Media and Development Challenges

The intervention made by me in 2008 during the Strasbourg meeting on the development challenges of African media

There are multiple reasons to support the development of free, independent and pluralistic media. Media is the conduit for verified and timely information. Verified and timely information is the life blood of economic market. It facilitates trade, transmit ideas and diffuse innovations and thereby promote growth. Verified Information can improve the delivery of public services, highlight deficiencies and challenges, forewarn against failures.

Media are commonly valued as a core sector of civil society. People with more timely and verified information are empowered to make better choices. For governance the two way information flow provided through diverse media is the central conduit connecting citizens and the state. The independent media are particularly important for free and fare elections, promoting government transparency and accountability. Elected leaders also need verified information about public concerns to be responsive to social needs and development challenges.

This is all well said than done. The question is whether the African media are able to perform these functions?. If not, what factors prevent them from doing so?. Often we encounter the very generalize argument that the media is an industry, has to make a profit and therefore tend to play safe. People who cling to this reductionist argument would say tendency of media by and large is to sell entertaining content and to avoid issues not very palatable to authorities. This argument may be true to an extent when there is no enabling environment tolerating media investigations or the investments and capacities required for thorough investigations.

Then on the other hand, we see that the countries with both widespread media access and an independent free press have been found to experience lower corruption, greater administrative accountability and efficiency, higher political stability and more effective rule of law, as well as better development outcomes, such as lower infant mortality rates and greater literacy.[1]

So it is evident that if media does not become a platform for democratic discourse (including the development discourse) it could be due to a number of deficiencies. It is important to identify to these deficiencies and to address them with adequate investments.

For instance:  For media to become a platform for democratic discourse

  1. Media should reflect the diversity of the society ( The media – public private and community based – serve the needs of all groups in the society – this social diversity should reflect in the employment practice of the media)
  2. Editorially independent public service broadcasting with independent and transparent system of governance (Eg. Live parliamentary broadcasting by state media can be considered  as a contribution to development discourse)
  3. Broadcast Media should demonstrate fairness and impartiality (Code of Practice)
  4. Level of public trust and confidence in the Media (media organizations should be responsive to public perception of their work)
  5. Safety of journalists (Journalists and associate media professionals can practice their profession in safety, Media practice is not harmed by climate of insecurity)

The set of media development indicators produced by UNESCO elaborates the conditions that reflect a good media system. They cover five following categories of development indicators

  1. system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of media
  2. plurality and diversity of media, a level economic field and diverse ownerships
  3. understanding on media as a platform for democratic discourse
  4. professional capacity building and supporting institutions
  5. sufficient infrastructural capacity

They are all described in details in the UNESCO Publication “Media Development Indicators: A Framework for Assessing Media Development” (Available on line http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0016/001631/163102e.pdf )

The two main media development challenges facing Africa today are: on the one hand, the need to expand and deepen opportunities for free, independent and pluralistic media as a platform for democratic discourse, and thereby to ensure the responsiveness, transparency and accountability of government institutions; and on the other hand,  the need to improve the quality of journalism in Africa  through building the capacities of training institutions to offer high quality media training and journalism education.

Addressing the first challenge requires the prevalence of free, independent and pluralistic media, reinforced with professional journalism, which reflect people’s concerns, and through which citizens can seek and share information in order to make better choices. To this end we should invest to increase opportunities for free, independent and pluralistic media reflecting the diversity of African societies and with special emphasis on community media.

Journalism is essentially a discipline of verification but the quality of journalism in Africa is poor. It could be due to a number of interlocking reasons such as poor level of education, low wages and lack of continuing education opportunities. Most training programmes are ad-hoc and focus on skills rather than on education. Journalists should have sufficient level of disciplinary knowledge to make proper investigations into developmental issues. Therefore we need to focus providing educational opportunities to the working journalists. Rather than supporting ad-hoc skill based training we need to concentrate on building capacities of the relevant institutions to offer quality education opportunities for journalist. After mapping nearly 90 media training Institutions in Africa UNESCO has developed a criteria for institutional excellence which was agreed upon during the regional conference held in Grahamstown, South Africa (2008) ( http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001514/151496E.pdf  )UNESCO’s has also developed a model curricula on journalism education which endorsed by the World Congress on Journalism Education (2007). (  http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001512/151209e.pdf  )Both these instruments along with UNESCO media development indicators provide strategic directions to develop free, independent and pluralistic media in Africa.

Despite the critical development contribution of the media, not many national development programmes accord a high priority to media development issues. On the whole, the proportion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) allocated to media development in Africa is very insignificant. Even the few current interventions have no coordinated strategic approach to media development and are often based on ad-hoc donor branded projects. Isn’t it high time to invest in media development and to consider media development as a core component of national development strategies and a key priority in the International Aid Architecture?

14/11/2008


[1] Pippa Noris 2004. ‘Global political communication, good governance, human development and mass communication’ In Comparing Political Communication Theories cases and challenges, Ed Frank Essser and Barbara Pfetsh, New York, Cambridge University Press

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