I have noticed over the years that groups working to strengthen media systems around the world concentrate their attention on donors active in international development. This is understandable for two reasons. Donors have money and you go to them if you want an initiative funded. Second, donors - either alone or collectively - have influence in many countries. Once in a long while, they are able to bring about change just by insisting on it and being prepared to fund the process of change.
But there is one big reason why donors alone cannot strengthen media systems, especially in authoritarian political systems. And that is power... the acquisition and retention of power.
I always find puzzling how easily techno-enthusiasts believe that new information software and gizmos can successfully address many problems for democratic communication. I guess it’s part of the perennial search for quick magic bullets to solve the miseries of the world.
What makes media development work? It seems that even development specialists don't always know. To close this knowledge gap, CommGAP is working on a media development toolkit for governance advisors, giving recommendations on how to implement successful media development projects.
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.
Susan's blog on media literacy and the outcome of the Presidential Election in the U.S. reminded me of a discussion I recently had with several communication scholars, among them French sociologist Daniel Dayan. We were talking about the difference between "old" and "new" media, and their respective roles in society. The main point that refers to Susan's post and to development is: old media's function is mainly the dissemination of information. New media's function is entirely different! New media are a new form of audience, or rather, they are an extension of the audience. This extension enables the audience to participate. New media are therefore media of participation, going way beyond dissemination.
In the emerging participatory paradigm in development some of the greatest scholars, thinkers and communication practitioners come from developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. One in particular has greatly influenced the field of communication for development, as it has emerged in recent years: Paulo Freire. It is important to acknowledge his influence in this particular branch of communication because he might not be so well known to communication specialists across the board since he is a renowned educator rather than a specialist in communication.
In 1973 Freire wrote an article titled “Extension or Communication”. In that article he clearly illustrated the difference between extension, which can be mostly identified with almost any kind of monologic approach, and communication. That is why in this blog, while referring to Freire’s original analysis, I use the term monologic instead of extension, which he considers closely associated with concepts such as transmission, cultural invasion and even domination. In comparing and confronting the differences between extension/monologic and dialogic approaches, Freire started from a semantic analysis of the terms, moving then to a more operational analysis of the practical implications of the two.
As you must know, Ghana has just had a remarkable transfer of power from one party to another in spite of how close the contest was. A new president has been sworn in and the country is looking to the future as a stable democracy. From the perspective of this blog, two things have been striking.
First, the global news media have been all over the story. All the leading journals of opinion have published stories and opinion pieces saluting Ghana's achievement. It is also interesting how often the stories have been framed as one hopeful sign of progress coming out of Africa. You can feel the collective sigh of relief . And the reason that is interesting is that there is still a debate out there regarding the extent to which liberal constitutional democracy is a universal form of rule, not dependent on specific cultures. Ghana is saying Africans too can build a democratic political culture as well as anybody.
One could make a strong case that the reason why Barack Obama won the US presidential election is because of “Media Literacy” — not just the “Media Literacy” of his campaign workers, but that of a wide swath of the American electorate.
Just before the holidays I participated in a UN conference on the role of the public sphere in post-conflict societies. The one-day event, titled “Media and Communication in Peacebuilding” was organized by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) in collaboration with the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office.