It’s not what the Hong Kong protesters are saying: It’s how they’re saying it

Guest post by John Sinden. The original interview was featured on American University’s SIS International Relations Online.
Protests in Hong Kong, photo by Andrew Antuna, featured Instagram http://instagram.com/p/tj4HG1RlAq/?modal=true

Protests in Hong Kong, photo by Andrew Antuna, featured on Instagram.

Many parallels can be drawn between the 2014 Hong Kong student protests and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.  Both protests demand higher political participation, both see student organization as the driving force behind them, and the protestors in each movement use non-violent techniques. Although these two protests are separated by 25 years, comparison between the two offers an interesting perspective on the way mass communication has changed: it’s not what protesters are saying, it’s how they are saying it.

Pro-democratic protesters and citizen journalists have leveraged innovative tools to organize and raise awareness about their cause. The tool of choice for person-to-person communication in Hong Kong is FireChat, created by San Francisco based tech company Open Garden. FireChat has proven effective against the looming threat of Chinese censorship and monitoring. Operating through a mesh network, it also helped to avoid protester shutdown when there were “… rumors circulating that authorities would shut down mobile phone networks.

Even in situations in which possible mobile shut downs and/or censorship don’t apply, FireChat’s mesh network is a more effective communication tool, due to its ability to connect via Bluetooth to other phones without internet access. In a recent interview with American University’s online global security masters program, Andrew Antuna, an on the ground observer of the Hong Kong protests, described the use of FireChat:

“FireChat has been used by the protesters for a variety of purposes. Activists will forward spreadsheets listing supplies needed at food and first aid stations at the various protest sites around Hong Kong (e.g., Central, Admiralty, Causeway Bay, and Mong Kok). It can also serve as an alert system to warn protesters and protest encampments about police movement or the approach of pro-Beijing protesters or unruly characters attempting to threaten, assault, and/or grope protesters or attempting to tear down the barricades or supply stations. Also, protesters many times send messages of encouragement to each other through the app.”

Pro democratic protests weren’t the intended use for FireChat, as it was created for messaging at densely populated concerts where cell towers have the tendency to jam. But its functionality serves a higher purpose. Similarly citizen journalism in Hong Kong has served a higher purpose, as professional journalists are being arrested and deterred from covering the protests.

Citizen journalism in citizen driven movements presents many challenges; among them, the the spread of misinformation. Antuna addressed issues with verification of citizen content in Hong Kong:

“With regard to citizen journalists, yes, people have been making an effort to cross check each other and make sure that what’s being reported is as accurate as possible. It’s hard to fight the rush and desire to be the first to break a new development, but people are learning to exercise some restraint and at least attempt to cross-reference or verify that they actually understand what’s going on. Some citizen journalists do have a professional journalistic background and have been helpful in verifying information and being reliable sources of information. Others have just been writing what they’re seeing but are showing some restraint by saying ‘awaiting further details’ and then updating or correcting their earlier reports.”

Innovative technology has allowed protestors to utilize skill sets and spread information more effectively and rapidly than 25 years ago. It’s hard to derive certainties from ongoing protests, and when they end it’s hard to predict what political events will follow. However, the trends we see in this protest tell us that another talking point should be added to the ongoing question of whether the private sector is the key to reversing internet censorship and oppressive regimes. As technology progresses, it is protests such as those in Hong Kong that will allow innovators to analyze and build upon the effectiveness of  tools  that will give more power to consumers. The use of these tools creates a blueprint for other citizen driven movements, which are essential for human progress.

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Posted in Asia, Innovation

Post-2015 Goals Should Include Independent Media and other Accountability Elements

Access to information, transparency, independent media, accountability and citizen participation are not being adequately addressed by the global effort to set a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a diverse group of global development specialists.

Drawn from an informal survey of the members of the so-called Effective Institutions Platform, data suggest that an important group of development specialists are concerned about the effort to set new global development goals. The SDGs would replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in  2015.

Media and civil society organizations from around the world have pushed for the inclusion of access to information and media freedoms in the SDGs. But that effort has been stymied by a growing group of authoritarian countries that are opposed to any effort to measure progress on these issues.

The respondents to the survey, which was released this week during the EIP annual meeting in Paris, included around 40 government officials,  parliamentarians, and civil society representatives.

Results from informal survey of the members of the Effective Institutions Platform.

Results from informal survey of the members of the Effective Institutions Platform.

The survey results are important because they suggest that specialists in institutional development are skeptical about the likely effectiveness of the SDGs unless they take into account more elements of an open society, including citizen participation and the ability of the media to monitor and help hold officials accountable for their performance.

The EIP is an international partnership that brings together more than 60 countries and organizations, including both high and lower income countries, as well as international organizations and think tanks. The platform is one of the working groups that emerged from the global aid effectiveness conference that took place in Busan, South Korea, in 2012.

The process of developing the SGDs is not completed, but an earlier proposal for measurable global commitments on independent media and access to information looks unlikely to survive through the negotiation process, which is expected to end end in late 2015.

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Posted in global, Impact and Evaluation

Event wrap-up: Data Journalism

Using data journalism to bridge the gap from media to overall development

One of CIMA’s first blog posts highlighted the importance of raising the visibility of media development across sectors. Since then, we have taken an active role in working toward building ties with other sectors and researching how we can increase funding for media in an effort for greater development. This idea was at the heart of our most recent event: How Data Journalism Drives Results in Developing Counties,” as panelists discussed the power of the media as a method of engaging all sectors of development.

Mark Nelson introduces the panel.

Mark Nelson introduces the panel at the event.

As government and private data continues to grow, media has a real opportunity to create an environment for change by highlighting the work of data journalism as media can provide things that other stakeholders often cannot. From the groundbreaking work that Internews in Kenya is doing to ICFJ’s InfoAmazonia project , it is clear that data has the potential to drive change.

However, in today’s world where anyone can be a journalist, it is essential for professional journalists to attain the skills to produce valuable information. “Journalism without data ends up being largely anecdote,” said Ben Colmery. Things become a bit more problematic when journalists are not trained in how to work with large data sets. Besides lacking the skills for analyzing, Ida Joose, the country director for Internews Kenya, said that journalists didn’t think they even had the right to have access to data. No matter the circumstance, the most important thing is that the availability continues to grow. As Craig Hammer mentioned, “The data isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. The point is that it’s out there.”

“The data isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. The point is that it’s out there.” -Craig Hammer

New projects to educate journalists, growing availability of government data, and an effort by the development community as a whole seem to be making an impact on the daily lives of people around the world, and the media development community should seize the opportunity to showcase the importance of a free and independent media. As Tara Susman-Pena wrote in CIMA’s paper about data journalism, “Without media that can make sense of this growing mountain of data, the promise of the transparency revolution is likely to be lost.”

Click here to watch a video of the discussion. 

 

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Posted in Africa, General, global

Political support key for media in Myanmar

Information Minister U Ye Htut speaks during the opening session of the third annual conference on media development in Myanmar on September 18. The two-day event is being held at the Chatrium Hotel, Yangon. Photo: Bo Bo/Mizzima

Information Minister U Ye Htut speaks during the opening session of the third annual conference on media development in Myanmar on September 18. The two-day event is being held at the Chatrium Hotel, Yangon. Photo: Bo Bo/Mizzima

Over the past two years, the euphoria surrounding the rebirth of independent media in Myanmar has given way to increasing concern in light of high profile setbacks, including the arrest and harsh sentencing of prominent journalists and the passage of controversial new media laws. It is unclear if this is merely a temporary setback or long-term trend, but it was in this context that the 3rd Conference on Media Development in Myanmar took place on September 18th and 19th in Yangon.

The conference brought together media actors in Myanmar and around the world, as well as civil society leaders and public officials. The two day event focused on “moving towards a sustainable media environment” and included sessions on reforming the broadcast sector, community radio, the press council, sustainable business models and media law reform (See entire conference agenda here). Among the takeaways from the conference was the need for greater professionalism among journalists, and the critical role they will play in the run-up to the 2015 elections. And while developing more capable journalists is crucial for creating a strong and viable media sector in Myanmar, a fundamental weakness for the sector continues to be the legal environment.

Although some of Myanmar’s most draconian media laws and institutions were discarded by current President Thein Sein, significant new legislation has underwhelmed observers. Two of the most notable pieces of legislation that passed parliament, the Printers and Publishers Enterprise Law and the 2014 News Media Law of Myanmar, were both met with concern.

Of the News Media Law, the NGO Article 19 warns that the law’s language is “so heavily qualified or contradicted…” that “…they will have little practical impact on media freedoms in the country.”  The Printers and Publishers Enterprise Law, meanwhile, has been criticized for vague language that could easily be used to reintroduce government censorship.

Reporters hold banners and shout slogans as they attend a demonstration march for press freedom in Yangon.

Reporters hold banners and shout slogans as they attend a demonstration march for press freedom in Yangon.

How could a more open political system in Myanmar, with a pro-reform government and a substantial bloc of pro-democracy parliamentarians, fail to deliver stronger reforms? Part of the answer lies in the parliament’s failure to provide adequate checks on the laws developed by the Ministry of Information. Although some amendments were made, these two bills survived largely intact. In fact, Professor Christina Fink of the George Washington University noted at an Internews event earlier this year that many members of the opposition voted for the Printers and Publishers Enterprise Law without even reading it.

In order to develop an enabling legal environment for media, sufficient political support must exist within political institutions, and especially in the Parliament. Without a constituency for media, deeply flawed legislation will pass and undermine the development of the media sector to grow independently and sustainably. Even a small contingent of parliamentarians devoted to media reform could make an impact.

While Myanmar’s minister of information, U Ye Htut, notes that media reform “is the most important process in President U Thein Sen’s reform” agenda, progressive reform requires tangible engagement and support from members of parliament. Through greater engagement with members of parliament and coalition-building among civil society groups, donors could have a greater impact on the development of a sustainable media environment. Enhancing the professionalism of journalists is important work, but without engagement of the public sector, the space for journalists to operate will continue to be limited by weak legal protections.

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Posted in Asia, Sustainability

MDIF’s Impact Dashboard: A Case Study in Measuring MediaDev

When it comes to measuring success or failure, media developers face many of the same challenges as the rest of the international development community.

Do you measure inputs, such as the amount of money that is invested in media development initiatives? Or do you track outcomes from projects—the number of people trained or the knowledge that they gained from training? Should we be looking at organizational performance of media enterprises, such as the increase in audience or reach, or their profit and loss accounts? Or should we be looking at broader impacts on society in terms of poverty reduction, improved governance or overall peace and economic growth that an independent media can help to achieve?

One creative attempt at answering these questions is the just-released Impact Dashboard 2014 from the Media Development Investment Fund. This document is a must-read for media developers because of the clear and graphic way that MDIF has tracked the results of its work.

MDIF is one of the most interesting and creative creatures of the media development field—an organization that makes loans and equity investments in, and offers technical support to promising media enterprises in developing countries.  As such, it is already addressing one of the higher-level possible outcomes of media development, sustainable media enterprises. Compared with some of the early attempts at addressing problems in the media sector by simply training journalists, it is already yards ahead.

MDIF is also ahead in the results game.  It looks at change at several levels, and it attempts to address the fundamental question of why high quality, independent media matters to developing societies. MDIF’s results framework measures its outputs, in terms of loans, equity investments and technical assistance; it looks at client outputs in terms of quality reporting and content production; and it suggests results at the societal level in terms of impact on reducing corruption and improving accountability.

MDIF’s solution to the results question mirrors closely the similar work carried out under the auspices of the Learning Network on Capacity Development , which is a network of development practitioners that has contributed to the last three global accords on aid effectiveness.  LenCD has worked to build a stronger understanding  of capacity development  as more than just outputs—not just  training and technical assistance—but a broader set of activities and focus on higher level results. These results can be tracked and measured at multiple levels. I have summarized one way of looking at these levels of capacity development outcomes in the diagram below.

measuring impact of media development v2

MDIF’s Impact Dashboard is an important reminder about the importance of articulating the results of media development work. As the international community gears up for a new set of international development goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals that expire next year, initiatives such as this one can help us make the case that media development can be measured, that money spent on media development is well used, and that high quality independent media really matters for developing societies.

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Posted in global, Impact and Evaluation, Sustainability