I was in Paris in early June to take part in a meeting organized by the OECD Development Affairs Committee (DAC) Governance Network (Govnet). The meeting brought together governance advisers in OECD donor agencies and the media development community to talk about the role of the media in strengthening domestic accountability in developing countries. Govnet is developing practice guidance on domestic accountability. The meeting was productive but it was quite clear that these were global policy networks that had not previously interacted much, if they had interacted at all. Speaking during the deliberations, I made the point that those of us who had been trying to bring the two communities together for quite some time often felt that our first job was translation: making the discourse of one network intelligible to the other one and vice versa.
Building partly on a previous post on the value of indices, I'm highlighting this week a new edited volume published by Peter Lang Press, entitled Measures of Press Freedom and Media Contributions to Development: Evaluating the Evaluators. This rich and informative collection of essays, edited by Monroe Price, Susan Abbott and Libby Morgan, focuses a spotlight on well known indices in the area of press freedom and media independence, raising valuable questions about what the indices are measuring, what they are not measuring, and the linkage between assistance to independent media and democratization. I've contributed a chapter to this volume, as have expert colleagues such as Guobin Yang, Andrew Puddephat, Lee Becker and Tudor Vlad, Craig LaMay, fellow CommGAP blogger Silvio Waisbord, and many others.
Just when I was ruminating on bad news, here comes an informative Foreign Policy piece focusing explicitly on some good news coming out of Egypt - the opening up of the country's traditional media. James Traub's overview of changes in the country's media sector helpfully frames current developments against historical background, so that when someone quoted in the piece says "Now it's just the news -- according to the importance of the news," the reader understands the significance. (Note: Traub's piece appears to rely on translations from Arabic, English language media and interviews with Egyptian journalists and activists, and I think it would be enhanced by complementary analyses that are directly accessing and interpreting the source material.)
Demonstrations this week in Cote d’Ivoire prompt a number of troubling questions, including what it means to be a “state broadcaster” when who heads the state is in dispute. The influence of state-run broadcasters may be diminishing across much of sub-Saharan Africa, but their potential impact on fragile democratic institutions has been highlighted this week in west Africa. Who controls the airwaves may turn out to be instrumental in who shapes public perceptions, and through them, political reality – the protestors in Cote d’Ivoire know this, choosing of all institutions as the focus of their protest, the state-run television station.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 37 journalists have been killed so far in 2010, killed by those who want to silence them. 838 have been killed since 1992. The media are being hounded by authoritarian regimes in many countries still, including some of the most prominent countries in the world today. And as my colleague, Tony Lambino, pointed out only last week, even the internet - once hoped to be the ultimate domain of free speech - is increasingly being mastered by illiberal regimes. They are finding the technological means to muzzle free speech even here. Some are employing thousands of police men and women dedicated to the task.
A newly released assessment of the Afghan media, conducted by Altai Consulting with funding from USAID, is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, its findings shed valuable light on the current state of Afghanistan's media, as well as Afghans' perceptions of the media. One of the more interesting findings is that many Afghans praise state-run network RTA, despite its government bias, partly because the privately run stations are considered too "uncontrolled." The study highlights the importance people accord to respect for local culture, as well as their distaste for divisive politics. Ultimately, though, the roles many Afghans want their media to play - watchdog, agenda-setter, and provider of relevant information (such as on national reconstruction) - coincide with the "ideal" roles of the media enumerated in the recent CommGAP-published edited volume Public Sentinel. An interesting case of academia and the real world meshing, ever so slightly.
Since the last post about Wikileaks on this blog, the site has drawn the world's attention with its release of nearly 100,000 classified military documents from the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Commentators have lined up on multiple sides, alternatively praising the site for its commitment to open information, condemning its disregard for troop security, or bemoaning the lack of explanatory discourse surrounding the data. Andrew Exum, who served in Afghanistan, criticizes the site's fusion of activism and journalism, while my friend Jeremy Wagstaff thinks that it both shows up the traditional media and points the way toward a fundamental re-imagining of journalism itself.
My colleague Shanthi Kalathil is working on a "Toolkit for Independent Media Development," which we have mentioned several times on this blog. One of the points she makes right at the beginning is that donors need to distinguish between media development and communication for development. Communication for development means the use of communication tools - usually in the form of awareness raising campaigns - to achieve development goals. Media development, on the other hand, is about supporting an independent media sector in and of itself, it's a structural approach.
An announcement from our colleagues at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung:
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) launched a new publication series on media issues in Africa
fesmedia Africa, the media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) on the African continent, presented its new publication series earlier this year.
The research papers address students, media practitioners and the interested public. Written by experts in the respective field, they cover a wide range of structural and political issues, like self-regulation of the media, the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for public broadcasting, the role of media in the political process as well as cultural differences in the journalistic practice.
An informal expert meeting on media and development hosted by the African Union Commission (AUC) and the European Commission (EC) in Addis Ababa, March 23-25 agreed a range of practical proposals in support of African media. Participants representing journalists, media owners, media development practitioners, journalism schools and self-regulatory structures in Africa highlighted the important role the AUC can play in promoting media freedom and independent journalism in Africa.
The consultation attended by some 35 participants was the first time the African Union discussed media development with practitioners and marks an important step towards creating a strategic approach of the African Union Commission to media development.