CommGAP's work on a toolkit for media development has passed its second stage! After a learning needs assessment among governance advisors Shanthi Kalathil conducted three expert round table discussions on training and skills, sustainability, and an enabling environment for media development projects. The last session, conducted this week, brought together media development experts and media lawyers to discuss steps toward establishing legal frameworks on the ground.
The recommendations brought forward by our experts were very hands-on. For instance, media outlets in many countries struggle with libel laws that hinder their work. It may be desirable to get rid of all libel legislation, but lets admit it, that's unlikely to happen. Enrique Armijo, attorney with Covington & Burling, suggested breaking the problem down into two parts: sanctions in the form of fines and sanctions in the form of imprisonment. It might not be possible to decriminalize libel entirely, but it may be possible to get imprisonment off the table - which in itself would be a commendable success. It's all about what's actually possible.
Two main strategies stood out in the discussion: (1) establishing an independent regulator and (2) seize windows of opportunity wherever you find them. Although Armijo warned that putting an independent, sustainable regulator in place from scratch costs a lot of time and money, the discussants listed some general principles. A regulator should not be beholden to the government, but also not be overly dependent on the media sector. Regulators should oversee the licensing process and ensure it's fair and transparent, they should gather and provide data on media ownership and also provide local access points for citizens to use the media. Political influence on the regulation board should be minimized or at least neutralized by appointing representatives from different societal groups and political factions.
Since building or changing a legal environment is likely to be quite some challenge, donors need to utilize every opportunity they can. This is especially true in authoritarian regimes. In closed environments it may be feasible to find reform partners on the local level, for instance local judges. In any situation, a little money goes a long way. Small legal defense funds can provide protection for journalists from being prosecuted. However difficult the situation may be, there is always some small operation that is possible to do - which may at least raise awareness, and maybe even stimulate further work.
Our toolkit now goes into its production phase. After another consultation with European partners we will draft the guide for governance advisors, and we will make it as specific as possible, so that our recommendations can actually be applied on the ground and contribute to the success of media development.
Photo credit: Flickr user rsambrook