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Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure

On September 21, CIMA hosted a discussion on its new report, Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure.

John Burgess, the report’s author, summarized the report, giving an overview of the major indexes and what they measure; their use in civil liberty debates, aid programming, foreign policy decisions, and academic research; and critiques by media development stakeholders. Libby Morgan, of the Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a managing editor on the report, discussed evaluation at the macro and micro levels, including efforts to develop common metrics and methodologies for cross-project comparisons on program effectiveness. She also raised the issue of citizens’ increased access to information, which does not always lead to an increased level of knowledge or behavioral application, making the point that evaluation tools should examine output as well as production of media content. Dr. Lee B. Becker, of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia, discussed researchers’ work on media monitoring, the importance of variability within media systems, and the media’s impact on democratization.

Representatives from two of the most widely cited indexes also provided brief comments on the report. Leon Morse of IREX raised the argument about a Western bias in the indexes and challenged critics to engage in a more meaningful discussion on what is meant by culturally and politically-charged indicators. Paula Schriefer of Freedom House, summarized the trends found in her organization’s annual index, most notably the overall decline in press freedom and authoritarian regimes’ deepening and increasingly sophisticated censorship of digital media.

The audience engaged in a lively question/answer period, commenting on measuring non-traditional forms of information, such as soap operas and songs, and perceptions of trustworthiness of media.



Featuring:

John Burgess
Author, Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure 

With comments by:

Lee B. Becker
James M. Cox Jr. Center for International
Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Libby Morgan
Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication

Moderated by:

Georges Fauriol
National Endowment for Democracy


About the author:

John Burgess is a Washington writer specializing in international affairs and technology. He worked for 28 years at The Washington Post as a reporter and editor. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he covered the early days of television’s transition toward digital broadcasting for the Post. His other jobs at the newspaper included aviation and transit writer, Tokyo bureau chief, technology editor, and Europe editor. His book, Stories in Stone, about the 11th Century inscription that unlocked the history of the civilization that built Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, was published this summer. Burgess has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

About the panelists:

Lee B. Becker is a professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia. In addition to directing the Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communication, he also leads a research program examining the role of the media in democracy and governance, as well as evaluating media training programs designed to further democratization. Dr. Becker worked as a journalist at The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Wichita Eagle, The Lexington Herald, and The (Covington) Kentucky Post. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Georgia, Dr. Becker was a member of the faculty at Ohio State University and Syracuse University, in addition to serving as a visiting professor at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in The Netherlands, the University of Goettingen and the Academy for Music and Theater in Germany.

Libby Morgan is associate director of the Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, where she supports the development, planning, and administration of CGCS’s research, training, and policy activities. She has worked on a number of the center’s publication initiatives, including the forthcoming edited volume, Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure; Broadcasting, Voice and Accountability; and Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China. She received a master’s degree in International Relations, with a concentration in Media and Communication, from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and received her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College.