If one were to believe all these surveys that ask people about their media use, then people who are found to be “in the know” regarding public affairs are usually those who read newspapers and, to a lesser degree, watch the news. People who primarily consume or self-report a preference for entertainment usually score lower on these political knowledge questions (themselves controversial) than news junkies.
On a trip to Cambodia a few years ago, I drove underneath a banner spanning a large downtown thoroughfare. In English, it somewhat laboriously spelled out the importance of supporting long-term development.
“The Missing Link” is out and I am somewhat relieved – it was such a long process.
I started working on this publication more than a year and a half ago. The field research took me to Timor-Leste and Liberia, while a colleague went to Burundi. My goal was to demonstrate the relevance of public sphere dynamics to governance and political stability, particularly in countries emerging out of violent conflict, and to offer practitioners a tool-kit that would help assess and address public sphere capacities and challenges. The unrest that broke out in Timor in spring 2006 had been the trigger to this thinking. I had lived in this country during the transitional period and sensed what had gone wrong: the international community, in its desire to quickly build governance institutions, had forgotten to ensure that these were connected with the people. To the Timorese leadership, used to the hierarchical “closed” communication environment of a military resistance movement, the lack of national dialogue and a culture of “closed” institutions seemed fine. The violence of 2006 proved that they were not; the government and people of Timor paid a high price for this oversight.
During a working group session as part of the “Access to Information, Media and Accountability” workshop in Dar es Salaam in March, I wondered just how difficult it would be to shift the discussion from advocacy in support of the access to information (ATI) and media services draft laws to key aspects of how to implement these laws. It is no revelation that implementation of access to information legislation is quite challenging, as two other African countries with ATI laws, South Africa and Uganda, have already discovered. But what the workshop in Tanzania (supported by CommGAP) also showed is that even if an access to information law is enacted, people have to be informed enough to use it.
Watching the news coverage of Hurricane Gustav yesterday, I was transfixed by images of trees violently swaying and water topping over concrete barriers meant to protect people and property from natural calamities. Having grown up in a developing country with a tropical climate, I am no stranger to the fury of cyclones and some of their most devastating effects – the grievous loss of life and sense of community, the tragic separation of friends and families, and the seemingly senseless destruction of private and public goods and infrastructure. As the U.S. news media fixated on Gustav, my mind's eye juxtaposed media coverage of typhoon after typhoon, too many to mention by name, that wreaked havoc in Southeast Asia.
A few days ago, The New York Times published a story on a new online approach to selecting and funding investigative journalism pieces. A nonprofit called Spot
In the early 1990s, I was on the Editorial Board of the leading newspaper of record in Lagos, Nigeria until I left for the UK. It was called The Guardian; and it is still there. I had been in the Nigerian media for a while and to be invited to join the Editorial Board of The Guardian in those days was regarded as an achievement.
I was sent this report this week by one of my colleagues in the World Bank. It speaks for itself. And it reinforces the need for serious attention to be paid to the strengthening of the media as an institution of accountability in developing countries. Here's the press release accompanying the report.