These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
A Lesson from Latin America: Media Reform Needs People Power
Policy reform in favor of more plural and independent media is possible when global networks collaborate with national activists. This is the important lesson gleaned from a series of examples in Latin America that are the subject of a new book that I co-authored with Maria Soledad Segura titled Media Movements: Civil Society and Policy Reform in Latin America (Zed/U of Chicago Press). Washington, DC, is home to many global actors committed to supporting freedom of information, fighting oppressive libel laws and promoting plural media ownership—among other key elements to a vibrant and free media. The key lesson for them is that they are unlikely to succeed alone. In fact, we did not find any examples of rapid and sustainable changes single-handedly driven by global programs. Instead, we found success stories where global actors worked patiently and diligently with local activities, building awareness and strong coalitions on the ground that could act when opportune conditions or political junctures arose.
Why Cities Are the Future for Farming
The landscape of our food future appears bleak, if not apocalyptic. Humanity’s impact on the environment has become undeniable and will continue to manifest itself in ways already familiar to us, except on a grander scale. In a warmer world, heavier floods, more intense droughts, and unpredictable, violent, and increasingly frequent storms could become a new normal. Little wonder that the theme for this year's World Food Day, which happens on Sunday, is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” The need for an agricultural sea change was also tackled at the recent South by South Lawn, President Obama’s festival of art, ideas, and action (inspired by the innovative drive of Austin’s SXSW), where I was honored to present.
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.