UNESCO  plays a critical role in promoting media development globally. The organization’s Communication and Information Sector regularly sends out statements condemning attacks against journalists and updates on the state of media freedom in various countries. Yesterday, I received an e-mail announcing that UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC ) had chosen to support 84 media development projects around the world.
But the numbers worry me a little. The total package amounts to 2.1 million USD spread out over 84 projects. That’s around 25,000 USD per project. Allocations range from 7,000 (strengthening journalism training capacity in Cameroon) to 80,000 USD (much needed assistance to a Haitian journalists’ association). This list of projects tackles a limited set of issues compared to those addressed by the broad media indicators framework IPDC itself released in 2008.
A few years back, IPDC consulted a global group of experts toward crafting a framework of indicators for assessing media. Included in the framework are the following categories: regulatory systems; plurality and diversity of media; media as platform for democratic discourse; professional capacity building and supporting institutions; and infrastructural capacity for independent media.
For this year’s round of media development assistance, however, IPDC prioritized projects based on a more modest set of criteria: “promoting freedom of expression, increasing media pluralism by fostering community media, and capacity building of journalists.” A large majority of project titles denote training, capacity building, and related activities. A minority deals with freedom of expression and community media.
It’s quite clear that the bulk of funding has been allcoated to training and capacity building, which can be good in themselves, but comprise only a fraction of the media development agenda. Of course, IPDC was limited to the 95 proposals submitted, but one might argue that providing assistance toward developing other types of proposals is within their organizational remit. And incidentally, 84 were selected out of 95! That’s an 88.4% acceptance rate -- very high for a competitive selection process. Spreading out resources widely can be a good thing but it also runs the danger of diluting the chances of supporting the achievement of larger, long-term impact.
As I reflected on the list, a couple of questions came to mind. First, have avenues been explored toward broader media development interventions? For example, the UNESCO media indicators framework includes regulatory systems and media as a site for democratic discourse. Second, have efforts been made toward the sustainability of these projects? For instance, what strides have been taken toward implementing the oft-repeated phrase: “donor coordination and long-term assistance”? As regards mainstreaming media development dimensions into country diagnostics, UNESCO’s media indicators framework has been endorsed by IPDC’s Intergovernmental Council made up of around 35 states. Are there indications of buy-in from those responsible for crafting country-owned poverty reduction strategies and country assistance plans of donors? Have efforts been made to build coalitions with relevant communities of policy and practice, such as those leading on access to information, freedom of expression, and participatory governance?
I pose these questions because the media system, more than any other institution, holds the promise of providing the space for robust citizen participation and meaningful public deliberation. For this reason, media development requires sustained attention from the broader international development community and systemic interventions that include, but certainly go beyond, training and capacity building.
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