Just when I was ruminating on bad news, here comes an informative Foreign Policy piece focusing explicitly on some good news coming out of Egypt - the opening up of the country's traditional media. James Traub's overview of changes in the country's media sector helpfully frames current developments against historical background, so that when someone quoted in the piece says "Now it's just the news -- according to the importance of the news," the reader understands the significance. (Note: Traub's piece appears to rely on translations from Arabic, English language media and interviews with Egyptian journalists and activists, and I think it would be enhanced by complementary analyses that are directly accessing and interpreting the source material.)
Having spent some time in the past decade thinking about what might be done to support more independent media in Egypt, this piece again raised for me the question of when and how to engage in assistance to independent media development, particularly in situations where the overall environment may not be immediately conducive to reform. It's also a question addressed in a media development toolkit that CommGAP will soon be publishing. Should donors and activists focus their efforts only in places where there has been a clear political opening, or where one is imminent? Confronted with the impressive scope of changes in Egypt's media following the recent political transition, one can't help but wonder whether the media development initiatives that took place up to that point had any effect at all.
That question is best answered by those directly engaged in and benefiting from that work, but from my perspective, I would guess that they did. After a political transition, the media are often expected to go from zero to 60, transforming from state-controlled dinosaurs into freewheeling, informative, investigative and professional outlets acting broadly in the public interest. That's no easy task. Journalists and other media professionals who have been exposed to professional training and global networks of practice, even under adverse conditions, will be better able after a transition to gather information, analyze and interpret it, and present it in a clear, concise and trustworthy manner. This may be difficult for some donors to accept, as it means continuing to support independent media in politically adverse environments even when the immediate results are not apparent or dramatic. But I would imagine that the eventual benefits, though sometimes intangible, are extremely valuable.
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