Tough Questions Surface at Global Meeting

An update from the First High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation

Erik Solheim is the kind of development professional who would be most inclined to argue for the important role of media in development.

The chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, he hails from Norway, one of the world’s leading countries in press freedom and good governance. Since Solheim took the helm of the DAC, the OECD has taken an important initiative on this topic, hosting an important work stream about the role of media in development and accountability.

But as one of the leading voices here at a meeting of more than 1500 development ministers and practitioners, Solheim worried that he had seen media doing more harm than good to developing countries. In his role trying to resolve conflicts in Sri Lanka, Burundi, Nepal, Myanmar, and Sudan, he said he had too often seen media trying to whip up political disputes, exaggerate ethnic differences, and fan the flames of war.

Mexico OECD meeting

DAC Chair Erik Solheim, far right, discusses media development at this week’s Global Partnership meeting in Mexico City with Roberto Tapia-Conyer of the Carlos Slim Foundation and Nancy Lindborg of USAID.

Solheim’s misgivings about role of media represent a major challenge to the media development community, and this conundrum was on full display here as donors and partner countries met to discuss global priorities and approaches to development. While almost everyone—Solheim included—agrees that an independent and professional media is an essential ingredient to successful and sustainable development, no one was ready to go to the mat and argue that media development should be an explicit priority for the Global Partnership.

To overcome these misgivings, the media community will need not only to counter the hostility of countries like China and Russia, but also build a stronger case for the “value added” of media development. We need more examples of countries that manage to reform their media sectors, and create trustworthy, credible media that informs the public and holds governments accountable.

The toughest part of this challenge is that we are living in a world where the media is under growing economic and political pressures, and the enabling environment for independent media is deteriorating. At a special so-called focus sessions on media organized by BBC Media Action, CIMA and the Global Forum for Media Development, each of the panelists expressed worries about media in developing countries that was controlled either by governments or other partisan interests and that make the media a less effective institution of good governance. This situation is creating a growing perception that media is not supporting development, not helping countries reach consensus, nor offering a forum for constructive debates about how people can tackle development problems.

To tackle these negative outcomes in the media sector, media development needs to be more carefully integrated within the overall development agenda. Media sector analysis needs to be part of the overall diagnostic processes that set country level development objectives, and public sector reforms need to focus more carefully on the enabling environment that creates an effective and professional media.

But while almost everyone agrees that a professional, independent media sector is a critical goal that would improve the prospects for sustainable development, the meeting here in Mexico City is further proof that that the bad apples are making the whole cart look unappetizing. As we look forward to the post-2015 agenda, a United Nations process that aims to replace the Millennium Development Goals with a new set of targets, we need to strengthen our arguments for integrating media into the core of development.

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For more on this issue, read my previous post, Improving development assistance: Can it be done without the media?

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Improving development assistance: Can it be done without the media?

The short answer:  No!

As ministers and delegates from all over the world gather on April 15th and 16th in Mexico City to discuss progress in international development, they will be hawking an ambitious agenda.

They want wider participation by citizens, who often know better what will work and what won’t. They want to ensure that development initiatives are owned and led by countries, not imposed by donors or technocrats bearing idealistic blueprints or prescriptions that, in the end, almost never work. They want a new transparency that shows not just how money is being used by recipients, but also how donors’ policies are working. They want to learn from failure and share knowledge more effectively among countries. And they want to track their progress, set concrete goals and demonstrate results.

The big question is this: How are they going to do all of this without strong local media?

If the world’s leaders are serious about making progress in international development, it is clear that strong local media has an important role to play. And the media sector will need to be one of the areas that receive support from donors if it is to realize its full potential to support the development agenda.

Yet as the 1500 ministers and other delegates gather for the “First High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation,” very little is being said about media development. The draft document that has been released ahead of the meeting does not contain the word media. And though the ministers are likely to signal that disclosure and transparency are critical to monitoring progress, the delegates have not done much thinking about how to translate transparency into practical knowledge that can be used by ordinary citizens.

All is not lost…yet. The meeting in Mexico is just the latest in a series of big international meetings where media development advocates are trying to get media on the agenda. The next important goalpost is the discussion about creating a new set of goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals that will expire in 2015.

One hopeful sign is that the organizers of the Mexico meeting have allowed a group of leading media development organizations to schedule a side-event at the meeting, a short discussion in the sidelines that will look at the role of media.

The Center of International Media Assistance, BBC Media Action, the Global Forum for Media Development, USAID and other organizations are organizing the discussion that will be open to all delegates. Speakers from several developed and developing countries will be on the panel, and the hope is that the panelists from the media session will help spread their messages into the broader proceedings.

…the media sector will need to be one of the areas that receive support from donors if it is to realize its full potential to support the development agenda.

A more deliberate and integrative approach to media development would be a critical pathway for the international community to address some of the key weaknesses that have been identified in overall aid effectiveness. Practically speaking, this means some important changes in the way media development is carried out, including the following:

  • Integrating media into the overall planning and diagnostic processes where developing countries and their partners decide on priorities and approaches
  • Building and maintaining support for domestic groups that are trying to build high-quality, independent and trustworthy media
  • Making support to media development a more explicit goal of the global partnership, the effective institutions platform, and other global and regional processes
  • Developing better ways to track and measure results from media development initiatives, along with other indicators of development

Don’t hold your breath. The upcoming release of Freedom House’s press freedom indicators next month will certainly show the continued deterioration in conditions for the media. And countries like China, Russia, and many others are downright hostile to this agenda. But even if the goal of making media a core part of the development agenda remains a work in progress, CIMA and its partners will be there, trying to make the case and convince as many countries as will listen.

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CIMA Audience Feedback 2014: Going Forward

At CIMA, we aim to raise the visibility and improve the effectiveness of media development around the world. Over the next year, we’re looking to improve our own effectiveness in engaging our audience-delivering to you both the type and format of content you need.

In order to do this, we need help from our audience. We need your feedback, so we’re conducting a survey of our existing products to gauge your level of engagement and satisfaction, and we want your input on what we could be doing better. We work with a diverse range of media development practitioners, donors, implementers, academics, journalists, policy makers, and others, all of whom offer a unique perspective. We value that perspective, and so we ask you to complete a brief 9-question survey to help us inform our practices.

This survey is both voluntary and anonymous. We’ll be posting this survey to our mailings, through social media, and on our website, to get as diverse a range of opinions as possible. We encourage you to share this with others who have an interest in media development, and please don’t be shy about reaching out if there are issues you’d like to see us cover.

We appreciate any time you can offer us! Again, you can find our five-minute survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/86F8NZC 

 

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Update: OSF Wraps Digital Media Mapping Project

As we noted in this space on March 28, CIMA was pleased to participate in the Open Society Foundation’s Mapping Digital Media project over the past few years.

Today, Marius Dragomir, senior manager and publications editor for the OSF’s Program on Independent Journalism, writes about the conclusion of the project. Dragomir’s article traces the project’s evolution from its initial concept–to look at the switchover to digital broadcasting in Europe–to a “comparative study that covered not only digital broadcasting but also the internet, and that expanded from a European project into a global one spanning 60 countries on all continents, ranging from Montenegro to Nicaragua to China to Tunisia.”

It was a massive undertaking, and it has added a great deal of value to our understanding of the digital media landscape around the world.

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Hong Kong business environment for media under assault from China

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Former founding Chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, Martin Lee, and former Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Anson Lee, participate in a panel at the National Endowment for Democracy on April 2, 2014

With Hong Kong’s march toward universal suffrage in 2017 in serious doubt, the Hong Kong media, for decades a bastion of dynamic independent journalism, is struggling under crippling economic pressure from Beijing.

The Basic Law of Hong Kong, co-signed by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) prior to the city’s 1997 handover, stipulates that for at least 50 years “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication.” At the time of the handover, there were fears that Hong Kong’s reputation as an epicenter for criticism of PRC policies would make the media a target of a Beijing-led crack down.

No such intervention took place, but as Sarah Cook notes in her 2013 CIMA report The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship, “a gradual transformation occurred in the media ecology in Hong Kong throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The result was a rise in self-censorship on topics deemed sensitive by Beijing and a collective shift in media coverage towards less critical discourse.”

Today the media is facing an increasingly difficult business environment shaped by China’s influential economy and the regime’s sensitivity over its public image. During a visit to Washington last week, former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong, Anson Chan, and founding Chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, Martin Lee, explained that the Chinese government uses its economic power to pressure local, and even international businesses, to withdraw advertisements from outlets deemed unfavorable to Beijing. According to Chan, businesses and media owners that capitulate to Chinese pressure are too short-sighted and must consider the long-term implications of their decisions. “Rolling over” to Chinese pressure now “will only make it harder to resist pressure in the future.”

Don Podesta, Manager and Editor at CIMA, suggests that by “selling yourself to the devil, you undermine your credibility” with consumers in the long run and that could also have serious financial consequences.

According to Lee, only one daily newspaper, the Apple Daily, still operates with a truly independent voice. Though it and its parent company, Next Media, have suffered heavy financial losses from advertising pull-outs orchestrated by Beijing, the company’s deep pockets allows it to withstand the onslaught.

Unfortunately, in today’s Hong Kong there are few pockets as deep as Next Media’s, making the sustainability of independent media outlets susceptible to pressure on the business environment. If Hong Kong’s historically dynamic media is to play its rightful role in the city’s march toward democracy, media outlets must find ways to act boldly and innovatively in the face of overwhelming economic pressure from China.

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