Boom time for development media

Just got round to informally (UPDATE: and unsuccessfully) pitching an article that’s been on my mind for months.

The piece I want to write is on the growth in media for development and the role of British media professionals and organisations in promoting democratisation in transitioning countries that are currently in the news like Syria, Myanmar and Somalia.

DFID, USAID and a number of other governments are using civil society and journalism/online media to champion democracy in formerly authoritarian, fragile and post-conflict countries across the globe.  While the media industry in the West has been stagnating for years, there has arguably been a boom in the number of Western organisations and journalists involved in delivering support and training on the ground.

In the context of last summer’s News International scandal, it’s hard to imagine that a country looking to abandon the corrupt, nepotistic and illegal activities associated with its past is likely to look to Britain’s media and think ‘oh yes, I’d like me some of that’. Perhaps explains why the Germans and Scandinavians seem to be leading the field in media development in countries such as Libya. Yet I’m keen to find out why DFID promotes the adoption this strategy and to assess how successful the initiatives actually are.

At a recent talk I attended a senior DFID advisor confessed that he felt the importance placed on media development was misplaced. While a “free” press is a great bonus, what people really need in places like Libya is a functioning rule of law, adequately staffed hospitals and an infrastructure that is sufficiently intact as to allow people access to markets and whatever else enables them. This is an important point to remember, but recipients of media assistance are hardly faced with being offered one or the other.

Where the danger lies, I would argue is that common short hand for the achievement of “democracy” such as 1) “free and fair elections” and 2) “a free press” can mask failure to deliver on the areas that really matter for ordinary people’s daily lives.

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