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Media and Development: The Dysfunctional Alliance

Mark M. Nelson | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: This essay looks at the dysfunctional relationship between overall international development assistance and more specific support to the media sector. While the international donor community sees the potential of independent media in developing countries to contribute to societies’ economic and social progress, international development policies rarely have a coherent, integrated approach to the media sector, and foreign assistance often fails to achieve its goal of helping countries create a sustainable, independent media that acts in the interests of society as a whole. Indeed, leaders of many countries have decided that media—and especially unfettered, independent media—is more likely to be an obstacle, at least to their political fortunes, than a support.
The author proposes three ways that the international community could improve its work on media development and build stronger political commitment for independent media. First is strengthening country leadership and ownership of media development initiatives. This requires building local knowledge about the role of media in open societies and about how to manage a strong, independent media system. Second is integration of media development work within the broader development agenda, leveraging more of the $135 billion that donors spend annually on official development assistance. Third is improving data, diagnostics, and learning on the media sector, particularly in developing countries, and creating a better understanding of how country-level media sectors are evolving, and how they can be best supported.

The Western Way? Democracy and the Media Assistance Model

Daire Higgins | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: International media assistance took off during a time where the ideological extremes of USA vs. USSR were set to disappear. Following the Cold War, international relations focused on democracy building, and nurturing independent media was embraced as a key part of this strategy. Fukayama called it the ‘End of History’, the fact that all other ideologies had fallen and Western style democracy was set to become the one common ideology. The US and UK led the way in media assistance, with their liberal ideas of a free press, bolstered by free market capitalism. America was the superpower, and forged the way around the globe with its beacon of democracy. Under that guiding light they would bring truth, accuracy, freedom of expression and independent reporting to the countries which had so long lived under the shadow of communism, or authoritarian media systems. This is what propelled and justified American foreign policy, and their media assistance, for many years. Much work was thus carried out in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet satellites, but many now question the impact and legacy of these projects. When the US and UK spoke of media assistance they seemed to mean ‘free market’. These days, the ‘democracy promoters’ focus has turned more to Africa and the Middle East. The ideology is apparently the same: to help establish and support democracy with a stronger and more independent media. But with western economies, and their media systems, in crisis, the relevance of this media assistance model is questioned. This essay looks at the history of media assistance and the ongoing debate on the impact of media assistance over the long term, its motives and the new balance of power appearing in international media development.

Media Aid Beyond the Factual: Culture, Development, and Audiovisual Assistance

Benjamin A. J. Pearson | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: This paper discusses audiovisual assistance, a form of development aid that focuses on the production and distribution of cultural and entertainment media such as fictional films and TV shows. While the first audiovisual assistance program date back to UNESCO’s International Fund for the Promotion of Culture in the 1970s, the past two decades have seen a proliferation of audiovisual assistance that, I argue, is related to a growing concern for culture in post-2015 global development agendas. In this paper, I examine the aims and motivations behind the E.U.’s audiovisual assistance programs to countries in the Global South, using data from policy documents and semi-structured, in-depth interviews with Program Managers and administrative staff in Brussels. These programs prioritize forms of audiovisual content that are locally specific, yet globally tradable. Furthermore, I argue that they have an ambivalent relationship with traditional notions of international development, one that conceptualizes media not only as a means to achieve economic development and human rights aims, but as a form of development itself.

Evaluating the Impacts of Media Assistance: Problems and Principles

Jessica Noske-Turner | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: While some form of evaluation has always been a requirement of development projects, in the media assistance field this has predominantly been limited to very basic modes of counting outputs, such as the number of journalists trained or the number of articles produced on a topic. Few media assistance evaluations manage to provide sound evidence of impacts on governance and social change. So far, most responses to the problem of media assistance impact evaluation collate evaluation methodologies and methods into toolkits. This paper suggests that the problem of impact evaluation of media assistance is understood to be more than a simple issue of methods, and outlines three underlying tensions and challenges that stifle implementation of effective practices in media assistance evaluation. First, there are serious conceptual ambiguities that affect evaluation design. Second, bureaucratic systems and imperatives often drive evaluation practices, which reduces their utility and richness. Third, the search for the ultimate method or toolkit of methods for media assistance evaluation tends to overlook the complex epistemological and political undercurrents in the evaluation discipline, which can lead to methods being used without consideration of the ontological implications. Only if these contextual factors are known and understood can effective evaluations be designed that meets all stakeholders’ needs.

Media Development with Chinese Characteristics

Iginio Gagliardone | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: Chinese authorities often frame their activities in the development sector as distinctive from those pursued by Western donors by stressing that they are not seeking to export a specific model but simply to help countries reach their potential. This demand-driven approach has applied to old and new development areas, from education to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), and has appeared fairly consistent across countries. This pledge, however, has not meant that Chinese aid is neutral or without significant political implications. China’s concessionary loans and support to development projects have tended to shift balances of power by favouring certain actors over others and have challenged existing development paradigms, revitalizing ideas of the developmental state. Building on fieldwork conducted in Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya this article explains to which extent China’s entrance in the media and telecommunication sector actually challenges the dominant, Western-driven approaches to media development, promoting a state centred vision of the information society.

International Media Assistance: Experiences and Prospects

Mary Myers, Christoph Dietz & Marie-Soleil Frère | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: As an introduction to this special issue this article deals firstly with defining and clarifying terms and concepts which are used in the context of international media assistance. Secondly, the themes of the different articles in this collection are enumerated: these are broadly the how to of media assistance, evaluation and the ongoing debate about proving impact of media assistance project; negotiating the tensions between the state and the media and finally, the fundamental question of why and to what purpose is assistance to the media sector given in the first place. The first two of these themes are developed in slightly more depth. The piece is rounded off with some further reflections on the history both of the idea of media assistance and of the way it has been practiced in recent decades. It finally looks at the ways research in this field may develop in the future.

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