelligible to the other one and vice versa.
Building partly on a previous post on the value of indices, I'm highlighting this week a new edited volume published by Peter Lang Press, entitled Measures of Press Freedom and Media Contributions to Development: Evaluating the Evaluators. This rich and informative collection of essays, edited by Monroe Price, Susan Abbott and Libby Morgan, focuses a spotlight on well known indices in the area of press freedom and media independence, raising valuable questions about what the indices are measuring, what they are not measuring, and the linkage between assistance to independent media and democratization. I've contributed a chapter to this volume, as have expert colleagues such as Guobin Yang, Andrew Puddephat, Lee Becker and Tudor Vlad, Craig LaMay, fellow CommGAP blogger Silvio Waisbord, and many others.
Just when I was ruminating on bad news, here comes an informative Foreign Policy piece focusing explicitly on some good news coming out of Egypt - the opening up of the country's traditional media. James Traub's overview of changes in the country's media sector helpfully frames current developments against historical background, so that when someone quoted in the piece says "Now it's just the news -- according to the importance of the news," the reader understands the significance. (Note: Traub's piece appears to rely on translations from Arabic, English language media and interviews with Egyptian journalists and activists, and I think it would be enhanced by complementary analyses that are directly accessing and interpreting the source material.)
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.