Syndicate content

The "Engagement Gap": Policy Makers and the Media

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Recently our colleagues from the BBC World Service Trust forwarded us a report on "Governance and the Media," an opinion survey of policy makers in the realm of governance and media development. Late last year CommGAP also commissioned a "Governance  Advisors Assessment Study" with virtually similar objectives. Both studies gauge the current thinking on the role of the media in governance, its perceived importance, and obstacles to integrating media work into governance reform. Amazingly, both reports present almost identical results.

There's a quote in the BBC World Service Trust report that aptly summarizes both studies' findings on the role of the media in governance: "There is an 'engagement gap' between the value assigned to its role by policy makers and the practical provision made for it in development planning, thinking and spending." There is increasing acknowledgement in the governance community that media is important, even essential, to development and reform, but hardly anyone is willing or able to actually incorporate a central media element into their development and reform projects.

More than half of the 24 experts interviewed by CommGAP acknowledge that the media do play a role in government assessment and programming in their institutions. However, a substantial majority of these report that their involvement with any kind of media work is limited. The same goes for the BBC World Service Trust study: "overall, there is a strong view that support for a free and pluralistic media is important - even central - as a means of achieving good governance outcomes." And here's the "but": "there is a strong view that the development community is not yet sufficiently engaged with the role of media in relation to governance outcomes." The following "Missing Eight" represent the major reasons for this "engagement gap" as identified by the BBC World Service Trust and CommGAP:

  • Lack of clear understanding of the role of the media in governance;
  • Lack of hard data to show the impact of the media on governance and development;
  • Lack of focus on the demand-side in reform efforts;
  • Lack of an institutional home for media development;
  • Lack of mainstream media expertise;
  • Lack of mandate for media development;
  • Lack of stability in the media environment; and
  • Lack of serious research.

The BBC World Service Trust report mentions a point with regard to the state of research that might just be one of the main culprits for the engagement gap: the lack of communication between governance advisors and communication researchers. Governance officials complain that research is too narrow, too focused on specific issues and cases with no clear pertinence to governance, or too abstract and theoretical. Researchers, on the other hand, moan that policy makers ignore them entirely, don't even look out for their work and certainly feel no motivation to take it into consideration. In development, communication research is regularly overshadowed by economics literature, probably due to different dominating paradigms in both fields. Both sides are right, and I find that pretty sad. I don't see why governance advisors and media researchers can't come up with a common knowledge and action agenda to finally establish the media as crucial element of governance reform, in theory as well as in practice. It doesn't take more than a few open minds, a little flexibility, and the will to speak the same language.

On a side note, just to boost the morale of the team: The BBC World Service Trust, the UK Department for International Development, and the World Bank, especially CommGAP, are recognized by governance experts as leading hubs for integrating knowledge and practice on the role of the media in governance. That's a start!

Photo credit: Flickr user blauente


The CommGap "Governance Advisors Assessment Study" that you cite sounds interesting. The blue color of the title hints at a link, but it doesn't seem to be working.

Submitted by Johanna on
It's linking to another blog entry discussing this study, Best regards, Johanna

Submitted by Kahn Michel on
Dear Anne-Katrin, Really adore your blog. Very inspirational and significant issues are brought up. We are organizing International Workshop on MEDIA STRATEGIES FOR SOCIAL CHANGE In Cooperation with The National Commission for: UNESCO - 19 - 30 October, 2009 In Haifa – Israel. If you are in the area would love to invite you as a guest lecturer, unfortunately we have no budget to cover airfares fees. A link to the brochure of our workshop: Best Regards, Michel Kahn Course Director The Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center

Submitted by essays on
I would agree with the conclusions of this report. I worked for eight years as a foreign reporter in Vietnam and for the last two have been trying to rally the donor community to support media reform here. Vietnam is a one-party state and media freedoms are extremely limited. However, growing corruption that the Communist Party recognises as a threat to its long-term stability has been growing and the government has begun to ask the media to 'help' it uncover corruption - a job very few journalists here are able to do well after decades of state control. The donors see this linkage between media development and anti-corruption as a way in to dialogue with the government about media reform and, on the face of it, appear very keen to become more heavily involved. Yet only the Swedes, who have supported media development here for over a decade, are truly active. So far, no-one else seems willing or able to commit the time and money needed to help Vietnam's journalists develop the skills they need to uncover corruption (move beyond often-sensational reporting based on dubious sources) or build a regulatory and bureaucratic framework able to support them. DfID, to its credit, seems to be moving this way, but others are finding it hard to make that leap from theory to action. Some have advocates on the ground but can't rally financial support from their home base, others have the funds but have dedicated no-one on the ground to pick up the cause and run with it.

Submitted by TimHood on
There has been some movement in Vietnam, I'm pleased to say. We've recently completed an online citizen participation project for the National Assembly, which was funded by the British Embassy. There's a video of the launch here: There were more than 60,000 page views in the first month, with 1500 people signing up to ask questions so all the signs are that it will be successful. Please leave a message on the blog if anyone would like to know more.

Submitted by Essaytyper on

I was supposed to be sent to Viet around the same time you were there but 'luckily' due to some logistical challenges I never left the country, but am amused by your brief summary of activities

Add new comment