A reader's comment to the blog post The Culture of Media Development on Both Sides of the Atlantic:
It has been very interesting to read the various Blogs regarding the development of media in conflict and post-conflict situations. Here at the Centre for Communication and Social Change at The University of Queensland, Australia we have been actively involved in a range of initiatives which seek to support the use of media and communication processes in development.
In 2006, we hosted the scientific committee which produced the draft conference document for the World Congress on Communication for Development (WCCD) held in Rome. One of the key WCCD objectives was to demonstrate to donors and aid decision-makers/planners that there were very real and positive outcomes when resources were directed towards the use of communication and media in social change and development situations. The document demonstrated the case quite clearly through several tangible examples. Perhaps the WCCD outcomes might well be re-visited.
Perhaps I could bring some personal experiences to the situation mentioned in your Blog on the subject of the 'culture of development' when related to media advancement in post-conflict and fragile States. To my mind, the difference in the views of the US and British/Europe on this issue can often be traced to the way in which the media, especially broadcasting, is perceived in society on each side of the Atlantic. Britain and Europe (like Australia) have strong public service broadcasting (PSB) traditions, whereas the US model is very much more focussed on commercial media and entrepreneurship.
I headed UNESCO's operations in Afghanistan from late 2001 and worked with various agencies and institutions in developing the independent media sector. One of our key challenges was to assist the authorities to convert the State-funded national radio and television broadcasting organisation (RTA) into a modern, corporate PSB independent of Government. It was a big challenge and one not yet (even now) with a successful outcome. At the time, we were able to receive some funding from donors to assist in this task, but not from the USA. It was pointed out to me on several occasions that USAID does not provide funding support for 'Government broadcasters', which is why considerable US funds in Afghanistan were used, instead, for community radio development. Thus, in terms of supporting structural change within RTA and the evolution of that State body into an independent PSB, we faced something of a 'chicken and egg' situation. Without indications of solid financial support for a 'new future', it was difficult to move the RTA agenda forward. However, without such funding, it was hard to effect the necessary managerial, editorial and organisational structural changes needed to progress the whole plan.
This situation not only applied in Afghanistan. I previously spent several years in media development in the FSU Central Asia. There, while ensuring that independent, commercially based media flourished, the urgent challenge in each of the newly created FSU countries was to quickly remove Government interference in news and information delivery by changing the State broadcasting propaganda organ (Gostelradio) into an independent PSB. Again, without aid intervention, it was difficult to effect the massive structural and management changes needed in the short time-frame needed, thereby allowing Governments, almost by default, to move back into the space. Thus, almost 20 years after gaining their independence, many FSU Central Asian countries still have severe Government intervention and control in their national radio/television broadcasting agencies.
I was also interested to read of the British/US views on sustainable models of development as, of course, the sustainability of any new media in conflict or post-conflict situations is hard to guarantee. Without an advertising base, it is often difficult for a struggling independent private press to succeed. Thus, direct injections of funds by intergovernmental agencies, donors or NGOs would seem to be the only way to enable new media to be established and to continue to operate until adequate revenue streams for self-reliance are achieved. This was certainly the situation in Afghanistan where "The Kabul Weekly" returned to the streets of the capital in January, 2002 with the financial support of external donors. In a city like Kabul, where business was only beginning to re-establish itself and commercial advertising was completely under-developed, options for self-funding were hugely limited. The question then becomes, does a donor provide support for the independent press knowing that sustainability will be only a long-term goal? Or does the donor not intervene, thus not enabling a fledgling press, the cornerstone of democracy, to take root? I certainly believe that in any newly democratic State, it is better to have a cacophony of independent media voices, no matter how non-sustainable they might be, than to have silence...and to allow that vacuum to be filled by State propaganda.
Centre for Communication and Social Change
The University of Queensland