So what would you do if you had a big bunch of money (which I do not, I hasten to add) and you were interested in funding media development? How would you invest those funds? What principles would guide that investment? What results would you expect?
It is a pertinent question for two major reasons.
Media are vitally important both in their own right and for the full spectrum of development action - from freedom of expression and government accountability to HIV/AIDS and environmental action.
No matter what context you are in, the media scene is in such flux at present as citizen journalism, mobile and online information sources, decreasing advertising revenues, ageing demographics for established media, aggregation processes, and a host of other factors provide seismic jolts to media landscapes and principles.
To invest wisely, we will need some models that are based on practice, experience, and impact. To make steel you need fire and to see what may work for effective media development support you need relevant experiences that have been through the fire - that show solidity, strength, and impact - from stronger media scenes to more robust, open, and inclusive political processes.
Many of the models that have previously seemed effective are perhaps not sufficient. For example there appears to have been a lot of emphasis on the processes, local or international, independent or part of the implementation of another country's foreign policy, or a mixture of these factors, that emerged during the break-up of the Soviet Union. This seems to have been a very special set of factors which, arguably, may not provide us with a path forward.
In order to arrive at the principles that guide our theoretical media development investment strategy it may be helpful to look at Latin America.
In that context, there has been significant progress related to democratic processes, failed states, conflict, and rights issues; media have played a crucial role in those developments. Though generally having higher GDP per capita levels than African, South Asian, Caribbean, and other regions, the enormous wealth disparities and significant poverty challenges make large swathes of the continent equivalent to those other regions.
With a very low external aid inflow there are predominantly locally and nationally genuine strategies and initiatives. They are responding to what they see that they need to in order to have impact. They are not primarily responding to the funding policies, perspectives, and criteria of large North American and European funders. (Of course this also makes it a real pain to raise the funds!)
And this is a region with significant media giants that some may call monopolies - albeit private sector rather than government - such as Televisa and Globo.
There are also a set of programme experiences and strategic thinking that may prove helpful for informing our media development investment strategies, for example (and just a note that some of these are CI Partners):
ANDI - the Child Rights News Agency in Brazil - using critical analysis and supporting peer review processes amongst Brazilian journalists at national scale related to Child Rights issues.
FNPI - Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano/ New Journalism Foundation - supporting a network of quality journalists in Latin America, providing regular and ongoing quality journalism training and prestigious awards with an increasing interest in governance issues.
Colombia community radio - one of the most extensive community radio process in the world, government-supported and –funded, yet mostly regarded as giving support to genuine local voices and perspectives and this being a vital part of the Colombian political and civil process.
Medios para la paz - journalists in Colombia gathering together to explore and act on how they can make a positive contribution to their country's peace process.
Calandria - as one element of its extensive strategy and action in Peru, there is a significant emphasis on supporting civil society engagement with media processes.
Transparencia - also in Peru, supports a network of local monitors of government accountability and transparency that informs media coverage of the political process from that local perspective.
Uruguay Media laws - the legislative process in Uruguay with radio and television frequencies being distributed on an equitable basis to civil society organisations and not-for-profits.
TV de Calidad - seeking to work with major children’s television producers and broadcast companies to agree on a "compromiso" - a set of agreed quality standards and principles for children’s television.
Overmundo - the online Brazilian process promoting access to knowledge through the cultural diversity in Brazil by means of practical innovators in communication, copyright, and technology.
Puntos de Encuentro - in Nicaragua, is using a range of media strategies and engagement to address issues related to gender both within the overall society and within media itself.
These are, of course, just a few examples of a large number of very instructive experiences in a highly relevant media development environment.
Strikingly, many of these experiences challenge some principles generally held to be central to effective media development - some sacred cows of media development. ANDI, for example, has a clear development objective - child rights - and harmonises that goal with a significant overall media development process. The same is true of Media para la Paz - overt journalism commitment to the organisation of journalists for peace. Government-supported community radio sounds the worst kind of oxymoron, yet it is a process in Colombia that has significant trust, respect, and a vital role in the nations development (and of course its critics). NGOs being provided radio licenses? An approach to media development that starts with citizens, not media and journalists? Civil society groups playing a convening and facilitation role for the development of a negotiated set of media standards? Journalists in peer review processes? News and information as culture?
In reviewing these initiatives it is worth stressing one of the elements above - an important and vital quality that they all seem to bring to the media development party - and it is a hellishly difficult and skilled quality to bring to any media engagement. In almost all of these cases the media development agency manages to have an overt and stated goal – e.g.: Colombian peace; deeper citizen engagement in Peruvian political life; improved child rights adherence in Brazil; significant improvements to the status of women in Nicaragua, etc. And, at the same time, they have also managed to engage and support deeper overall media development processes with significant journalist, editor, and in some cases "owner" involvement.
What can we derive from the Latin America experience for the package of principles that would guide our media development investment strategy?
I am not from Latin America and therefore not really equipped to do this but in spirit of recklessness I would suggest the following package for your review and debate:
1. An increased funding emphasis on local, national, and regional initiatives that organically emerge from their contexts under the leadership and drive of people in those societies. This seems to ensure resonance and meaning - there is no bolt-on or add-to problem. Through this principle, these initiatives become part of the tapestry of their national life - only possible if they are stitched together from elements of that national life. (Interestingly some leading "Northern" agencies, such as Panos, have recognised this and it has been one influence in their restructuring to a council of equals rather than an HQ with country or regional offices.)
2. An increased funding emphasis on the strategy, not the media - there can be a tendency in media development to think along lines such as, for example, "now we need more digital" but central to the effectiveness of the above are their core strategies, not their media choices, and most of them use most media, including digital, and use those media in linked, compound-value ways.
3. A decreased funding emphasis on debatable notions and concepts such as "independence" as seen in phrases like "independent media" - it is highly debatable whether there is, has been, or ever can be fully independent media whether the ownership is government, private sector, community or any other ownership model. The "independent" phrase has therefore become either a code word for promoting and supporting private sector media as opposed to government or state media and/or an ill-defined and unhelpful notion that is conveniently applied to some processes and not others. This is sensitive territory of course - I am aware of that. But perhaps something like "social media" that is being used by some agencies is a much better, more relevant and applicable concept and phrase to guide funding decisions.
4. An increased funding emphasis on supporting the creation of a plurality of media ownership and decision making - seeking a mix of approaches within any context - private sector, community, for profit, public interest, government, state or public (e.g., BBC model).
5. In order to create that plurality an increased funding emphasis on seeking to strengthen the parts of the media scene in communities and countries where there is an imbalance - for example, in many parts of Latin America this may be public interest and community media, since the private sector and religious media are significantly more pervasive and influential. In other contexts there may be different requirements.
6. An increased funding emphasis on processes that broker and engage civil society-media relationships and engagement, and a move away from the direct support of particular media outlets (e.g., a specific radio station) or Northern-derived consultancy support to, as it is often stated, "build local capacity".
7. An increased funding emphasis on peer review and critique processes amongst journalists and media people themselves where the “external” agency role (if there is one) is focused on providing the platform for that peer review process to take place. These peer processes could range from critiques of specific media products – e.g., reviews of election reporting - to standards and quality thresholds – e.g., of children's media. These need to be ongoing processes from solid strategic and organisational platforms - they would significantly replace the often one-time journalist training events that are still so common.
8. An increased funding emphasis on platforms and multi basket funding - perhaps there has been a tendency within media development funders to support (sometimes initiate) discrete, specific projects and programmes that have very particular roles and goals and for which they, themselves, are the primary funders. A key quality of all of the above and other examples is that these organisations have developed strategic and operational platforms from which they can develop a range of inter-related and regularly evolving initiatives and for which they gain baskets of funding from different sources. This removes any issues or even perceptions of donor "control" (the kiss of death in media development), generally ensures that when the 3- or 5-year funding is up, the initiative continues, and therefore helps sustainability and continuity.
9. An increased funding emphasis on the vital role for the "Northern" agencies in using their technical know-how and funding and policy links to support, in a partnership and networking style, these local, national, and regionally developed processes. Many of the initiatives outlined above have such strong connections as an integral part of their strategy.
So, if I was a funder with some funds to invest (which I do not!) that is where I think I would begin: using the Latin America experience and its dynamics, challenges, and effectiveness as a legitimate and valuable explanation for why I was investing in media development in this particular way.
Of course, many of you - including many CI Partners - will have a very different view - which is great. This is the essence of strategic and policy development. The above are my personal reflections at this time (which can always change!)
To debate these issues, please rate and comment below.
Thanks - Warren