Media & governance 2gether 4ever (World Bank/Harvard conference redux)


I continue to ponder the interesting discussions at a 2.5 day conference put together by the World Bank’s CommGap (that’s COMMunication for Governance and Accountability Program, not “communication gap”) and the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School. Definitely read Charlie Beckett’s thoughtful 5-part summary for a real roundup, I’m only highlighting a few things that struck me.
The focus was on international development, specifically on how to convince the good people who fund international development that media is important to good governance* which in turn drives human development. To this end, the organizers had gathered a great group of folks (present company excluded, I begged to come when I learned who would be there). There were three tribes: academics, World Bank people and then a motley group of “practitioners” that included people working in media, media development, and media for development.**

Finally meeting the terrific Sheila Coronel, whose presentation (do read the real thing) on the role of investigative journalism was thoughtful, historical, passionate and practical all at once. Conclusion: watchdog journalism is not always heroic or perfect, it can even be counterproductive sometimes and its effectiveness depends on many factors but we need watchdog journalism no matter what, in fragile states and stable, to remind us how democracy could and should work.

Learning (in the lunch breaks) about Media Tenor, a fascinating international media analysis group that’s been around for 15 years monitoring high-profile mainstream media, with all the data freely available. Only 30% of their work is done for paying clients; those fees support the other 70%, which is all available for free. CEO Roland Schatz explained that they do not hide this fact from their clients; everyone accepts it. (speaking of business models, Ethan!) Moreover, they are careful not to let any one client dominate their revenue so they can remain independent of any political or business agenda. Can’t wait to dig through their stuff.

Cheering on Warren Feek, head of the Communication Initiative Network, as he called on us to correct some of the limitations he saw in the papers and discussions. I hope he will post the slides he showed, meanwhile, my takeaways:

— remember that media is part of society: we need to understand its place in each country, which requires close collaboration with local experts in research, program design,
–get beyond traditional media either in the sense of delivery mechanisms or in the narrow paradigm of “objective” journalism. New media is playing a growing role, advocacy media is vital.
— rephrase our work more positively: we are promoting enhanced political participation, dammit, we are not the poor cousin

Listening to the presentation by Ibrahim al Marashi and (my long-time pal) Monroe Price of their work together with Nicole A. Stremlau on media in conflict societies. Their paper-in-progress, examining media in Iraq, Uganda and Ethiopia, is well worth your time. No simple soundbites here; as the conclusion says of the three cases: “Each is a messy, nonlinear project.” (I hope Ibrahim will post the riveting images from Iraqi TV he shared at the conference somewhere.)

Being reminded by the Open Society Foundation’s Marius Dragomir about the importance of broadcasting through his research on the many incarnations of “public broadcasting.”

The more I learn about what’s happening in new media in the “developed” world, the more eager I am to integrate it with the work in other countries, to the benefit of both.

Image: Glowing Globe,
originally uploaded by Trooper3d

* The term “democratic governance” turned out not to be popular with all the World Bank’s partner-states.

** “Media Development” is when people support the creation or improvement of local media as a good in its own right. “Media for Development” is  when media is used as a vehicle to promote other aspects of human development, through ads promoting condom use or radio dramas about the free market. In recent years, the two tribes have forged an uneasy peace.


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