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The Culture of Media Development on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Our work on a media development toolkit for governance advisors in donor agencies has reached another stage - last week we took our consultations to London to talk to a wide range of media development experts from Europe. This completes the major part of expert discussions that we conducted to develop a toolkit on how to increase the effectiveness of media development projects.

Last year, CommGAP had commissioned a needs assessment study that identified a significant gap in governance advisor's knowledge about the media and how to make media part of the development agenda. Following this study, we identified three major categories for which we're gathering best practices and lessons learned: journalism training and skills development, sustainability, and enabling environment. After several round table discussions and individual consultations with NGOs and donor agencies there are some clear trends that will dominate the advice we can give in our toolkit. First of all, media development can never be a parachute-endeavor - fly a trainer in and get out as soon as possible. Media development is a long term commitment and requires year-long mentoring even after training.

Second, media development is always local. There are few situations in which it is desirable to deploy Western experts. Most projects should work with local expertise, local trainers, local training centers, local equipment, local issues, and so forth. South-south partnerships are important in this regard: Media development projects are better equipped to be effective in their local context when there is cooperation with neighboring countries that face similar problems in their media environment.

Last week in London, James Deane, Head of Policy at the BBC World Service Trust, kindly hosted a discussion with media development experts from NGOs, academic and commercial institutions, such as Panos, Article 19, and the London School of Economics. I noticed one interesting difference between the outcome of this discussion and those of the round tables we conducted in Washington: American experts weren't entirely clear whether media development projects always need to be economically sustainable. They concluded that it is desirable to find funding models that make donor money dispensable after a certain amount of time, although there may be projects that don't need to be sustainable, for instance when they have been established to serve in a specific crisis situation. Our British experts, on the other hand, agreed that media development projects in general don't need to be economically sustainable. If it's for the good of a country, dependancy of donor money is no problem, they said. This is an interesting difference in the culture of development: On one side of the Atlantic development specialists warned that donor money may distort the market and create unfair competition advantages. On the other side, the people who work on the ground on media development focus more on the public good nature of development, suggesting that the value of the public service that is provided by donor-funded media may exceed other economic costs that may influence the market. It should be interesting to analyze the US and the British/European culture of development more closely. Apparently, the general economics ideology affects the way development is done.

Photo credit: Flickr user Kevin Labianco


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. Your proposed media development toolkit looks very interesting. Can we be involved? Martin Hadlow Associate Professor Centre for Communication and Social Change The University of Queensland

Thank you Ann-Katrin. It was a pleasure to host the meeting in London to discuss the media development toolkit. I wanted to comment on your analyis that Europeans are more comfortable than Americans with the notion of long term subsidy of the media. I largely agree, although I think the dynamics of why this is are changing. I've been slightly sceptical of the view, reiterated over many years (although not by you in your post), that Europeans favour a public service broadcasting model and the US a commercial model. Apart from anything else it rather suggests that developing country or emerging economy societies themselves - who might ideally be expected to have quite strong views on this issue - are rather at the mercy of a whole bunch of external actors intent on foisting their own models on them. I think the notion of country or region defined strategies have become more influential in recent years, and certainly the reality of major strategic exercises like the Strengthening African Media Initiative (STREAM)/Africa Media Development Initiative, and the emergence of democratic and decentralised networks like the Global Forum for Media Development, suggest that simply choosing between two Western models is far from what developing country media actors want to do. I suspect they want their own models, or mix of models, tailored to their own circumstances. Looking at the work of the BBC World Service Trust, which I have relatively recently joined, I've been a little surprised that relatively little of the work of the Trust is focused on supporting a public service model (although it's increasing again now). That being said, I think there is a growing focus on long term subsidy in Europe, not least because the sustainability of the private media in the West is in such doubt, and because the performance of public service media - such as the BBC - has been so strong in recent years. Clearly sustainability is a central factor and my suggestion is that we look at it in a slightly different way and I have outlined some ideas on a blog posted last week - this was in part inspired by some of the conversations we had at our media development toolkit meeting in London. It can be found here: All best James Deane Head of Policy BBC World Service Trust

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