The BBC World Service Trust is publishing today a new research report, Governance and the Media: a survey of policy opinion.
We commissioned this because we wanted to genuinely discover what the view of this issue was in the development policy community. Interviews were carried out with some media and communication specialists, but the main focus was to get perspectives from more mainstream development academics, policymakers, and policy influencers.
People interviewed included John Githongo, the former permanent secretary for ethics and governance in Kenya, Thomas Carothers, leading democracy theorist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Paul Collier, author of the Bottom Billion and Democracy in Dangerous Places, and many senior people from bilateral and multilateral development organisations.
We commissioned an independent consultant, Kathy Lines, to do this research, partly because she is very smart but also because she does not come from either a media or a development background. We chose the interviewees, but made sure that some of these - such as Professor Mushtaq Khan from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London - had views that might be expected to be quite sceptical of the role of media in governance.
In other words, we wanted views that we might disagree with, and we wanted a real insight into where policy perspectives were on this issue. The aim was not to make an argument, it was to understand where the policy argument was.
As it happened, the research did back up our existing assumption.
The main conclusion of the report, based on more than 20 in depth interviews with policymakers and academics, is that there is what the researcher, Kathy Lines, calls an "engagement gap".
She concludes that "the importance of supporting free and pluralistic media in relation to governance - and development outcomes - is thought to be increasingly recognised by a wide range of policy makers, academics and practitioners."
Despite this, "there is an ‘engagement gap' between the value assigned to its role ... and the practical provision made for it in development planning, thinking and spending."
To some extent inspired by this study, the BBC World Service Trust is currently researching a policy briefing on Media and Democracy in Fragile States. If you have any thoughts, comments, or suggestions in relation to this, they would be extremely welcome.
I think this report says some important things and brings some fresh insights on the relationship between media and governance. If you agree, or even if you don’t, please circulate to anyone you think will be interested.