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