Just like London buses. You wait for years for serious attention to be paid to the role of media in development and then three examples of just this happen in little more than a week.
Last week it was the Accra High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness at least mentioning media as something that should be prioritised more in development strategies.
Then the rather wonderful glitzy, glossy African journalist annual bonanza, Highway Africa which takes place at Rhodes University in South Africa played host to the inaugural African Regional Forum for Media Development. It formally established itself and elected two representatives for African media development.
And then over the weekend we have the (similarly named) African Forum for Media Development organised jointly by the African Union with the European Union. About 300 people – including myself - inflated their carbon footprint to come to Ouagadougou (still my children’s favourite general knowledge question) to discuss media development. Having been to all three meetings, my climate criminality was probably greater than anyone’s.
The EU committed itself to spending more money in this area and there is an ambitious set of proposals for action from both institutions on media and media development. This includes reaffirmations and guarantees of media freedom and an African Media Charter, designed to elaborate the “rights and responsibilities” of the media – which may well prove contentious. See the final agreement (only available in French at this point) signed by Jean Ping, secretary general of the African Union and Louis Michel, head of the EU development directorate here. Such high level representation demonstrates it must be assumed that both institutions mean business.
While nearly everyone at the meeting warmly welcomed these organisations new focus on media and media development, there was some queasiness among several participants about some aspects of the forum. Part of this was down to the structure of the forum, with the agenda focused on broad issues like “media and governance”, but very little opportunity for the specific proposals - such as an African Charter on the Media – to be better understood or interrogated. Some of it was down to the innate discomfort that media and media development organisations have when governmental organisations seek to shape media related agendas. Some to the lack of reference in the final statements to existing initiatives and bodies, like the new African Regional Media Development Forum; and the African Media Initiative (my organisation hosts the secretariat for this, but it was raised numerous times by several African participants - a commitment to build on existing initiatives where relevant might have been nice); or even the many UNESCO initiatives in this area. Indeed, the final agreement - of which no early draft had been circulated - was not actually presented at the conference at all but at a press conference afterwards (to which conference participants were also invited).
And, while one of the co-sponsors of the meeting was the Commonwealth (and the Francophonie), another issue was the overwhelming francophone-ness of the meeting with Anglophone African participants becoming increasingly frustrated - translation was provided, but was not always clear and maybe 80% of the content was in French, often in long speeches (personally I felt this was a salutary corrective to all those Anglophone meetings which just assume the French, Portuguese and other language speakers will just somehow get by). It did feel though like a specific francophone media development agenda even if that may not have been the intention.
Other specific proposals were for the creation of a new pan-African portal on media initiatives and of a pan-African observatory of media composed of “eminent personalities” to act in some form of monitor/commentator on the media. The needs analysis and arguments underlying any of these initiatives was not immediately available or clear. And most meetings like this have evaluation forms where participants can provide constructive feedback (those used to filling in EU applications will know a good deal about how much detail has to be provided around such evaluative issues)......not here alas.
Having said all that, this seems to be a list of aspirations, to be developed in detail later with a particular next focal point being the European Development Days in Strasbourg in November 15 - 17. Greater clarity on these proposals will have been developed by then.
Ultimately, many in the media and media development fields have been desperate to see greater policy focus on issues of media in development. This may not have been the ideal way for it to kick off, but for two of the most important development institutions on the planet to get together to give it a serious policy focus is a major step forward. Major development actors have tended to back away from media development and media support arguing that it is too political and “messy” and the transaction costs are just too great. It’s up to those in the media and media development sector as well as organisations like the EU and AU to make sure this kind of process becomes a positive one and there is time still for that to happen. It’s critical that it does.
This, like all of James’ blogs, reflect his personal views, not necessarily those of the organisation he works for.