Happily, improving the lot of fragile states (no matter how they are defined) is an item that keeps racing up the agenda of international development. Sadly, however, when there is so much to repair to be done it is not always clear where to start. Donors bring their own priorities; experts have their own preferences. A new policy brief published by BBC Media Action, the international development arm of the BBC that focuses on improving media systems in developing countries, makes the case for fixing broken media systems in fragile states. Entitled Fragile States: the role of media and communication, the report is the work of James Deane, a well-known expert in the field. The report can be downloaded here.
I believe that the work is an important contribution to the policy debate. In what follows, I offer a quick sense of the argument.
Why media matters in fragile states
- Media systems can help create or help undermine sustainable political settlements in fragile states.
- Specifically, the media can either intensify or help to transcend the dangerous politics of identity.
Top media sector trends in fragile states
- The sector is expanding rapidly everywhere.
- Access to satellite TV and mobile phones is growing substantially, with potentially transformational impact.
- Yet media systems are fragmenting, and media markets are fracturing, often reflecting the fractured state of politics in these political communities. Every group in contestation with others wants its own megaphone.
- The youth in these states are committing to ICTs and social media in a massive way, thus changing media consumption patterns.
The case studies
- The media of Afghanistan and the challenges of transition.
- The media of Somalia: a force for moderation?
- Media and elections in Kenya
- The media of Iraq: 10 years on
All the case studies are illuminating.
How do you build shared identity in fragile states?
For me, this is the heart of the matter. There are three suggestions in the policy brief, all based on lessons from what is happening on the ground:
- UN sponsored radio stations in several fragile states have shown the value of non-partisan discussion forums.
- Public service broadcasting, that is one that is independent of the state, can be a powerful tool of nation building –this is the BBC model --- if contextual factors cooperate. Unfortunately, that is a big if.
- National public conversations built through partnerships with and among local broadcasters have also been known to generate positive effects; again, this is if domestic political realities permit.
The big, unanswered question that the brief ends with is: when will the international donor community step up support for creating the right media systems in fragile states?
The answer is, sadly, still far from clear.
Photo Credit: Internews
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