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Media research and boring questions: What do global surveys miss?

Sonia Jawaid Shaikh's picture

In the past decade, much effort and attention has gone into media (including traditional types and digital technologies) research because the media are considered pivotal for social change and fundamental to human rights. Although several approaches exist to conduct media research; many researchers and policy makers use findings from publicly available survey data to conduct analyses, evaluate and make predictions. This data is often generated by large national or global (often wave-based) surveys that use random sampling techniques to interview respondents.

Given that the media and its effects generate so much interest, you would think that interesting and thought-provoking questions would be asked on media usage and user perceptions in these surveys. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Questions that tap into versatility, scope, ideas, usage and media perceptions in global survey research are quite uncommon. Interestingly, many surveys actually only incorporate items regarding media sources and usage frequencies alone.

Consider two primary sources of global attitudes and values research involving several countries: World Values Survey (WVS) and Afrobarometer.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

What If We Just Gave Poor People a Basic Income for Life? That’s What We’re About to Test.
Slate
Over the past decade, interest has grown in an ostensibly unorthodox approach for helping people who don’t have much money: just give them more of it, no strings attached. In the old days of policymaking by aphorism—give a man a fish, feed him for a day!—simply handing money to the poor was considered an obviously bad idea. How naïve—you can’t just give people money. They’ll stop trying! They’ll just get drunk! The underlying assumption was that the poor weren’t good at making decisions for themselves: Experts had to make the decisions for them. As it turns out, that assumption was wrong. Across many contexts and continents, experimental tests show that the poor don’t stop trying when they are given money, and they don’t get drunk. Instead, they make productive use of the funds, feeding their families, sending their children to school, and investing in businesses and their own futures.

Media as a Form of Aid in Humanitarian Crises
Center for International Media Assistance
As the humanitarian crises following the Arab spring enter their sixth year, the media coverage of war, displacement, and migration in the Middle East and North Africa tragically have become all too familiar. For mainstream media, the millions of people whose lives have been upended are mostly data points, illustrations of the misery and upheaval that have swept across Syria, Yemen, Gaza, Iraq, and many places between. Yet for those who are caught in the crises, and plagued not only by insecurity and uncertainty but a lack of information, relatively little is available to help them make informed decisions for their own survival.  CIMA’s report, Media as a Form of Aid in Humanitarian Crises, examines how humanitarian crises around the world have led to a major change in the priorities and approaches in media development efforts. 
 

Tackling cholera through radio in Kenya

BBC Media Action's picture

David Njuguna, a mentor for BBC Media Action Kenya, looks at how a volunteer-run local radio station is helping prevent cholera in Kenya.

Kamadi, presenter at Mtaani Radio in Nairobi, Kenya
Kamadi, presenter at Mtaani Radio in
Nairobi, Kenya

Last year Kenya was facing a devastating cholera outbreak. It started in the capital, Nairobi and by June 2015, a total of 4,937 cases and 97 deaths had been reported nationally.

According to public health officials, the spread of cholera in Nairobi particularly affected people living in slums. Frequent bursting of sewer lines, poor sanitation facilities and heavy rains played a major role in the outbreak. Poor hygiene practices – such as not washing hands before eating or preparing food – also contributed to the spread of disease. The outbreak eventually petered out, but the environment and practices that contributed to the spread of cholera continue to pose a threat.

In a quiet courtyard, away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi’s Kawangware slum, a community radio station was planning a response.

Local radio

Mtaani Radio, run by a team of volunteers, was a hive of activity when I walked into their studio last week. They were recording content for ‘WASH Wednesdays’, a show looking at ways listeners can improve their health and hygiene. The show, reaching over 100,000 people in the Kawangware community, was just about to start.

How do media tell us whom to blame for social problems?

Jing Guo's picture

Let’s consider these questions…
Should the poor be blamed for their poverty?
Should the government or citizens be responsible for the cost of health care?
Shall we expect only developed countries to deal with climate change?
 
Before you start searching for your own answers, the media, believe it or not, have already planted theirs in your mind.
 
News media set the public agenda every day by telling us what is important to know and how to think about it. When it comes to global challenges such as poverty, climate change, and the refugee crisis, the media often play a decisive role in defining both the problem and responsibility. Attribution of responsibility in media reporting should not be underestimated, as it suggests the source of problems and who should fix them, shapes the public discourse and opinions about issues, and subsequently influences local and global policy approaches to public concerns.

Does “Rational Ignorance” make working on transparency and accountability a waste of time?

Duncan Green's picture

Guest post from Paul O’Brien, Vice President for Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam America (gosh, they do have august sounding job titles, don’t they?)

As the poorest half of the planet sees that just 62 people have more wealth than all of them, collective frustration at extreme inequality is increasing.  To rebalance power and wealth, many in our community are turning to transparency, accountability, participation and inclusion.  Interrogate that “development consensus,” however, and opinions are fractured over the benefits and costs of transferring power from the haves to the have-nots.

Social Media Information OverloadIn truth, our theories of change often diverge.  Most development organizations may agree on the need to advocate for more Investment, Innovation, Information, strong Institutions and Incentives, but some organizations are genuinely committed to only one of those “I’s”, and that can be problematic:  Oxfam often finds itself choosing and moving between the relentless positivity of politically benign theories of change (e.g. we just need more “investment” or “innovation”), the moderation of those who focus exclusively on transparent “information” with no clear pathway to ensure its political relevance, and the relentless negativity of activists that think the only way to transform “institutions” or realign the “incentives” of elites is to beat them up in public.

Oxfam’s challenge is to be both explicit in our theory of change and show sophistication and dexterity in working across that spectrum.  If Oxfam’s theory of change is based on a citizen-centered approach to tackling global systemic challenges like extreme inequality, then our opportunity may be engaging the “rational ignorance” of citizens and consumers.
 

Conflict of interest: Global internet privacy trends

Roxanne Bauer's picture
The internet, and mobile internet in particular, continue to expand across the developed and developing world – on a scale which is too large and diffuse to control. While this brings greater connectivity to large masses of people, it also has serious implications for the security and privacy of personal data.
 
Companies increasingly use cloud based services and operate across national boundaries, with servers in multiple national jurisdictions. This is because users want to be able to access their data from any device, which effectively requires data and applications to be housed on a cloud-based server. The rise of mobile devices has further exacerbated consumer demand for cloud connectivity.  Moreover, privacy laws vary significantly across different national jurisdictions; global companies often receive information in one country and then process it in a different country with a different regulatory framework. Thus, in a globalized world it becomes ever more challenging to ensure standards of privacy are upheld.
 
Concurrently, national governments seek to obtain and exploit the personal information stored on servers and personal devices for purposes of national security. At times, they compel companies to release personal data. It’s also interesting—and perhaps frightening— that open source intelligence statistical techniques are able to collect, correlate and triangulate data to identify previously anonymous information.

Claire Connelly, a journalist specialising in privacy and technology, from Sydney, Australia outlines some of the key global trends she sees unfolding around the world.
 
Conflict of interest: Global Internet Privacy Trends

Learning the lessons of land protection from Africa’s justice advocates

Rachael Knight's picture

Looking out onto irrigated fields, NigeriaRural communities across Africa face a variety of threats to their customary and indigenous land and natural resource claims. The drivers of these threats are diverse: increasing foreign investment, national elite speculation, rising population densities, climate change, and national infrastructure mega-projects, to name a few.
 
The introduction of such external destabilizing influences often sets off a cascade of resulting intra-community challenges. In most communities, the challenges are multiple and overlapping: the divisive tactics of investors may pit community members against one another; state infrastructure development may claim the communal areas communities depend upon for their livelihoods and survival and create intra-community conflicts over scarce resources; elites seeking land may make back-room deals with leaders, undermining community trust of local leaders.
 
Land rights advocates and practitioners are frequently called upon to support communities facing such issues. However, when practitioners engage deeply with these communities, it often becomes clear that a multiplicity of factors and trends have weakened the communities’ ability to respond effectively to the conflict or threat – therefore requiring use of a variety of simultaneous strategies to ensure successful outcomes. The threats and trends are often directly and cyclically linked, with negative trends exposing communities to additional threats.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond
World Economic Forum
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

Media, discussion and attitudes in fragile contexts
BBC Media Action
Drawing primarily on quantitative data from nationally representative surveys collected for BBC Media Action programming in Kenya and Nigeria, the paper develops and tests the hypothesis that balanced and inclusive media-induced discussion can be a positive force in mitigating attitudes associated with conflict. The results reveal a rich but complicated picture.  We find relatively consistent evidence in both countries that our discussion-oriented media programmes are strongly linked to private discussion among family, friends and others. Evidence from Kenya also suggests that exposure to debate-style programming is potentially linked to public political discussion, but that this relationship is likely to be mediated through other variables such as private political discussion. Finally, in both cases, both private and public discussion is strongly associated with individual attitudes towards conflict. However, the relationship is a complex one and bears further examination.

If you see it, you can be it

Rosie Parkyn's picture

Rosie Parkyn explores the opportunities and challenges online media presents in addressing the gender equality gap.

 School girls gathering around a computer If you see it, you can be it’ could have been the unofficial slogan of the International Development Cooperation meeting on Gender and Media, where I was invited to talk about the opportunities created by the internet and online media to counter gender stereotyping, or the assignment of particular characteristics and roles according to sex. This is a theme touched on by our Policy Briefing, Making Waves: Media’s Potential for Girls in the Global South.

Much has been said about the need to achieve better visibility for girls and women in the media if gender equality is to be realised. This year’s Global Media Monitoring Project reported that women make up only 24% of people heard, read about or seen in news reporting. That coverage is often characterised by gender bias and extensive stereotyping.

So could the onward expansion of digital spaces fast track the process of ensuring girls and women are seen in a diversity of roles? The short answer is yes of course, it has transformative potential. But there are significant caveats.

A Life Adventured: The migrant/refugee

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the current migration and refugee crisis, is scale trumping humanity?

Refugee crisis in EuropeSomething about the way the story of the ongoing epic migration and refugee crisis is being told perturbs. Scale trumps humanity. Overwhelmingly, the focus is on the sheer girth and amplitude of the crisis. Mind-numbing statistics tumble from the mouth of broadcasters, and the cameras pan over and around scenes of multitudes on the move almost the same way that documentary makers film the flight of sky-darkening flocks of migratory birds or the earthquake mimicking stampede of wild bulls across a great river. The tragedies that occur with saddening frequency are anonymous: another boat sinks in the Mediterranean, hundreds are dead. We don’t see victims; we don’t know them. We see pictures of the flotsam and jetsam, of the foul detritus of failed voyages. And the cameras move on.

Until the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach turns up and the world is stunned and horrified. For instance, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy recently told Fareed Zakaria of CNN that that picture transformed policymaking in parts of Europe from indifferent to totally engaged. That, I would argue, is because that picture foregrounded a powerful truth.

What is this truth? It is this: while this migration and refugee crisis might be on a biblical scale, it is still about discrete, distinct, singular human lives. Each one of these people on the move is an individual, a bundle of consciousness, a brain, emotions, feelings, deep needs and aspirations, parents, families, friends, the whole nine yards. Above all, the truth is that each one of these individuals has chanced, gambled her life. In other words, each life caught up in this crisis is a life adventured. And when a human life is adventured a tragic ending is often the result.


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