These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
A Lesson from Latin America: Media Reform Needs People Power
Policy reform in favor of more plural and independent media is possible when global networks collaborate with national activists. This is the important lesson gleaned from a series of examples in Latin America that are the subject of a new book that I co-authored with Maria Soledad Segura titled Media Movements: Civil Society and Policy Reform in Latin America (Zed/U of Chicago Press). Washington, DC, is home to many global actors committed to supporting freedom of information, fighting oppressive libel laws and promoting plural media ownership—among other key elements to a vibrant and free media. The key lesson for them is that they are unlikely to succeed alone. In fact, we did not find any examples of rapid and sustainable changes single-handedly driven by global programs. Instead, we found success stories where global actors worked patiently and diligently with local activities, building awareness and strong coalitions on the ground that could act when opportune conditions or political junctures arose.
Why Cities Are the Future for Farming
The landscape of our food future appears bleak, if not apocalyptic. Humanity’s impact on the environment has become undeniable and will continue to manifest itself in ways already familiar to us, except on a grander scale. In a warmer world, heavier floods, more intense droughts, and unpredictable, violent, and increasingly frequent storms could become a new normal. Little wonder that the theme for this year's World Food Day, which happens on Sunday, is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” The need for an agricultural sea change was also tackled at the recent South by South Lawn, President Obama’s festival of art, ideas, and action (inspired by the innovative drive of Austin’s SXSW), where I was honored to present.
Election quality, public trust are central issues for Africa’s upcoming contests
Nothing kindles democracy’s energies, anxieties, hopes, and frustrations like an election. The quality of an election can spell the difference between a cooking fire and an explosion. If a successful election can calm and focus a nation (e.g. Namibia 2015), a disputed election can tear it apart (e.g. Burundi 2015, Côte d'Ivoire 2010, Kenya 2008). With at least 25 African countries conducting national elections in 2016-2017,1 great attention is focused on electoral management bodies – typically national electoral commissions – as crucial players in electoral processes and in shaping public perceptions of how well democracy is working. Poor electoral management can enable election fraud and, even if it doesn’t swing an election, produce political alienation, public mistrust, protest, and violence.
Unbreakable: Building the Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters
World Bank/Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery
In 2013, an estimated one million Filipinos were plunged into poverty after Typhoon Haiyan sapped $12.9 billion from the national economy and destroyed over a million homes. No sooner had the 2010 Cyclone Aila devastated coastal areas of Bangladesh than unemployment and poverty levels surged 49 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Economic strains facing Guatemala after Hurricane Stan in 2005 forced 7.3 percent of affected families to send children to work instead of school. Whenever disaster strikes, it leaves more than just a trail of devastation—it also leaves communities further in the grip of poverty. And yet, when we hear of natural disasters today, their financial cost—that is, the damage inflicted on buildings, infrastructure, and agricultural production—is what catches the headlines. New research, however, suggests that reducing natural disasters to their monetary impact does not paint the whole picture. In fact, it distorts it. That’s because a simple price tag represents only the losses suffered by people wealthy enough to have something to lose in the first place. It fails to account for the crushing impact of disasters on the world’s poor, who suffer much more in relative terms than wealthier people.
This public financial management introductory guide defines fiscal decentralisation and discusses how it fits into a country's wider decentralisation policy. It outlines the reasons why decentralisation is usually undertaken in developing countries and how the administrative, political and fiscal mandates of decentralised government need to be considered jointly in what is usually a longterm change process. This introductory guide also discusses the role of central government in a decentralised system as well as the typical challenges and opportunities that emerge in decisions about financing local governments. It also highlights the importance of carefully sequencing and staging the reform process.
A new role in journalism: the digital fixer
Colombia Journalism Review
When An Xiao Mina traveled to Shenzhen, China, to do research on selfie stick production, she needed a way to know where people were talking. She contacted Jue Ren, a digital anthropologist working in the area who she had met at a panel on urbanization in Shenzhen. After just a few minutes, Ren introduced her to people from a WeChat network of 500 people discussing selfie stick production. Reporters have long used fixers—people familiar with the area and with lines of communication—to guide them through foreign countries. Now, a new role is opening up for those who can be gatekeepers for online, mobile-first communities: the digital fixer.
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Photo credit: Flickr user fdecomit