The issues of journalism and a free press come to mind these days. With a significant number of journalists attacked in, among other countries, Russia, just in the past few months, we clearly see the dependence of the media system on the political environment in a country. Journalism training is the major form of media development - how to use new technologies, how to write a good feature, how to sniff out a corruption scandal - but is anyone thinking about what happens to reporters in countries where the rule of law is weak? This year alone, 16 journalists have been killed in the line of duty, as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports. Last year: 71. Since 1992, more than 800 journalists have been murdered as a direct consequence of their reporting. Iraq, the Philippines, Algeria, and Russia are the four deadliest countries for journalists.
A few weeks I had a chance to return to Nicaragua for a brief visit. The Fundacion Chamorro invited me to talk about the role of the state in processes of media reform. As usual, I learned a great deal by talking to old colleagues and new friends about ongoing efforts to strengthen media democracy in the country.
What’s going on in contemporary Nicaragua shows the potential of smart media aid to be effective, if it dovetails with local needs and promotes wide-ranging efforts. It’s not just what donors think is important. It is what local activists with vast experience believe is necessary (and Nicaragua, to put it mildly, does have substantive experience with reform). It’s not simply about targeting one set of challenges. It is taking a broad, multilevel perspective on the challenges of media systems.
Watching media law sausage being made is not only ugly. It also raises questions about the conventional apoliticism and technical distance of international aid (an issue that Sina brought up in his last blog entry, and the subject of Sue Unsworth’s smart article that he sent).
Consider what happened in the last months in Argentina. On October 9, Congress passed a new media law, which was immediately approved by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The law is almost identical to the bill sent by the President’s office. The bill replaced the 1980 law that was passed during the last military dictatorship, which had been amended several times since the return to democracy in 1983.
"Constellations of Change
Media structures, laws, and policies are scarcely ever modified to find a more beautiful form, or even to develop a more efficient way to achieve commonly agreed-upon goals. Changes in structure, including changes in law, occur because of pressure from within industry, the society, and the government, from within or without the state... Because (the global communications system's) contours are important for the fundamentals of national identity, for trade, and the world political order, the shaping of it is a matter not only of domestic preference but also of international debate and foreign policy."
For a few years now, I have been developing a theory of media reform in post-conflict environments. It is a reading of the facts, nothing grand. I want to trot it out and see how you react to it. My sense is that when a developing country succumbs to conflict and finds the will to come out of it, or the combatants are simply too exhausted to continue the quarrel, donors rush in to help put Humpty Dumpty back together again.