The authors of a just published review
of the evidence around the role of media in conflict have done us all a real
service. 70% of our work takes place in
fragile or conflict-affected states, and increasingly we're working with media
to reduce the risk of conflict. This kind of systematic review by two authors
who have spent years studying and working in this field is really valuable.
BBC Media Action aspires to be an
evidence-based organisation and we place a major priority on research which can
both ensure our media support is as effective as it can be, and enable us to measure
the impact of our work. The area of
support to media in conflict is one of the toughest research and evidence
challenges we face and we collectively pounced on this research review.
Even on the basis of looking at the three-page
briefing note (rather than an entire systematic review), it has sparked real
debate in our organisation. We agree
with many of the findings but immediately started wondering about some of them. These are some of the reactions.
The review finds that there is "little evidence to
confirm or reject [the view] that media promotes or prevents conflict and that interventions using media and
technology in fragile and conflict-affected situations should be viewed as
innovative rather than tried and tested."
We mostly agree with this. The evidence is weak, not least, we think,
because the amount of really good research taking place in this area and
conflict affected countries has been quite limited.
Our work doesn't assume that media in and of itself
does promote or prevent conflict. Our theories of change tend - depending on circumstance
and political context - to assume that media can act as a contributor and
driver of conflict and less rarely as an active promoter of it.
There are famous examples – such as Rwanda and the Balkans – where
media played a part in genocide, but these are unusual. More often, and we
think increasingly often, media can be owned, controlled or co-opted by
interests – ethnic, political or religious – who deliberately fuel suspicion of "the other", those with whom they disagree about who should wield power. Such
media do not necessarily promote conflict, but they can help create the
conditions for it.
Most of our efforts to counter this are designed to
improve dialogue across very different communities so suspicion and distrust
can be decreased. We think this can create an environment where conflict
becomes less likely.
The review concludes that the "evidence suggests
the need for caution when planning interventions using media and technology for
political change". Caution
and a deep understanding of political complexity and context are absolutely
vital. Undertaking more political economy analysis for example is something
that organisations such as ourselves have increasingly recognised in recent
would not however describe our work as trying to achieve political change. Our
approach is about the role of media and communications in supporting
communities to convene, discuss and communicate across fracture points in
society – through public debate programmes, dramas or through support to
community and other media. We hope to create an environment where ordinary
people can resolve arguments peacefully, rather than seek political change
argues that "rigorous evaluation should be a key component of future findings
and suggests among other measures larger, quantitative, comparative studies". We agree about the need for evaluation
and almost all our interventions are subject to research to inform and evaluate.
we confess we find evaluation in this area particularly difficult. Building
research capacity in fragile or conflict-affected countries and delivering high
quality research is also a fundamental challenge to rigorous evaluation.
is limited consensus on what constitutes rigorous evidence in this area and
media and communication interventions are complex ones that are only in very
specific contexts amenable to the kind of randomisation and or quasi-experimental
methods that we could deploy elsewhere. It’s an area where qualitative
research has a particularly important role to play, which the authors
highlight, but reaching consensus on
what constitutes rigorous qualitative research, and getting it featured
prominently in future systematic reviews, is also required.
This is a key future area in research to which the
authors have already made a really important contribution in carrying out this
review. We do not make assumptions about the role of media in a
country or how best we can support it, unless we have properly researched it.
This review has helped us significantly in doing just that.