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