Author: 
Tara Susman-Peña
Publication Date
January 1, 2012
Affiliation: 

Internews

This 62-page report shares findings of research conducted during the Media Map Project, focusing on the media sector, governance, and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Media Map was a multi-faceted two-year pilot research collaboration between Internews and The World Bank Institute, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to interrogate the evidence on the connections between media and development, as well as to make global data on the media sector more accessible to researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. According to the report, donor support to media should facilitate the media's independence from the government and other outside influences, promote its freedom to disseminate information to the public, and to represent the public's needs to decision-makers, and improve the quality of the news produced. In turn, such an improved news media, by maintaining a free flow of information, should keep the government transparent, vitalise the market economy, and provide citizens with critical information to hold their governments to account.

Media and Development
According to the report, governments and donors have largely overlooked the potential of a healthy media sector to boost Africa's development. Research suggests that broad-based economic growth and political stability in Africa seem to be strongly connected to the presence of a free press, and a free press is associated with higher literacy in Africa, which is a vital factor in maintaining democracy over time. Literacy, a free press, and democracy can create a virtuous cycle that lays the ground for improvements in governance, and in development overall.

Development of the Media Sector
The report further outlines that there are a number of critical areas for improving the health of the media sector across Sub-Saharan Africa. This includes strengthening press freedom and media business management, professionalisation of journalism, improving access to media, including radio, but especially television, internet, and fixed and mobile broadband, increasing literacy, and improving quality of content. Africans’ high interest in the news, as well as the growth of mobile, present potential opportunities to improve development in the region.

Donor Support to Media Development
According to the report, in the case studies of DRC, Kenya, and Mali, it was found that donors could better support the media if they pursued a number of different strategies. This includes giving up preconceived models and implementation plans to decide where aid goes based on need and country-defined priorities, and strengthening institutional memory of their collective support to the media sector. In addition, there is a need to foster the commitment of host governments to: 1) accept and support a media sector that may criticise them, 2) respect the rule of law, and 3) tackle corruption. The report outlines the following key recommendations for media and development in Sub-Saharan Africa:

  • donors need to work directly with governments on improving the health of the media sector;
  • media support is most effective when development priorities are country-driven and processes of implementation are country-specific;
  • donors should support the health of the media sector in and of itself, rather than merely supporting the media as a tool for other development ends;
  • media development would benefit from tighter donor coordination;
  • improving business practices and professionalisation of the media sector in Sub-Saharan Africa is key to strengthening media overall;
  • all media development initiatives should be linked to other, to related development initiatives, and tailored to the country context;
  • tightening the connection between research and aid policy would greatly strengthen the field of media development;
  • improving data collection of the media sector in Africa is critical to supporting the media market and better understanding the sector;
  • freedom of the press matters, but can't be isolated from or solely responsible for other development improvements;
  • access to information matters, and is critically linked to the human right to information and self-determination;
  • new democracies should make development of a free press a priority early on if they wish to survive as a democracy;
  • establishing a healthy media sector can be a starting point for achieving political stability in a country; and
  • both in terms of research and practice, media development must be approached holistically, as one of several intertwined elements in a country's development.

The report concludes that despite compelling evidence, support for developing the media sector has not been incorporated into international policy at a level commensurate with media's importance. The lack of a strong bridge between research and policy has meant that media development is neither recognised as a sector by most donors, nor well integrated into development principles, policy, or practice at the strategic level. Without access to research that supports the case for media development, donors shy away from such efforts, often because intervening in the media sector is perceived as too political. This paper was produced to help to expand understanding and improve interventions, pushing the frontier of current research and practice.

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Source: 

Internews website on September 16 2012.