Making the Case for Media’s Impact on Democracy

Those working in the media development field may often take for granted the idea that independent media, and its counterpart, access to information, are essential to a free and open society. The burden of proof falls upon us to show the impact of media on development issues like good governance, and more broadly on societal issues like freedom of expression.

CIMA was encouraged to see that this month’s focus for Development and Cooperation (D&C), a monthly magazine funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), was exactly that: the role of media in development.

And Alexander Matschke, a freelance journalist and researcher with DW Akademie, examines how freedom of expression promotes democracy in an essay for Development and Cooperation (D&C), using CIMA’s own Mark Nelson to help make the case.

Matschke sets the stage by breaking down the evolution of media development programs over the past thirty years, as the ad-hoc training of journalists approach has shifted to more systematic programs that deal with the media environment as a whole. “Conventional capacity building is now only one part of the spectrum,” Matschke writes, as more donor agencies become aware that creating lasting change for the media sector involves capital in both political and civic spaces.

In the 21st century, it is impossible to imagine sustainable development without the inclusion of access to information, and media (both as platform and as content), which Matschke calls “enablers” of other facets of development, such as health. And now, we are at a critical juncture in international discourse regarding societal development. This juncture is the post-2015 agenda, or the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs), set to be adopted by the United Nations later this year. CIMA has written extensively on this issue here on The Source.

And yet, as Matschke points out, the inclusion of access to information and media in international agreements such as the SDGs receives significant backlash by authoritarian regimes because of their “enabling” quality.

“Media can be very powerful when it comes to demanding accountability or better services–or political change, if necessary,” CIMA’s senior director, Mark Nelson, is quoted in the essay.

Matschke delves further into programmatic priorities of donor organizations, highlighting BMZ and DW Akademie. Their strategic model, Matschke says, is a “holistic” approach for freedom of expression and access to information, focusing on four key areas:

  • The political and legal environment,
  • Professionalism and economic viability of the media sector,
  • Capacity development, and
  • Broad-based participation: people’s ability to make their voices heard and exercise their rights of participation, for instance in social networks, through community media or civil-society organizations

This kind of approach to creating sustainable independent media is incredibly important–but so is making people aware that it is happening. In order for there to be lasting change, for media to get a seat at the table in the post-2015 discussion or any international development plan, further proof of media’s impact and the programmatic design of media development initiatives is needed. This is why D&C’s theme this month is so encouraging, and we can hope for more actors to follow suit.

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