CommGAP, in collaboration with the World Bank’s Demand for Good Governance Peer Learning Network  and the World Bank Institute , organized a roundtable yesterday on “The Role of Media in Strengthening Governance .” Dr. Gerry Power, Director of Research & Knowledge Management  at the BBC World Service Trust , presented examples from work done in Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. World Bank colleagues Verena Fritz, Governance Specialist and a contributor to this blog, and Sahr Kpundeh, Senior Public Sector Specialist, served as discussant and chair, respectively. Participants included representatives from the media sector, civil society, and other international organizations.
It was evident from Dr. Power’s presentation  that the BBC World Service Trust’s model takes very seriously the challenge of integrating research into all stages of the project cycle -- from formative research to impact evaluation. This model of global good practice has enabled the Trust to collect comparative data and distill lessons learned.
In Bangladesh, for example, the BBC Sanglap  television program facilitates in-studio face-to-face interaction between citizens and government officials, allowing citizens to question and demand accountability from elected leaders. The Trust’s public opinion research found that the program has around seven million viewers per week, and that “86% of the audience surveyed felt that the programmes have improved political debate” in the country and “78% thought the programmes helped ensure transparency and accountability.”
In Nigeria, the BBC Story Story  radio drama incorporates governance issues, such as quality of public services and petty corruption, in everyday life. According to the Trust’s research, seven million Nigerians listened to the English version and 11 million listened to the Hausa version. Perhaps more importantly, 80% of “listeners spoke to friends and family about issues raised in the drama” and 51% “said the drama made them think differently about some of the issues featured.” These results resonate with an important finding from the study of communication: that under certain conditions, interpersonal influence serves as an important determinant of attitude and opinion formation.
Dr. Power posited that much more can and should be done to analyze the voluminous data the Trust has collected from various initiatives around the world, toward formulating policy relevant generalizations and lessons learned. That said, he did present some general findings that are key to understanding the role of media in strengthening governance:
- Recognize that the media system does not operate in a vacuum (i.e., a shift in understanding from "the media's impact on governance" to "the media's position within a larger governance context")
- Articulate the potential of the media within a multiplicity of sources of influence
- Identify the criteria of influence of each source
- Establish measures of transparency, accountability, and participation at all levels of analysis: system (e.g., gov’t ministry); organization (e.g., TV or radio station); practitioner (e.g., journalists); and individual (e.g., audience)
- Differentiate between measures of individual and collective political efficacy (i.e., the feeling/belief of citizens that they are capable of participating in political processes and that they can actually do something that will make a difference)
It was obvious from the presentation and ensuing discussion that the Trust’s research thrust facilitates the type of evidence-based reflection necessary for increased development effectiveness and improved governance.
Photo: Dr. Gerry Power speaking to World Bank colleagues at the CommGAP-United Nations conference on communication and anti-corrupion in Vienna in late 2008.