Engaging Citizens in Peace: Media and Communication Development Strategies in Post-conflict and Fragile States

In post-conflict societies, organizations such as Search for Common Ground and the U.S. Institute for Peace argue that an effective media development strategy is an integral part of creating an atmosphere where democratic processes can develop. The development of a pluralistic, independent, and economically viable media sector is critical to fostering long-term peace and stability. In war-torn environments, however, many citizens maintain a deep skepticism and distrust of the media, which are often tightly controlled by political or military elites promoting their own agendas. Thus, as these organizations note, it is also crucial for citizens to have a voice in determining a new future for themselves, their communities, and their country. Transforming relationships between citizens and their governments through the use of innovative media initiatives ensures that a dialogue emerges for stakeholders to express their ideas as both consumers and producers of information. How do development experts and governance advisors approach media assistance strategies in post-conflict societies? Do they engage citizens in the process of building trustworthy, independent media institutions and communication spaces? If not, how can they build citizen participation into democracy assistance and media development strategies without being considered a threat by the government? What challenges do they face in creating an institution that citizens trust and view as a credible source of information?

The speakers examined these questions and addressed how a comprehensive media development strategy that includes citizen participation is an essential part of peace-building efforts in post-conflict environments. Search for Common Ground’s Deborah Jones explored how the use of fictional television series created by local artists opens up a safe social space, particularly when dealing with controversial subjects like human rights, religion, and governance. Theo Dolan of the U.S. Institute for Peace addressed engaging youth in peace-building efforts through new media. Mark Koenig reflected on his experiences as an independent media development advisor to democracy and governance programs since 1997. As moderator, Shanthi Kalathil provided her perspective on possible new models that prioritize communication’s role in governance and peacebuilding in post-conflict and fragile states.


Deborah Jones
Search for Common Ground

Theo Dolan
U.S. Institute for Peace

Mark Koenig
U.S. Agency for International Development*

Moderated by

Shanthi Kalathil
World Bank

About the speakers:

Deborah Jones is the executive producer for Common Ground Productions, the media arm of Search for Common Ground, where she is responsible for the development and production of the television series worldwide. Since joining the organization in 2006, she has developed and/or produced TV pilots or series in Egypt, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, the U.S., and a radio series in Ethiopia. She is currently in charge of “The Team,” a multi-episodic, TV series being produced in ten countries. Deborah had a long career in television production and as a writer in Los Angeles. She created and produced the NBC television series, Amazing Grace, and has written numerous television movies for NBC, CBS, ABC, and the cable networks. She holds a MALD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Theo Dolan is a program officer at the U.S. Institute for Peace’s Center of Innovation for Media, Conflict and Peacebuilding. Prior to joining USIP, he served for two years as a media specialist for the Public Sector Governance team at the World Bank Institute (WBI). At WBI, he focused on promoting access to public information and strengthening the role that media plays in establishing accountability and governance. Dolan spent the previous five years working on media development projects at the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), a Washington-based organization. Specifically, he managed projects designed to strengthen independent media in Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East/North Africa through training and business management assistance. He also directed the publication of the Media Sustainability Index, an in-depth study of media development in 20 countries in Europe and Eurasia and 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Dolan holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College.

Mark Koenig received his doctorate in comparative politics from Columbia University, with a dissertation focused on the role mass communications in reform processes. He taught four years as a visiting professor of political science at Northwestern University in Chicago and then at the University of Maryland at College Park. Since 1997, he has worked primarily on USAID programs that support the development of independent, professional media. He served initially as senior media advisor for USAID/Russia; and, since 2000, as senior advisor for independent media development in the Office of Democracy and Governance in Washington, D.C.

*Note: Dr. Koenig’s comments will reflect purely his own opinions and experiences. They will not represent the opinions or policies of USAID. 

Shanthi Kalathil is a consultant with the Communication for Governance & Accountability Program at the World Bank, where she spearheads several initiatives on the public sphere and democratic governance. She was formerly a senior democracy fellow with the Office of Democracy and Governance at the U.S. Agency for International Development, advising on civil society and media issues for the Near East/Asia region. Prior to that, as an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Kalathil co-authored Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule, a widely cited, reviewed, and translated volume on the political effect of the Internet. She recently wrote a report for CIMA titled Scaling a Changing Curve: Traditional Media Development and the New Media on the implications of new information and communication technologies for the media-assistance field.