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Media Strengthening: Taking Politics Seriously - 2

Sina Odugbemi's picture

I promised in the previous post on this topic to offer a way of taking internal political processes seriously as we seek to strengthen media systems around the world. As many of you will know, one major preoccupation of CommGAP's is to seek a deeper understanding of how to tackle some of the people-related or adaptive challenges that often bedevil efforts to improve governance systems in developing countries.  Therefore, the starting point of this perspective is the conviction that if you want to strengthen the media system in Gugu Republic as one of the fundamental institutions of that country, your effort  is like any other attempt to reform governance systems. You will run into the full gamut of issues: is there political will? what will powerful vested interests do to oppose the reform, that is those who want the media system to stay the way it is? do you have public support? do you have a sufficiently powerful coalition to help you overcome the opposing forces and interests? The point is this: international donors -whether public or private - can help with resources and a tiny bit of influence ( depending on the context) but no donor can really shape the domestic political process in Gugu Republic.  That is work for concerned citizens and citizen groups. So, what follows is addressed to activists in each developing country who really want to improve their media systems:

  1. You need to use the available diagnostic tools to pick out the structural weaknesses in your media system. UNESCO, Irex, Freedom House have good diagnostic tools.
  2. Pick your reform target (e.g broadcasting regulation). Don't try to do everything all at once.
  3. You need to conduct rough and ready political  economy analysis of your proposed reform. What that means is that you need to understand the underlying drivers of the bad state of affairs that you want to improve. Why are things the way they are? What forces are profiting from the status quo? What forces would benefit from change? And so on. Good political journalists can do this for you. Set up a brainstorming session with a group of media pundits with ears to the ground.
  4. Then you need a strategy for getting your reform to happen. You will discover that what you will have to do is build a coalition powerful enough to get the reform to happen, in this case, change in the broadcasting regulations of Gugu Republic. Your coalition building has to be both vertical (you need to bring in influential players like legislators in order to secure political will) and horizontal (you need to build public support for the reform you seek).
  5. You need to frame the issue intelligently. You need to frame the issue in a way that encourages and secures collective action. For instance, why should those whose support you need want to back an effort to reform broadcasting regulation in Gugu Republic? If you don't frame the issue in an inclusive way only a tiny band of in-group members will support your push for reform. You need some careful work here with smart communication influence specialists.
  6. Finally, you launch the campaign, always keeping in mind the ever-shifting dynamics of domestic politics in Gugu Republic. Keep an eye on that. Keep the effort grounded in reality...always; then push mightily.

My suggestion would be that the NGOs and others in important groups like the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) should, through their regional and domestic chapters, take up this task. They need to add this to the current focus on getting more and more money from donors. Successful and sustainable reform in this as in other areas is shaped by the realities of domestic political processes. Donors alone cannot do much.

So long!

Photo Credit: Bill Lyons, 2002 (WB)


Submitted by s masty on
We've come across such problems helping the government of Trinidad and Tobago build concensus for sweeping reform of public services. Under the auspices of their ministry for public administration, we've their support to build an online forum as a first step in establishing public servant-led dialogue, that we hope can grow across government then into the world of consumers. Starting online, it will need to attract more than the 25% of citizens now online, but it is a start. Once we get it going, the challenge will be (1) to get the administration to discuss HR issues (in particular) even if they have not formulated a position beforehand. Then (2) to ensure that forum comments and questions are responded to swiftly, so that the cynical workforce does not give up on dialogue. We are also working with the fragmented and weak private sector, including civil society, to build a wholly private lobby for public service reform, chiefly an umbrella of appropriate membership organisations in total representing a big chunk of the population (among whom there is great demand for reform but deep cynicism). Gratifyingly, our stakeholder research has identified a lot of people, powerful or merely energetic, who want this to succeed and are willing to commit serious time and effort. Together they can provide backbone and resolve to those reformers in government who might otherwise grow weak-kneed and flee the battlefield at the first whiff of cordite. If it works, and we can help it form and find its feet, it will change the media dynamic here. Now, media has only the dialogue between opponents -- government and those out of power who oppose any government reform for any reason. If an independent body of citizens demands its rights, whether that means praising or chastising government, then the dynamic is ever altered and no longer need every media story treat service reform as merely another content-free political dogfight. a diagrammatic bipolar stick becomes a triangle. I raise this because my colleagues in the senior civil service, recognising the strategic value herein, urged me to be blunt with their political masters, primarily to explain the virtues governmentally in risking 'tough love' from an organisational ally independent and outside of government, and the virtues politically to an elected figure who delivers real help to his long-suffering public. Development communication is a strategic game won by ensuring that every stakeholder comes out ahead (or as many as possible). I've seen too many good programmes fail because development strategists forgot that the politician stakeholder deserves legitimate and legal incentives just as anyone else.

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