Krishna Kumar’s One Size Does Not Fit All

The Center for International Media Assistance is pleased to publish One Size Does Not Fit All: Objectives and Priority Areas for Media Assistance in Different Societies, a thought-provoking paper that we hope will stimulate a lively and sustained discussion among media assistance practitioners. One Size Does Not Fit All was written by Dr. Krishna Kumar, a senior social scientist in the Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance at the U.S. Department of State. Dr. Kumar has been involved at virtually every level of media assistance, principally with the U.S. Agency for International Development, during the democracy and governance sector’s expansion over the past two decades. He is the author of several books and journal articles on the subject. In One Size Does Not Fit All, Dr. Kumar posits that the international community must tailor media assistance to meet the unique needs of the societies being helped. He has come up with a variety of recommendations for addressing the particular needs of different types of states-authoritarian, democratizing, war-torn and post-conflict. Uniquely among the publications that CIMA has produced in its two-year history, Dr. Kumar’s paper lends itself to analysis and discussion. The paper represents the personal views of Dr. Kumar and does not necessarily reflect the views of CIMA or its parent organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, nor of Dr. Kumar’s employer, the Department of State. Dr. Kumar’s views and insights should be of interest to a wide range of media assistance advocates. We invite you to read the report, think about the ideas, and share your thoughts below by responding to this post and/or the associated commentaries.

One Size Does Not Fit All: Objectives and Priority Areas for Media Assistance in Different Societies


During the past decade, considerable progress has been made analyzing and codifying the knowledge, experiences, and lessons of international media assistance. A number of multi-country studies have critically examined the planning, implementation, achievements, and failures of media projects. Several monographs have been written by media experts that shed light on different aspects of assistance in the media sector. A few scholarly articles and even books have been published on the subject. In addition, international NGOs have started publishing their own studies and evaluations that highlight the achievements and limitations of their media programs. All these developments are quite encouraging and augur well for the future of media assistance.

The next promising step in the analysis lies in examining media assistance with reference to the needs and requirements of different categories of nations. The maxim “one size does not fit all,” which is true of development interventions, also applies to media assistance. In fact, if one looks at the history of media assistance during the past two decades, one finds that policymakers and media practitioners have fashioned media interventions that take into consideration the distinctive social and political structures of a country and its level of economic development, which affect the nature of political openings. Therefore it is important that scholars and analysts study media assistance for different types of societies to develop a body of knowledge and experiences.

Such an analytical focus will generate new insight and understanding about international assistance. It will also help in further clarifying the objectives of media assistance in different societies and assist policymakers in bilateral and multilateral organizations to refine their existing policies. It will help, too, in sharpening the nature and focus of media programming. Moreover, it will facilitate a more meaningful dialogue with the media owners, journalists, NGO communities, and intellectuals in the countries that receive international assistance.

Categories of Countries

For the purpose of analysis, countries can be categorized in any number of ways-by regions, by level of political and economic development, by governing structures. This report has focused on four categories of nations-authoritarian, democratizing, war-torn, and post-conflict-which have received the most international assistance. This classification is also congruent with the categories developed by the Department of State’s Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance.

Authoritarian States: These countries do not permit political freedom or individual rights and are usually governed by monarchs, military juntas, or ideologues. The media are largely owned and/or controlled by the ruling regime to promote its legitimacy. The dividing line between news and propaganda is usually blurred, and censorship and self-censorship are pervasive. The governing elite is highly suspicious of any kind of foreign involvement in the media sector and scrupulously guards its people from being misled by the ideas of democracy and freedom of press, emanating from any quarter-national or international. There are of course differences among authoritarian states. While Burma and North Korea represent one extreme, China is a good example of an authoritarian state that is gradually opening.

Democratizing Countries: Although they have thrown off authoritarian rule, these countries still lack a well-developed institutional infrastructure and a political culture that supports democracy. Often their march to democracy is slow and halting; in some cases they even retreat. Indepen-dent media remain fragile in these countries, and journalists often work under trying circumstances. Subtle forms of censorship and self-censorship continue, and the legal and regulatory environment is not fully conducive to the functioning of a free press.

War-torn Societies: This category refers to countries with ongoing civil wars, which undermine existing political and economic structures and can contribute to humanitarian disasters. Ongoing conflict also gives the ruling regime a pretext to stifle whatever media freedom existed prior to conflict. Rebel groups also deny media freedom in the territories controlled by them. Thus the media can become the mouthpiece of the conflicting parties. International media programs in war-torn nations are designed to provide increased access to balanced news and information and to pave the way for a peaceful resolution of conflict.

Post-conflict Societies: Civil war has ended in these countries either through peace accords or a total victory of one party over the other, leading to the establishment of a legitimate government. A country is labeled as “post-conflict” during the first five years after the resolution of a civil war. Such countries usually offer tremendous opportunities for establishing democratic institutions and practices. International media assistance is designed to support the growth of independent media that can promote democracy and development. In addition, it is also expected to heal the wounds of war by promoting mutual understanding among the parties engaged in war.

The above categories are widely used in scholarly and policy research and provide a rough basis for comparison. But they are not exhaustive, and the dividing lines among these categories are thin and even fluid. For example, some democratizing countries may be classified as consolidated democracies, and vice versa, depending upon the indicators used. There are periods of temporary lull in war-torn societies, when violence subsides, giving the indication that civil war is practically over. And post-conflict societies may revert to conflict.

The Essential Thesis

The essential thesis of this paper is that because of the major differences in the social, economic, and political conditions of the above four categories of nations, the needs, requirements, and problems of their media sectors differ. Therefore, while the overarching goal of media assistance is the promotion of independent media, the international community has usually pursued and should pursue distinct, though overlapping, objectives in these societies.

And these differing objectives require different types of media programming. In authoritarian states, the international community cannot realistically promote independent media. Governments do not allow such efforts. Even when they allow some independent media projects, they create obstacles for their success. Under these circumstances, the objectives of media assistance should be more modest, that is, to facilitate increased interaction between local journalism training institutions, journalists, supporting organizations, and the international media community. Such interactions, though limited in scope and intensity, may indirectly contribute to the diffusion of concepts and practices of free media. They may make some segments of the local media community aware of the need for a media sector that is unfettered by the government. More importantly, these interactions are likely to provide the international community networks through which it can promote independent media when the society eventually opens up.

In comparison, democratizing countries offer great opportunities for media assistance, as they allow freedom of the press, and permit private ownership of the media. They are also more open to international cooperation. While the international community has pursued many objectives in democratizing nations, its primary objective should be to strengthen their institutional capacities in the media sector so that pluralistic, independent media take root and sustain themselves. For example, the objective should be to improve journalism training facilities instead of training journalists. The international community should strengthen local expertise in media laws and regulations rather than simply providing legal assistance to governments, media organizations, or journalists.

The international community should work with a vast array of local media organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies to enhance their skills, expertise, and resources. It is encouraging that many international non-governmental organizations, professional associations, private foundations, and bilateral and multilateral donor agencies have already taken a lead and have been helping to build institutional capacities with varying degrees of success.

As in authoritarian societies, the international community cannot directly promote independent media in war-torn nations. Usually, neither the government nor rebel groups permit major media development interventions, as they would undermine both sides’ attempts to control the media. Moreover, the political and security environment is rarely favorable for media projects and programs funded by foreign agencies. It can be difficult to hire people who are willing to work in war-torn societies, and when they are hired, they can encounter logistical and security barriers.

Consequently, the international community should continue to pursue, as it has done in the past, three distinct but inter-related objectives in war-torn countries. The first and primary objective should be to provide people increased access to accurate news. The second objective should be to disseminate information about humanitarian assistance programs. As most war-torn societies face humanitarian disasters, the international community harnesses the media to inform affected populations about the availability of food and other services, the activities of relief agencies, and even advance warnings about impending military movements. Finally, the international community should support media interventions to promote understanding and facilitate negotiations among the warring groups.

Post-conflict societies offer unparalleled opportunities to promote independent media. Peace accords often stipulate free and fair elections, which require that all political parties and groups have access to the media for election campaigning. Moreover, a new constitution is often drafted that recognizes the civil and political rights of the people. The international community can have considerable leverage over governments, which it can use to promote a democratic polity. The primary objective of international assistance in post-conflict societies is to rehabilitate and restructure the shattered media sector, laying the foundation for an independent, pluralistic media; however, it should be done in a manner that strengthens the peace process. In other words, the international community should simultaneously pursue the twin objectives of promoting independent media and consolidation of peace through its assistance.

Priority Areas

After clarifying the primary objectives of media assistance for the above mentioned four categories of nations, this paper attempts to identify priority areas for media programming for these countries. Three criteria were used in determining these priority areas. First, there is an empirical basis for the types of programs suggested. In other words, such or similar projects or programs have been tried by the international community in a country. Second, interventions in suggested areas can be implemented by outside organizations under the conditions that exist in each of these categories of countries. There is no use in suggesting programs that authoritarian rulers won’t permit or that cannot be undertaken in war-torn societies because of conflict. Finally, the proposed programs are of a scale or scope likely to gain the donor community’s support. In times of economic crisis or growing donor fatigue, for example, massive media assistance projects are not likely to evoke the enthusiasm and support of donors.

It should be noted here that these priorities apply to traditional media and so-called new media alike. Concepts such as the building of institutions or the rehabilitation of infrastructure can be applied to any medium, and in the developing world, old and new media are both of vital importance.

These ideas, of course, need further exploration. They are proposed here simply to stimulate a discussion with the goal of developing a more coherent approach to international media assistance and a consensus about how its objectives, programming, and delivery can best be reached.

Media Assistance To Authoritarian States

Authoritarian states typically do not permit political rights and press freedoms, and the state largely governs through coercion and repression. Political parties are restricted and political dissent is tolerated only marginally, if at all. Genuine civil society organizations are not allowed to flourish, and the judiciary is subservient to the state.

The Media in Authoritarian States

Authoritarian states vary in their levels of economic development, social and cultural structures, and political institutions. What is common to all, however, is that the media are largely controlled by the government, which uses them to perpetuate its power and domination over its citizens. Broadcast and print media become tools for propaganda and repression. Internet access and content are often restricted, with authorities blocking or shutting down Web sites that appear threatening. In Iran, for example, the government has blocked access to Web sites for the BBC, The New York Times, YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia. The government also requires Web sites operating in Iran to obtain a license.[1]

Although a few authoritarian societies have laws and regulations enshrining the principles of individual rights and press freedom, these are consistently violated. For example, Eritrea recognizes press freedom but does not permit private ownership of media, and dissenting journalists are put in jail on the slightest pretext. Similarly, the Vietnamese constitution recognizes the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association, but the Communist Party’s propaganda and training departments control all media and set press guidelines.

Self-censorship is institutionalized. Journalists know what is permissible and what is not, and they learn not to cross the boundaries. In Egypt, self-censorship is common as journalists are regularly threatened and arrested for covering topics the government considers off-limits, particularly if those journalists question the government or its policies.

Authoritarian governments often control the import and distribution of foreign newspapers and magazines. Many are routinely banned; others are censored. Nevertheless, authoritarian countries are not able to fully block the flow of information and news, largely because of recent advances in communication technology. At least some people are able to receive suppressed news through the Internet, cell phones, and international broadcasts. And international pressure often forces the government-run media to report on an important event, if for no reason other than to record the official version.

In authoritarian countries, the international community typically cannot launch major programs that directly support independent media, as governments won’t allow them. Restrictive governments will create barriers, such as denying visas to staff of media organizations. Even if allowed to enter, foreigners often have to work under severe constraints. In Russia, for example, laws passed in mid-2007 heavily restrict NGOs and make it difficult for democracy and media development organizations to conduct their work. Often local partners are threatened and risk punishment if caught cooperating with international agencies without government consent.

Objectives and Priority Areas

The primary objective of international media assist-ance in author-itarian states should be to facilitate inter-action between indigenous media organiz-ations and journalists and international media development practitioners. Such interactions can take the form of training sessions, professional exchanges, or even aid to underground media. Though limited, they can boost the morale of indigenous groups and lay the groundwork for independent media when the authoritarian regime may fall. Depending upon local economic and political conditions and political openings, priority can be given to develop assistance programs in the following areas:

Journalism and Communication Training

Most authoritarian societies have some sort of communication or journalism training programs of their own, usually in universities or specialized institutes under government control. Their educational and training curricula are set, faculty and students carefully screened, and administrators chosen by the government. Often administrators and faculty are acutely aware of the shortcomings and deficiencies of these institutions, and would like to improve their teaching and facilities. Some governments are not averse to foreign assistance to improve teaching and research, provided it is given openly and coordin-ated with officials. The international community can donate broad-casting equip-ment and litera-ture to universities and institutes, arrang-ing for short-term training for faculty and students, and supporting visits from foreign faculty members.

Training in specialized journalism provides a unique opening. Officials in many authoritarian states recognize the need for outside help to upgrade their journalists’ skills to report on health, education, or business. In China, government officials have allowed educational institutions to get international help in health and business reporting, and many collaborative training programs are currently underway. The International Center for Journalists and Tsinghua University in Beijing have launched China’s first global business journalism program with the support of Merrill Lynch, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, and Bloomberg News. The initiative includes a two-year master’s degree program and workshops for professional journalists around the country.[2]

Specialty training is often very advantageous to participating journalists. Their skills on topics vital for their countries’ economic and social development are improved; local journalists have professional interaction with the outside world; and improvement in specialized fields can positively affect reporting in other fields. New concepts, norms, and skills are slowly diffused as fellow journalists learn from those who have been trained.

For example, journalists trained in covering business news are taught the norms of good journalism: scrupulously collecting facts, presenting both sides of the story, and avoiding mixing facts and their views. Other journalists are also likely to learn about these norms through professional interactions and reading business stories. Some may even try to apply them without inviting the attention of censors.

Travel Grants, Scholarships, And Exchange Visits

The international community also can provide travel grants, training scholarships, and exchange facilities for journalists from authoritarian states. While these governments may not allow independent-minded journalists to go abroad, they often permit those regarded as friendly and faithful to the regime to do so, exposing them to the working of free media in democratic societies.

The State Department’s experience during the Cold War is instructive in this respect. Through the U.S. Information Agency, the department provided grants and scholarships to journalists from the Soviet Union and communist satellite countries to visit the United States. Though these countries allowed only trusted journalists and cronies to travel, officials administering the programs believed the visits had a perceptible influence on the attitudes of visiting journalists. The experience not only gave visitors a better understanding of U.S. social and political life, but also helped many understand the potential of independent media for informing the citizenry of national and international events.[3]

Support to Underground Media

In some instances, international NGOs, human rights organizations, and private foundations can support underground media in authoritarian states. In many authoritarian states such as Belarus, Burma, and Iran, underground media link pro-democracy and civil society groups. These groups use the Internet, cell phones, and even newsletters to share news and information. The international community can help in many ways, including training in modern information technology and providing devices for transmitting messages and information.

A 2008 report on supporting independent media for democracy promotion made the following recommendations:[4]

  • (a) Support groups that provide video cameras to in-country activists
  • (b) Provide direct and virtual training on encrypting reports and images using conventional Web services to transmit hidden information
  • (c) Increase the frequency, range, and anti-jamming capacity of pro-democracy radio broadcasts (e.g. Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, etc.)
  • (d) Develop backup Internet services in the event that author-itarian regimes shut down Web service.

These recommendations are all quite sensible and can be followed depending upon the conditions and needs of the country. However, assistance to underground media should be provided discreetly. Extreme care should be taken to ensure that the assistance does not exacerbate the risks already faced by pro-democracy activists, who may be accused of collaborating with foreign enemies. Moreover, it is also necessary to take steps that ensure agents of the regime do not penetrate the group and appropriate the assistance.

Assistance to Pro-Democracy Civil Society

The growth of civil society is critical for the growth of democracy. Civil society groups help create an enabling environment in which independent media can function effectively. Therefore the international community should provide, as it often does, moral and material support to nascent pro-democracy civil society groups in authoritarian states.

During the Cold War, Western democracies provided support to many informal networks of writers, intellectuals, trade unions, and others behind the Iron Curtain. The assistance often provided urgently needed resources and boosted the morale of these groups, often struggling under harsh conditions. Smuggled electronic items such as fax machines, copiers, and handheld transceivers proved helpful to pro-democracy groups in East Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union.

Many quasi-public and private foundations as well as human rights organizations, often with the support of Western governments, have helped indigenous pro-democracy NGOs in countries such as Burma, Cuba, Iran, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. They arrange for training of activists and in some cases give financial assistance to indigenous organizations. In many cases, they have supported exile groups that have close ties to their native lands. They have also given awards to prominent human rights activists, which boosts morale among democracy advocates by demonstrating that the international community cares for them.

A few cautionary observations should be made. As far as possible, media assistance programs should be administered by organizations that are not tied to a government and are generally perceived as apolitical. Therefore private foundations, international NGOs, and multinational organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, rather than bilateral donor agencies, may be in a better position to support media projects in authoritarian states, as they are generally perceived as being apolitical.

In addition, international actors should be careful in using expressions such as “independent press,” “free media,” and “democracy assistance,” which may be counter-productive. For example, it is preferable to talk about “professional standards” rather than “journalists’ independence,” “public service” rather than “democracy,” and “profitable media enterprises” rather than “media freedom.” In the Latin American Journalism Project, one of the largest journalist training programs in Central America during the late 1980s and early 1990s, university officials managing the program were able to win the support of reluctant political authorities and media owners by emphasizing professional competence and business profit rather than media freedom and independence.[5]

Neither funding agencies nor implementing organizations should expect instant results when working in authoritarian states. A long-term perspective is crucial. It may take years-even decades-to produce tangible results. Therefore the “result framework” often adopted by international donor agencies, which involves laying down specific targets and measuring performance against them, may not be applicable to assistance programs in authoritarian states. In fact, it may be counter-productive.

Media Assistance To Democratizing Countries

Democratizing countries have been able to throw off authoritarian rule but have yet to fully consolidate their democratic systems. Such countries have essential democratic institutions that guarantee civil and political rights. They hold regular elections, which might not be totally free and fair, but provide an opportunity for political competition. Their constitutions provide for freedom of the press, and they permit private ownership of the media.

The Media in Democratizing Countries

Democratizing countries open up space for the growth of independent, pluralistic media, often resulting in remarkable growth of newspapers and other periodicals, radio stations, television broadcasting, and Internet.[6] Commercial media dominate the landscape of many democratizing nations, and their citizens receive news from a variety of sources rather than exclusively from state-controlled media. Different viewpoints are increasingly articulated, and newspapers are often able to freely criticize political leaders.

Despite these openings, the emerging media face myriad problems and challenges. Most importantly, their legal and regulatory environments often are not conducive to the functioning of independent, pluralistic media. Laws pertaining to censorship, libel, privacy, and sedition do not provide adequate protection to media organizations and journalists. Even where sensible laws exist, they often are not enforced.[7] Criminal gangs, vested economic interests and corrupt politicians intimidate journalists.

Procedures for registering and licensing media are not always transparent, giving arbitrary power to political and bureaucratic leaders. This lack of transparency can enable political factions or wealthy individuals to own and operate media outlets that serve their own political agendas. In addition, the state may continue to own or control a part of the media sector.

Media organizations often are not well developed in democratizing countries. Journalists frequently work in isolation, and journalists’ associations are not powerful enough to articulate their interests. Experience shows that trade organizations representing media owners, on the other hand, can be better organized and tend to have more resources than journalists’ associations.
There often is a shortage of well-trained media professionals. Journalism training facilities frequently are deficient or nonexistent. Curricula often are outdated, and the quality of instruction unsatisfactory. Journalists are not well paid, and they often lack computers, fax machines, and transportation. Many graduates of professional schools take better-paying jobs outside of journalism, such as in public relations; those who remain in the profession are vulnerable to bribery or other enticements.

While conditions vary from country to country and outlet to outlet, many news stories lack accuracy and balance. Personal biases often intrude in reporting; investigative journalism is nonexistent or still in its infancy as the media lack the resources and commitment to launch investigations that require time and money.[8]

Objectives and Priority Areas

While the international community has pursued many objectives in democratiz-ing nations, its primary objective should be to strengthen institutional capacities in the media sector so that pluralistic, independent media take root and sustain themselves.

One key objective should be to improve journalism training facilities instead of simply training journalists. In addition, the international community should seek to enhance local expertise in media law and regulations rather than simply providing legal assistance to governments, media organizations, or journalists. It can work with a vast array of local media organizations, educational institutions, semi-autonomous agencies, and NGOs to enhance their skills, expertise and resources depending upon their perceived needs and requirements. A large number of international NGOs, professional associations, private foundations, and bilateral and multilateral donor agencies have already taken a lead and helped build institutional capacities with varying degrees of success.

It should, however, be recognized that the institutional capacities of the media sector in these countries are limited by factors that are deeply embedded in their social and economic structures. There-fore progress toward institutional capacity building tends to be slow and unsteady. Until economies expand and democratic institutions mature, many democratizing nations will not have a self-sustaining media sector that can effectively play the role expected of it in a democratic society. The international community should be realistic about its engagement and focus only on areas in which it can make a difference.

With this caveat, six priority areas are identified here:

Journalism Education in Universities

The quality of journalism training tends to be poor in most democratizing nations. Instructors often have little or no practical journalism experience and as a result, they are more comfortable teaching theory than the craft of journalism. They are also resistant to changes in curriculum, especially in societies that were long under authoritarian rule and have no tradition of a free press. Most journalism teaching institutions also lack essential equipment.[9] Under these circumstances, the international community’s top priority should be to improve the quality of journalism training, particularly in universities and affiliated colleges.

There are many reasons why the international community may prefer universities over media training centers. Educational institutions tend to be respected and their degrees widely recognized. They have full-time faculty members and often can hire part-time instructors if the need arises. Moreover, public universities are generally assured of funding from governments. In comparison, independent media training centers funded by international donors mostly depend upon the vagaries of international assistance.

Moreover, often universities offer interdisciplinary education to journalism students, allowing them to take courses in the arts, business, history, economics, and law. To practice specialized journalism, journalists need a strong background in related disciplines.

For at least two decades, the international community has successfully supported several programs to strengthen university journalism education in democratizing countries. After Sierra Leone’s long and brutal civil war in the 1990s, the University of Sierra Leone revived its mass communication department with substantial international assistance.[10] Uganda’s Makerere University received studio equipment and funds from the Swedish International Development Agency.[11] In Cambodia, the Royal University of Phnom Penh received substantial grants from the international community for its media and communication department.[12] Universities in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Russia, and Rwanda have also benefited from international assistance.

Small grants to journalism and communications departments to purchase books and equipment can yield far-reaching results. Many countries, particularly in Africa, have an acute shortage of books on modern journalism. As most journalism texts are in English, funds for translations can be particularly beneficial.[13] Grants can also help universities buy modern equipment they lack, such as computers, tape recorders, printers, and digital cameras.

Short- and medium-term training in investigative journalism, media law, and use of modern technology can also be useful. Conducting training in-country is less expensive than sending local people overseas, yet there is value in both. Faculty members from democratizing countries who spend time in Western universities, taking and teaching courses or even working in media, are exposed to new developments in the field and can develop professional networks. By the same token, the international community can provide scholarships and grants to faculty of American and other Western universities to teach in journalism departments in democratizing countries.

The international community also can help interested universities revise journalism curricula to make courses more practical. USAID has supported such efforts in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

While it is preferable to work with universities and colleges, the international aid community should not rule out independent media training centers. In many countries, there may be obstacles to working with universities. Often senior professors are not open to new ideas and therefore do not easily embrace new pedagogy and technology. Moreover, it may take years to revise existing curricula and introduce new courses. Some universities have bureaucratic procedures that constrain foreign collaboration. Because of these and other factors, many international media organizations that found it difficult to work with universities in Eastern and Central Europe opted to establish independent centers. These centers enjoy greater flexibility and can respond to new changes and technologies.[14] Moreover, they are able to serve urgent needs in many critical areas of journalism training by offering timely courses.

However, their sustainability may remain in question. When supporting the establishment of independent training centers, donor agencies should make a long-term commitment and strive to establish endowments to support them. They should also encourage centers to affiliate with local universities or major media firms that can provide financial support. They should seek firm commitments from governments, local media firms, and philanthropic organizations to lend financial and technical support to these centers prior to establishing them.

Capacity Building for Media Laws and Regulations

Two broad categories of media laws are critical for the functioning of free and independent media. One covers journalists’ rights of access to information, protection of their confidential sources and information, defense against libel and intimidation, and absence of censorship. The other includes rights of individuals and corporations to own and manage media outlets without state control and manipulation, the right of media outlets to distribute information and ideas to the public freely and fairly, and transparency and independence of licensing arrangements.

For a variety of reasons, many democratizing societies are deficient in these areas. When countries reform their media laws, they often retain part of their former, restrictive legal and regulatory systems. They may have lacked the political will necessary for reform, and media outlets that profited from the existing system may have opposed reforms. For example, many firms that already own broadcasting licenses may resist establishment of a transparent system which might not favor them. This was the case in Serbia in the early 2000s, where many pro-Milosevic stations opposed broadcasting reforms.[15]

Even when progressive media laws and regulations exist, they may not be properly implemented. Reconstituted or newly established regulatory agencies can be manipulated by ruling political leaders and government officials. In many democratizing countries, the judiciary is still weak and susceptible to political and economic pressures. Rather than wage long, expensive legal battles with little prospect for success, many journalists and media owners have found it more prudent to remain silent.[16] Often, ignorance of newly enacted or revised press laws is widespread, and journalists are not aware of their rights and responsibilities. The lack of skilled and committed legal experts compounds the problem.

In addition, laws are not a panacea. They should be supported by a range of institutions committed to media freedom and independence. These include independent judiciaries, effective law enforcement and prosecution agencies, cadres of lawyers and experts specializing in media laws, professional organizations, and pro-democracy civil society organizations. Unless such institutional structures and capabilities exist, good media laws and regulations may not make much difference.

It is important that the initiative and pressure for reform come primarily from within these societies, particularly from the media, pro-democracy organizations, and the public. When a totalitarian regime collapses, there is considerable enthusiasm for media law re-forms, and the concerned authorities are willing to seek outside assist-ance. But with the passing of time, initial enthusiasm and willingness to seek international assistance wane. However, sometimes international assistance can be an effective incentive for change. For example, in Central and Eastern Europe, accession to the European Union was a powerful incentive to reform media laws and regulatory systems. Such incentives are not likely to be available, however, in other parts of the world.[17]

A promising strategy for the international community, then, is to support indigenous civil society organizations that can push for media law and regulatory reforms and can provide legal assistance when needed. Such organizations can undertake public education programs on media rights and responsibilities and organize meetings and dialogues of journalists, lawyers, and government officials. They can lobby governments and legislative bodies to reform media laws and regulations. Finally, they can help defend prosecuted journalists. For example, the Glasnost Defense Foundation in Russia, which has been supported by many international organizations, has been quite effective in promoting legal and regulatory reforms in the media sector, providing legal assistance to media organizations and journalists, and undertaking public education programs after the collapse of the Soviet Union.[18]

In addition, the international community can help in building media law expertise in local universities. Many countries in Africa and to a lesser extent in Latin America and Asia face a shortage of lawyers who can advise governments, media organizations, and journalists. But international organizations can provide assistance to law faculties in universities to develop expertise in this field. Small investments such as grants to law professors to go abroad for training, scholarships to promising law students to specialize in media law, and support to law faculties for organizing seminars, workshops and meetings involving lawyers, media owners, and government officials can pay dividends. Moreover, international donors can fund the establishment of media law centers in universities. The international community has provided such assistance to Eastern and Central Europe, Russia, and Indonesia, and the results have been encouraging.

International media associations and organizations, such as the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, facilitate the dissemination and exchange of information on media laws and legal expertise. The University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, for example, is creating a Web site that compiles media laws from different countries and provides information on legal analyses, amicus briefs, and case law developments. Several other proposals have been made along these lines, including establishing a global network of media defense lawyers with an international secretariat, which would strengthen “existing legal defense groups and help create new ones where such groups are nonexistent.”[19]

Partnership with Media and Pro-Democracy Civil Society Organizations
Practically all bilateral and multilateral agencies that have a democracy promotion component have invested heavily in pro-democracy civil society organizations.[20] Because of their rapid growth, the international community is now able to reach only a small portion of them.

While they need and welcome foreign assistance, such organizations would prefer that their relationships with international donors reflect genuine cooperation and not a patron-and-client relationship. Many of their leaders complain that aid agencies impose all kinds of requirements that stifle initiative.[21] Donor agencies sometimes do not realize the constraints under which civil society organizations operate, and they often pressure them to undertake activities that are not always productive or useful. A more serious criticism is that bilateral agencies apply different standards for their own NGOs and their counterparts in host nations. Whether these criticisms are justified is immaterial; they affect the relationship of media and pro-democracy organizations and the aid community. The international community should be sensitive about them and reorient its relationship with the media and pro-democracy organizations in democratizing countries.

The international community can also explore the possibility of joint projects with democratizing nations’ civil society organizations. International NGOs and implementing agencies can invite civil society organizations to join them in their studies, participate in their meetings, and even jointly sponsor meetings and conferences at regional levels. They can send their staff to work with these groups, and vice versa. Such interchange and cooperative efforts will be mutually advantageous. Both parties will acquire a better understanding of each others’ strengths and limitations and become less likely to harbor unrealistic expectations.

Though such cooperative partnerships can go a long way toward helping local organizations stand on their own feet, they do not eliminate the need for aid from the international community. Assistance will be required for some time to come so that struggling civil society organizations can continue to undertake their activities. This means the international community should demonstrate an understanding of cultural differences, social and political traditions, and the economic environment in which they work. International aid givers and implementing agencies should respect the judgment, understandings and insights of the officials and staffs of civil society organizations they assist, and should not impose their own standards. While they have every right to choose whom they would assist, once the choice is made, they should work with civil society organizations on the basis of equality and leave them to carve their own paths.

The international community can also expand and deepen its relationships with civil society organizations located in remote and distant parts of a country. In the past, it has mostly interacted with such groups in cities, which have relatively more resources and are exposed to outside influences and therefore are in a better position to cultivate the representatives of donor agencies and implementing organizations. Civil society organizations in small towns or remote provincial areas work under the most trying circumstances and are subject to all kinds of pressure and intimidation from powerful political and economic interests. They desperately need outside help and support, and the international community should make more concerted efforts to reach them.

Promoting Local Radio Stations

Implementers can develop programs to strengthen the local radio sector, which tailors information to the needs of communities. Local stations-whether owned by private firms, NGOs, or communities themselves-cover and articulate local problems and concerns, bringing them to the attention of authorities, and give voice to a cross-section of people. In addition, community radio stations-those owned by NGOs or communities-contribute to the building of vibrant communities, mobilizing people for joint action.

The international community has long supported radio development in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia and the Pacific. For example, Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster, and Radio Netherlands Worldwide have given management, technical, and programming training assistance to radio stations in Africa. The Commonwealth Broadcasting Association also provides programming and technical training. Voice of America workshops in South Africa, Ghana, and Rwanda have focused on journalism and broadcast management. In 2006, the BBC World Service Trust launched the African Media Development Initiative to support public, private, and community radio in Africa through training and research programs. USAID has funded community radio development throughout the world with an especially high concentration in Africa, including programs in Mali, Nigeria, Malawi, Ghana, and Chad.

Media developers should support local organizations that assist radio development. For example, donors can assist media institutions by providing technical assistance to legal and regulatory agencies in the drafting of laws, rules, and procedures favorable to the growth and functioning of radio stations. The assistance should ensure that licensing and registration fees are kept low and procedures for registration simple and transparent. Technical assistance teams should encourage governments and regulatory agencies to reserve at least a small percentage of FM frequencies for community radio operations. UNESCO and the World Association of Community Broadcasters, for instance, through conference sponsorship and other means, have been focusing on strategies to remove barriers to community radio in Africa.

International organizations can also provide grants to local institutions to help manage finances and keep proper accounts.

Programming assistance helps radio stations that lack resources and staff. Elementary technical assistance on how to produce talk shows, organize question-and-answer sessions with local officials, and broadcast special programs for children and women can make a significant difference in their operations. Networks of local radio stations, which can provide programming assistance and pre-recorded programs to their members, also help.[22] In Indonesia, for example, Internews has worked with local partners in producing and distributing pre-recorded programs on gender, HIV-AIDS, public health, and similar subjects.

The international community can work with governments, the private sector, and local NGOs to explore ways to make local radio stations economically sustainable. First, the international community should only set up radio stations that incur minimal operating expenses. Stations also should use technologies that can be procured and repaired within the country. Second, implementers should help in-country media organizations design courses for radio station staff, focusing on topics such as financial management, advertising, and fundraising.

Finally, and most importantly, the international community should encourage governments to provide economic incentives to local stations. This assistance can range from charging modest registration and licensing fees and exempting local radio stations from corporate taxes to reserving a portion of their advertisements for these stations to giving subsidies to community radio stations. In South Africa, for example, the publicly funded Media Diversity and Development Agency awards grants to community radio stations.

International donors should consider not giving grants to local stations to meet their operating expenses. Though well intentioned, such financial assistance often contributes to dependency and complacency. As a result, when donors’ funds dry up, stations cease operations.[23]

Assistance to Public Service Broadcasting

Public service broadcasting can be promoted and strengthened in democratizing nations. Public service stations are typically established through legislative processes for the public good and are at least partly funded by public money, but their management and programming often enjoy substantial autonomy from the government. Neither commercial nor state-controlled, public service broadcasting outlets are managed by autonomous boards.[24]

The rapid growth of private radio and television stations has had an unintended consequence: a decline in educational, cultural, and development-oriented programming. Commercial media have not shown much interest in producing such programs, as they are not profitable. On the other hand, resource-starved state media entities do not have the monetary and technical resources to produce them. Thus, programs on local culture, music, arts, and folklore, which used to be produced by state-owned media outlets, are gradually disappearing in many nations. There is a corresponding decline in development-oriented educational programs that focus on agriculture, economic growth, and women. While this is understandable, this benign neglect is not conducive to nation building.

The solution lies in promoting public service broadcasting, which can serve as a complement to commercial media by focusing on culture, arts, and other such themes. It can also explore critical development issues in greater depth and with more complexity than commercial or state-run media. Moreover, in societies characterized by ethnic tensions, civil strife, and ethnic marginalization, public service broadcasting can create “a space for diverse groups to debate and exchange views without violence.”[25] Public service broadcasting can also provide voice to ethnic and religious minorities and other marginalized groups.

The international community can support public service broadcasting in many ways. First, it can help governments that are interested in transforming their state broadcast media into public service broadcasting. The international community can provide technical and even financial assistance for such transformations. Assistance can be given to draft legislation and develop organizational and management structures that can promote innovation and effective programming. Second, if needed, various international organizations can provide technical assistance and training to public service stations to strengthen their capacity to produce high-quality educational and cultural programs. They can help upgrade their technologies and also assist in improving their management, although the scope for such changes is bound to be limited. Experienced public service broadcasting outlets can also share best practices and professional standards. The international community and established public service broadcasters can provide technical assistance for raising funds from non-government sources. Public service stations in many advanced democracies are now allowed to carry paid advertisements, albeit on a limited scale, and solicit corporate sponsors to underwrite programs. They also hold membership and pledge drives. While such mechanisms for raising funds will have to be adapted to local conditions, the experience of public service broadcasters is valuable and should be shared.

Support for New Media

Finally, the international community can support what has come to be called citizen media. As a result of the growth of digital technologies-Internet streams, cell phones, and other communication devices-the speed and reach of the media have been rapidly increasing. New media platforms such as blogs, YouTube, and social networking sites have been emerging all over the world. Citizens are now able to disseminate news and information through text messaging, changing political and institutional cultures.

The donor community is aware of these developments, and has been trying to incorporate emerging technologies in their projects. However, more needs to be done. The international community can help citizen media by promoting training in and dialogues on new media platforms and encouraging governments to frame regulatory regimes that are conducive to their growth.

Media Assistance To War-Torn Societies

In societies experiencing civil conflict, the media can be critical actors in either preventing or exacerbating violence. They help define the nature and implications of latent or manifest conflict for decision-makers, and they shape public opinion. Biased and inaccurate reporting can inflame public passions. The experiences of Rwanda, Bosnia, and Serbia show that the media, when controlled by the government and competing ethnic groups, can be a powerful force in instigating and directing vio-lence. On the other hand, balanced reporting and coverage can reduce political tensions and contribute to the resolution of conflict.

The Media in War-Torn Societies

The saying “In war, truth is the first casualty” is not without foundation. Independent media are invariably undermined during conflict. Governments and rebel movements distort truth and hide facts to buttress their positions. They manipulate the media to exaggerate or diminish information, to divide people, and to mobilize them for war purposes.

Sometimes the media themselves are to blame. Propaganda from warring parties usually substitutes for balanced news. Biased reporting, lack of balanced commentary, and deep emotions aroused by war contribute to stereotyping of the people belonging to opposing groups. While opponents’ misdeeds are exaggerated, atrocities committed by one’s own group are often given negligible coverage-if any. Self-censorship by journalists of news relating to war usually becomes a norm.

Some of the faulty reporting of conflicts is not intentional, however. Lack of experience and expertise may lead journalists to make false claims or inflame passions. Because many journalists lack the skills to operate in an emotionally charged environment, amid competing claims and misrepresentations and scarcity of resources, they may not properly check sources or be unable to present facts in a balanced manner.

The media in war-torn societies also suffer in other ways. Many media outlets are attacked or bombed to silence them. Because of scarce resources and shortage of foreign exchange, media outlets have difficulty in procuring newsprint, machinery, and spare parts. Power cuts create additional problems.

In addition, experienced journalists often leave the country because of danger or repression, while others belonging to minority groups might be fired, imprisoned, or even killed. Their places are taken by those who have little or no professional background and experience. For those reporters who stay, danger and paucity of resources prevent them from traveling to cover stories.

Little can be done to promote independent media until peace is restored. Neither governments nor rebel groups will permit major foreign media development interventions, as they are afraid that such efforts would undermine their control over the media. Moreover, the political climate during wartime is not favorable for launching and implementing media projects and programs funded by foreign agencies. There are logistical and security barriers for foreign media experts, and the international community finds it difficult to hire them to initiate and manage media programs.

Objectives and Priority Areas

Under these conditions, the international community has pursued three inter-related objectives. First, it tries to provide people with increased access to relatively more balanced and accurate news. As indicated earlier, censorship, the takeover of nonpartisan media by ruling regimes, deterioration of media facilities for lack of resources, migration of journalists, journalists’ inability to discern misinformation and distortion of news, and war hysteria all contribute to the deficit of balanced and accurate news. The second objective is to produce and disseminate information about humanitarian assistance programs. For example, the international community cooperates with national and international media outlets to inform people about the availability of food and other services, the activities of relief agencies, and they may even provide warnings about impending military movements. Usually such information is geared toward refugees, internally displaced persons, and populations living in war zones. The third objective is to reduce tensions, promote understanding among warring groups, and facilitate negotiations.

The international community has designed and implemented a wide variety of projects and programs in war-torn societies. With the exception of the Balkans, most of these programs have involved modest investments and were designed to suit the conditions and circumstances of the society facing intrastate conflict. On the basis of this experience, a few priority areas for media assistance can be identified.

Promoting Nonpartisan Media

Although the mainstream media in war-torn societies are often controlled by the government or rebel groups, some small media enterprises can survive, especially when civil war does not engulf the entire country. During the 1980s, conflicts in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, many community radio stations-owned by church organizations, NGOs, or the local community-managed to relay information without much interference. During the 1999 Kosovo conflict, a number of independent, nonpartisan media outlets survived in Serbia. Independent media outlets are still working in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and parts of Sudan despite ongoing conflict.

The international community can help increase access to more balanced and accurate news by supporting nonpartisan media, including commercial or community radio stations, newspapers, and independent television stations. Assistance can include supply of machinery or spare parts that cannot be procured from abroad because of the shortage of foreign exchange or constraints on transportation. International NGOs gave such assistance to radio stations in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala in the 1980s. In other cases, grants may support repair of media premises destroyed by war, as occurred when USAID provided assistance to repair broadcasting stations in the Balkans. Support may also provide for subscriptions to international news sources to provide alternative views.

The international community also can help independent media in war-torn countries broadcast news back into the country from outside. For example, in 2000 USAID supported the Pebbles (Platforms for External Broadcasting) program in Serbia, which enabled RTV B-92 to broadcast from transmitters in neighboring countries.[26] USAID also has supported Radio Racyja’s efforts to broadcast into Belarus from transmitters in Poland and Lithuania.[27] Success depends on strong indigenous broadcasters and broad international support.

Extreme care should be taken to ensure that media outlets receiving outside assistance are not labeled as unpatriotic or enemy agents. If possible, such assistance should be channeled through local NGOs to avoid such suspicions.

Besides providing a more unbiased source of information and helping struggling legitimate media outlets to survive, this support can pave the way for cooperation between international donors and local media once the war is over. It can also indirectly promote objectives that are not the responsibility of media but are nevertheless sought by the international community. For example, in Serbia, assistance to independent media played a major role in undermining Slobodan Milosevic’s regime and eventually led to his ouster.

Forums on War and Peace Reporting

A major problem that most journalists face in war-torn societies is their lack of expertise in covering conflict. They are often unaware of their roles, rights, and responsibilities, and they are not informed about government rules and regulations affecting their reporting and coverage. Above all, reporters rarely know how to protect themselves while covering warfare. In many low-intensity conflicts, the international community can support discussion forums on these issues. A few national and international NGOs have organized workshops, meetings, and symposiums to discuss these topics while deliberately keeping low profiles.

Hosted by local journalist training institutions, NGOs, or media organizations, such forums-seminars, meetings, or lectures-can concentrate on a variety of topics. First, these forums can focus on journalism standards and encourage journalists to discuss and reflect on the basic norms of impartiality, accuracy, fairness, and honesty in the context of ongoing conflict. For example, participants can discuss and debate questions such as: how to distinguish fact from misinformation; how to prevent one’s own background, ethnic and religious loyalties, and political convictions from unduly affecting reporting and news coverage; how to resist the temptation to sensationalize stories; how to check sources in an environment where few exist; and how to report in a manner that is fair to all parties. Second, forums can discuss government rules and regulations for censorship, punishments that can be inflicted on offending journalists, and the legal rights of journalists. Such information can protect journalists from political harassment and may enable them to write or edit stories in a way that does not invite the attention of censors.

Finally, discussion forums can examine safety issues in war zones. Many journalists die while covering wars-some deliberately killed by the belligerents, others caught in crossfire. Many international media organizations now require that their war correspon-dents undergo training before going to war zones. Such safety training focuses on “understanding conflict zones, equipment and basic things to look out for, as well as a review of basic emergency medical treatment. Increasingly, organizations are also considering how to train-and provide counseling for journalists if necessary-on issues of stress and trauma.”[28] Where no such training, much less information, is available to journalists, discussion forums can fill this need.

Government officials and legal experts also may be invited to these forums, which should be open to all journalists. In these situations, discussions also can be held to inform journalists about legal help that might be available to them.

International Broadcasting

The international community should continue to work with international broadcasters to enhance their programming for war-torn societies.

International broadcasters have several advantages over those in war-torn countries. Their financial and technical resources give them greater news-gathering and broadcasting capacity, and they may have access to information not available to local media in war-torn countries. They are not subject to censorship, and belligerent governments and rebel groups have no control over them.

International broadcasters such as the BBC, VOA, Radio Free Europe, Deutsche Welle, and CNN usually give balanced coverage to ongoing conflict and its effects on civilian populations, problems of refugees and internally displaced persons, and national and international peace initiatives. Bilateral agencies have funded international broadcasters to increase their services to war-torn countries and to provide additional news and information. During the 1999 Kosovo crisis, for example, the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) funded the BBC Albanian Service to broadcast a program for refugee children.[29]

In 1999 and 2000, to facilitate international broadcasts during and after NATO’s bombing of Serbia, the international community installed FM transmitters in a “Ring around Serbia” in Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, and Romania. It re-broadcast into Serbia news and entertainment programs from the VOA, Radio Free Europe, and other international broadcasters.[30] The project spread news and information that might otherwise not have reached the Serbian people, but it was costly and required the cooperation of neighboring countries, which is rarely easy to gain.

Conflict Resolution Programming

During the past decade, international organizations have developed and implemented innovative programs to promote peace and reconciliation through the media. While most of these programs have been undertaken in countries where some semblance of peace has been restored, they might also be undertaken in societies experiencing low-intensity conflict.

With the assistance of the international donor community, Search for Common Ground has pioneered such programming in countries ranging from Angola to Nepal and Macedonia to Morocco. Internews and Fondation Hirondelle are also working in this area, albeit on a smaller scale. While most of the programs have been established in countries where some semblance of peace has been restored, there is no reason why they cannot be undertaken in war-torn societies marked by low intensity conflicts.

Search for Common Ground and other international groups have established local studios that produce peace building programs for radio-often the most effective and economical mode of communication in poor countries. Internationally funded studios produce programs such as plays, soap operas, group discussions, talk shows, and music that carry subtle messages in favor of peace, mutual understanding, hope, and social and economic rehabilitation designed to reduce tensions and misunderstandings, and counteract messages of hate and anger emanating from warring parties.[31]

For example, soap operas may be built around the story of a family torn apart by the civil war, whose members discover that they have much more in common with their supposed enemies than they realized in the past and that the solution of their problems lies in working together with them.

Such projects cannot be called mainstream journalism. Indeed, the sponsors of these programs often contend that traditional journalism usually stress conflict and even reward discordant behavior with airtime and newspaper space, while efforts to build consensus and solve problems are either ignored or discounted. Conflict resolution programming, in comparison, is designed to foster understanding and highlight shared values and interests of divergent groups.[32]

Anecdotal and survey evidence shows that conflict resolution programs can have some positive impact on the attitudes, perceptions, and understandings of the people.[33] Such efforts do not eradicate the root causes of conflict, but they do create a better climate for peaceful coexistence.

As a result of the experience of implementing conflict resolution programs, the international community has learned many valuable lessons that are being incorporated in future programming. First, local ownership is critical for the success of these efforts. Second, staff should be multi-ethnic and include all major groups. In most of these projects, staff belonging to warring ethnic groups have designed and implemented conflict resolution programs for broadcast. As a result, these programs not only had greater credibility, but also could highlight subtle nuances in inter-ethnic interactions. Third, the entertainment aspect of such programming attracts audience and contributes to success.

Finally, these programs cannot be sustained indefinitely and will disappear in the long run. Therefore the issue of sustainability should be seriously examined before launching them.

Media Support for Humanitarian Interventions

In war-torn countries, the international community has an obligation to work with the media to provide information about humanitarian assistance, to inform people about the availability of food, water, shelter, and medical care as well as the activities of relief agencies and even impending military movements.

This is not new. In Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast, for example, the United Nations set up temporary radio stations to inform citizens about humanitarian assistance as well as provide news.[34] The International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) often establish radio stations in war zones to provide unbiased, accurate information. The UNHCR also sets up temporary stations in its refugee camps to keep refugees and officials informed about camp activities and the outside world.

International relief agencies support local media, particularly radio, often hiring local staff and training them in programming and broadcasting. This may have a positive impact: contracts to local firms to produce humanitarian programs can indirectly strengthen local media capacity. Payments made to local radio stations to run humanitarian programs can be an important source of revenue. On the other hand, humanitarian agencies often offer local journalists better wages and working conditions than they would be able to find under normal circumstances, which can skew the market and hardly contribute to local capacity building.

Media Assistance To Post-Conflict Societies

Post-conflict societies are countries that have ended violent civil war, either through a peace accord or with one party emerging victorious and establishing control over the country. For this report, a society is considered “post-conflict” for five years after the end of civil war; if it reverts to conflict, the adjective no longer applies. Examples of this category include Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kosovo, Liberia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda-all of which faced civil wars, resolved them, and completed their post-conflict phase.

The Media in Post-Conflict Societies

Post-conflict societies inherit a fractured polity. Electing a government that enjoys national and international legitimacy takes time, but until elections are held and the outcome accepted, uncertainty clouds the political horizon. Security is one of the greatest problems, as it can take years to demobilize and reintegrate ex-combatants into society.

Economies shattered by war remain weak for some time, and are usually dependent on foreign assistance. Infrastructure is often ravaged; consumer goods and services are in short supply; and insecurity in rural areas often limits agricultural production. Post-conflict societies also face widespread unemployment. The return of refugees and internally displaced persons usually generates social tensions and property disputes. Families and communities often are eroded by migration, death, and social disorganization.

All these factors affect the media. Although conditions differ from country to country and time to time, media in most post-conflict societies tend to share several general characteristics.

In many post-conflict societies, the media are dominated by the former warring parties, which continue to use media to pursue their interests. Because societies remain divided and the wounds of war are still fresh, many media owners and journalists find it difficult to adopt a nonpartisan approach. In the aftermath of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, media outlets in Bosnia, which were mostly owned by ethnic groups, continued to distort facts and mobilize people in the name of ethnicity. Although the reporting was not as inflammatory, media in countries such as Angola, Cambodia, and Mozambique acted similarly.

The quality of news reporting and coverage tends to be poor for reasons that are obvious. Most post-conflict societies do not have a tradition of free press, and even where it exists, it is usually undermined during intrastate conflict. There is usually an acute shortage of trained journalists, partly because experienced journalists who left the country during the conflict often do not return. Because of poor pay and an environment of general scarcity, many journalists are not averse to taking gifts and bribes for favorable reporting.

The economic conditions of media enterprises also tend to be precarious. Because of limited advertising revenues and poor business management, many media outlets find it difficult to manage their affairs. High inflation rates, common to post-conflict societies, compound the problem. Even state-owned broadcasting media often fall on hard times because of tight budgets. In many cases, only media enterprises that are tied to special interests or patronized by powerful political and bureaucratic officials are able to survive.

The legal and institutional architecture for media is largely broken. While the old system is gradually dismantled, the new one is not yet in place, causing uncertainty and confusion. For example, even if restrictions on press freedom are removed, old libel laws can leave journalists vulnerable. While broadcast media may be opened up, procedures for allotting frequencies in a transparent way may not be finalized.

Despite these problems, post-conflict societies can offer unprecedented opportunities to dismantle state control and strengthen independent media, especially in countries where a new constitution or peace accord recognizes civil and political rights and guarantees a free press.

Objectives and Priority Areas

The primary objective of media assistance in post-conflict societies has been and should be to rehabilitate and restructure the shattered media sector, laying the foundation for independent, pluralistic media. There is now a broad consensus among international experts that mere repair and rehabilitation are not enough, and that the media sector generally requires major restructuring in such societies. This should be done in a manner that strengthens the peace process. Keeping these objectives in view, a set of media programming priorities can be identified.

Reviving the Media Sector

Practically all societies that have faced prolonged or intense civil wars and destruction require urgent assistance to rehabilitate their shattered media sector. The situation is usually grim in these societies, and without timely outside assistance the media cannot be easily rehabilitated and promoted. Most post-conflict societies need urgent assistance in the following areas:

Training in broadcast and print media journalism: As in war-torn countries, there is often a dearth of qualified and experienced journalists in post-conflict societies. Many experienced journalists leave the country during war and are not always eager to return immediately after peace is restored. Journalism training is usually neglected during conflict, and therefore the country lacks a supply of trained journalists when the post-conflict opening of the media sector creates a demand for them. One solution to this problem is donor-funded training programs for journalists.

Initially, short- and medium-term training may be more useful, especially for working journalists whose media outlets cannot afford to release them for more than a week or two of training. Only established media organizations are in a position to do so, but their needs often are not as pressing and urgent as those of new outlets struggling to survive. The international community should strike a balance between the needs of emerging and existing media outlets.

Support to Purchase Equipment: In most post-conflict societies, many media outlets face an acute shortage of essential equipment. Some may have been looted during war, others damaged or destroyed by bombs and riots. Still others are unable to repair or replace equipment for lack of resources. Many media organizations faced this problem in countries such as Cambodia, Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Rwanda, where prolonged conflicts devastated the entire media sector. Moreover, newly established media such as community radio stations, local newspapers, and magazines started by the nonprofit sector require some assistance for purchases of new equipment.

The international community has given such assistance to post-conflict societies depending upon local needs and donors’ interests. For example, Western donors helped numerous media outlets with grants to purchase essential equipment in Bosnia in the aftermath of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.[35] They provided similar assistance in Kosovo. In Sierra Leone, international donors such as DFID, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), USAID, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, the Ford Foundation, and UNDP helped existing and newly established media outlets by providing equipment and even financial assistance.

Outright gifts of equipment can be quite useful, particularly in countries where media outlets were looted or destroyed. However, experience indicates that international donors should lay down proper criteria for the selection of media outlets for assistance. In the absence of transparent standards and procedures, the international community might be accused of favoritism. This happened in Bosnia, where outlets that did not receive assistance questioned the impartiality of the donor community. More importantly, often the assistance should be given in kind. If financial assistance for equipment and supplies has to be given, intermediary organizations should ensure that proper accounts are maintained. The misuse of financial assistance is not uncommon. Finally, the equipment should be easy to use and maintain.

A question can be raised at this stage about whether there is any alternative to grants. One that is often mentioned is the Media Development Loan Fund, a nonprofit organization that can provide affordable capital to media enterprises. While this alternative has been tried in democratizing countries, it may not be as feasible in the conditions of post-conflict societies. The economic situation of many media enterprises is generally very precarious in these countries, and it is doubtful that small enterprises would be able to repay their loans.

Business and Management Training and Technical Assistance: With the dawn of peace, new media outlets are established by the private sector, social entrepreneurs, and NGOs. These outlets work under the most trying economic circumstances and are often led by people who lack business acumen and experience. While the outlets’ ultimate survival largely depends upon the country’s macroeconomic environment, many of these enterprises can profit from managerial and business training and technical assistance.

The international community has supported training in business, accounting, and management for the heads of media outlets so that they can sustain them-selves. For example, USAID has supported training pro-grams in Eastern and Central Europe for media managers and directors of advertising and public relations, who were taught basic aspects of business operations.[36] Such training exposed them to the challenges of running a commercial operation and imparted skills for supervising technical and professional staff. The training programs proved helpful in countries that had no experience in commercial media. Many people learned for the first time about ways to solicit advertisements, increase sales, and reduce costs. International organizations also have arranged for training the managers of a few media enterprises owned by the state and NGOs in African post-conflict societies; however, such training has been sporadic and on a very small scale.

Media and Post-Conflict Elections

The second priority area is support for electio­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ns held after the signing of a peace accord. Such elections are organized to form a new government that enjoys national and international legitimacy and can embark on economic and political rehabilitation and reconstruction. The international community has used the indigenous media to facilitate free and fair elections, which in turn has had a positive impact on the media sector itself. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

The international community has used a wide variety of media-radio, television, newspapers, and live performances-to convey information ranging from the rationale for elections to how to vote. Such programs have been beneficial to indigenous media as they are usually subsidized for broadcasting them. Moreover, they establish a tradition of public affairs programming.

In addition, concerned international organizations should try to ensure that all major parties have access to media, particularly broadcast media, during elections. This can be problematic in countries where much of the media is owned by the state, which usually gives better coverage to the ruling party. In some post-conflict states, the international community can negotiate through electoral commissions to ensure that opposition parties get fair coverage. For example, bilateral and multilateral agencies supported public debates on state-controlled broadcast media among candidates in Angola, El Salvador, Mozambique, and Nicaragua. It was the first time in these countries that opposition parties were allowed to present their views on state-controlled media.

Just as election monitors have adapted new technologies such as cell phones to their task of ensuring fairness, journalists should do the same in covering elections. Particularly in fragile post-conflict societies, there is immense demand for fast, accurate reporting of election results, often at something approaching real-time pace. International donors and implementers should adapt training programs that focus on election coverage to emphasize the importance of new technologies.

Promoting New Outlets

In many post-conflict societies characterized by deep ethnic, religious, and political divides, it may be necessary to establish or promote the establishment of new media outlets that support peace and rehabilitation. In the past, the international community has followed two basic approaches to promote new outlets.

One approach is for an implementing organization to establish networks of existing media outlets. For example, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe and other donors helped to establish the Free Elections Radio Network in Bosnia before the 1996 elections to provide timely information throughout the country and encourage people to participate. International donors also supported the Open Broadcast Network, a Bosnian television network that worked to open the post-conflict broadcast space on an inter-ethnic basis and help disseminate impartial information to local and international media. [37] This approach has been duplicated in Congo, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, where the international community established its own radio stations and supported community radio stations

The second approach, which the international community most conspicuously adopted in Bosnia and later in Serbia, was to support the establishment of new media outlets by political activists, local NGOs, and social entrepreneurs who were committed to peace. The international community gave technical and financial assistance to establish newspapers, magazines, and radio stations.

It has also assisted a large number of local or community radio stations in many African post-conflict societies. Probably the largest number of such outlets was established in Sierra Leone, which was left with very limited broadcasting capacity at the end of its civil war.

Two lessons have been learned regarding international assistance to nonpartisan media. First, the need for credibility among internationally supported media outlets cannot be overemphasized. It is important that the public perceives the media as independent and not the mouthpiece of foreign powers. Second, the sustainability of nonpartisan media outlets receiving assistance is equally important. While much depends upon economic and political conditions, the business acumen of owners, and advertisement revenues, experience indicates that most media outlets find it difficult to be self-supporting and do not survive. They often become accustomed to higher salaries and overheads, and therefore are not always competitive in the market.

The international community should exercise caution in establishing or promoting the establishment of new media outlets. Unless extreme care is taken to ensure their economic viability from their inception, they will have to be sustained by foreign assistance. While a short-term focus is fully justifiable, it would be useful to address the issue of sustainability from the beginning. Such foresight will save resources and prevent unnecessary frustration among these outlets when foreign assistance dries up. It will also require that while providing grants, the international community stresses the need for low-cost operations, sound management, and the ability to raise revenue through subscriptions and advertising. It will also require a long-term commitment by the international community.

Media Monitoring

Experience indicates that the media can be divisive and undermine a tenuous peace. Monitoring should focus on both media content and structure. In a special report for the United States Institute of Peace, Mark Frohardt and Jonathan Temin identified two types of problematic content: that intended to instill fear in the minds of the people, and that intended to create a sense that conflict is inevitable.[38] They also identified a set of structural indicators such as journalists’ capacity; the degree to which journalists are isolated; the political, ethnic, religious, and regional composition of the journalist corps; and diversity of ownership of media outlets. While monitoring will differ from country to country, it is particularly important to be watchful of:

  • References to historical animosities: It is not uncommon for media outlets to make references to past grievances and injustices against religious, ethnic, or regional groups. Constantly citing past animosities undercuts reconciliation.
  • Excessive reporting on continuing discrimination: Discrimination does not end with the cessation of war. Constant and excessive references to prevailing discrimination faced by an ethnic, religious, or regional group can create the feeling that nothing is being done to solve the problem.
  • Constant criticism of peace accord terms: It is important for media monitors to watch negative references to peace accords, the role of international actors instrumental in signing peace accords, or the operations of peace-keeping forces stationed to facilitate a peaceful and orderly transition.
  • The political, religious, ethnic, or regional background of journalists: The media community should reflect the general composition of the population. Journalists who come from one background might not be able to articulate the views, perspectives, and interests of other groups.
  • Media ownership: Particular attention should be given to partisan media outlets, media enterprises owned by the government and its cronies, and those owned by minorities. Media outlets that depend on government subsidies or patrons usually cannot afford to take an independent line.
  • Journalists’ skills and practices: When reporters lack professional training and do not subscribe to norms of fairness and accuracy, the media are less likely to contribute constructively to political dialogue and understanding.

The international community has supported media monitoring interventions in Bosnia, East Timor, and Croatia.[39]

Peace Education Programs for Journalists

Journalists can help reduce tensions and promote peace without violating the norms of impartiality, objectivity, and confidentiality that the profession rightly cherishes. For example, journalists can educate people about minority, ethnic, and other vulnerable groups, which are often mobilized by political actors for violent conflicts. They also can counter-act rumors, misperceptions, and lies about the intentions, opinions, concerns, and behavior of conflicting parties. Moreover, journalists can emphasize news and events that contribute to mutual understanding among warring groups. For example, incidents in which members of an ethnic group have tried to protect or help those in opposing groups should be given as much prominence as news portraying violence by members of these groups.

By initiating peace education programs for journalists, the international community can help them to play a more active role in promoting the peace process. It should give priority to short-term training seminars, workshops, or meetings for broadcast and print journalists to cover topics such as: the nature of a particular conflict; the events that precipitated it and its underlying causes; terms of peace agreements; demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants; return and rehabilitation of refugees and internally displaced persons; human rights monitoring; and related topics. Understanding such important issues will improve the quality of news coverage and facilitate a better appreciation of the problems and challenges facing these societies.

Short-term training can also prepare journalists to cover sporadic violence that frequently occurs in the aftermath of peace accords. Often demobilized ex-combatants, disgruntled political leaders, and armed militias create violent situations (gruesome murders, bombings, or physical attacks on opponents) that can undermine fragile inter-group trust. There are also social and economic tensions as a result of the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, which can be politically explosive. Well-planned training programs can prepare journalists to cover such incidents fairly and accurately and in a way that does not worsen the situation. Such training can emphasize that journalists should not use emotional and inflammatory language or gruesome pictures, and resist the temptation to jump to conclusions when facts are incomplete and uncertain

It is important to recognize that post-conflict societies require some restraints on the media so that they are not misused to inflame dormant hatred and bitterness. This proposal is, of course, not without its critics. Many proponents of free media view such restraints with varying degrees of wariness; some find them to be anathema to the very freedoms they are promoting. But the experience of the author and many other media specialists in places as disparate as Kosovo and Cambodia is that media in post-conflict societies can do as much harm as good if left completely unfettered.

That does not mean that governments or international organizations should be given free rein to muzzle the media. In fact, as far as possible, the media should impose their own restraints. Journalists’ organizations should develop and enforce codes of conduct. Press councils, free of government involvement, can be established to look at complaints against inaccurate and misleading reporting. Trade organizations of media owners can lay down policies to discourage the use of inflammatory material. However, in many countries that have faced long intrastate conflicts, voluntary restraints may not be enough. In such cases, there is a room for what a recent report called “judicious state regulation of the media during the initial stages of state building.”[40] Such regulation should be carefully crafted in consultation with journalists, media owners, representatives of civil society, and political parties. The regulatory agency enforcing restrictions should be independent and its operations transparent. If possible, there should be sunset clauses to the state regulation so that it does not become a permanent feature of the state control over media.


In the end, it is necessary to point out that the international community has largely promoted media assistance as a component of democracy promotion. While such an emphasis is fully justified, as independent media are integral to democracy, this approach has three major limitations.

First, a narrow focus on democracy alone is not always sufficient to build a powerful constituency for independent media, as it does not always capture the imagination of national planners and political leaders who are grappling with urgent social and economic problems. Second, it ignores the critical role that independent media play in economic and social development. A free flow of news and information is essential to finding the solution of numerous problems facing the global community. Third, rapid advances in digital technology and the emergence of new media platforms have profound implications for the media.

Therefore, the time has come for the international community to articulate a larger role for the media-one that takes into account the many areas that are bolstered by free and independent media. Assistance programs should still be justified in the name of democracy, but their ability to facilitate social, economic and cultural development should also be recognized. Such recognition will not undermine democracy promotion but strengthen it.

We encourage your comments on the ideas contained within this report. If you would like to comment on Dr. Kumar’s thoughts, please return to the Table of Contents to do so.

[1] Afshin Shahi, “Iran’s Digital War,” Daily News Egypt, July 27, 2008,

[2] International Center for Journalists, Press Release, February 13, 2007,

[3] Yale Richmond, Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain(Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003).

[4] Lincoln A. Mitchell and David L. Phillips, “Enhancing Democracy Assistance,”American Foreign Policy Interests, 30, no. 3 (2008),, 156-175.

[5] Krishna Kumar, Promoting Independent Media: Strategies for Democracy Assistance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006), 35-36.

[6] Country reports on “Freedom of the Press” from Freedom House (2007) demonstrate it. For example, Albania has “66 private television stations, at least 45 private radio stations, and roughly 200 print media publications in circulation.” Colombia has now over 400 community radio stations. Ghana has more than 135 newspapers, approximately 110 FM radio stations, and 27 television stations. See

[7] Krishna Kumar, Promoting Independent Media: Strategies for Democracy Assistance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006), 22-24.

[8] David E. Kaplan, Global Investigative Journalism: Strategies for Support(Washington: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy, 2007),

[9] Ellen Hume, University Journalism Education: A Global Challenge (Washington: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy, 2007),

[10] Mohamed Gibril Sesay and Charlie Hughes, Go Beyond First Aid: Democracy Assistance and the Challenges of Institution Building in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone(The Hague: Clingendael, 2005),, 98.

[11] John-Jean Barya, Samson James Opolot, and Peter Omurangi Otim, The Limits of ‘No-Party’ Politics: The Role of International Assistance in Uganda’s Democratization Process (The Hague: Clingendael, 2004), 69.

[12] Sorpong Peou, International Assistance for Institution Building in Post-Conflict Cambodia (The Hague: Clingendael, 2004),, 74.

[13] A major USAID funded project in Central America, which was administered by Florida International University, translated American books on journalism into Spanish. The translations proved to be very popular throughout Latin America. In fact, the project earned money from the sales of the book. See Rick Rockwell and Krishna Kumar, Journalism Training and Institution Building in Central American Countries (Washington: U.S. Agency for International Development, 2003),

[14] As a participant in a workshop organized by CIMA noted: “They (centers) are quicker to respond to changes and new technologies. They do things universities can’t do, they are more nimble and more responsive.” See Center for International Media Assistance, Media Assistance: Challenges and Opportunities for the Professional Development of Journalists (Washington: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy, 2007),, 10.

[15] Krishna Kumar, USAID’s Media Assistance: Policy and Programmatic Lessons(Washington: U.S. Agency for International Development, 2004),, 8.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Center for International Media Assistance, Media Law Assistance: Establishing an Enabling Environment for Free and Independent Media to Flourish (Washington: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy,2007),, 5.

[18] Krishna Kumar and Laura Randall Cooper, Promoting Independent Media in Russia: An Assessment of USAID’s Media Assistance (Washington: U.S. Agency for International Development, 2003),

[19] Center for International Media Assistance, Media Law Assistance: Establishing an Enabling Environment for Free and Independent Media to Flourish (Washington: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy ,2007),, 11.

[20] For example, the largest portion of USAID funds for democracy promotion goes to civil society, according to the author’s experience.

[21] The author has heard this complaint from the NGO community in many countries.

[22] Search for Common Ground, for example, established the Independent Radio Network in Sierra Leone, which is helping participating stations improve their programs. For more information, see Search for Common Ground Web site,

[23] In Bosnia, the international community provided assistance to establish non-partisan media outlets to promote peace and reconciliation. Most of these outlets closed once foreign assistance dried up. See Krishna Kumar, Promoting Independent Media: Strategies for Democracy Assistance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006). Kim Mahling Clark mentions the case of a Creative Associates project on community radio stations in Haiti. Once the project was closed, a large proportion of the assisted stations did not survive. The fate of remaining ones is still unknown. See Center for International Media Assistance, Community Radio: Its Impact and Challenges to Its Development (Washington: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy, 2007),, 12.

[24] With the exception of Europe and North America, governments continue to exercise major influence over so-called autonomous boards. In fact, in many democratizing countries most of the state owned media enterprises are usually labeled as public service broadcasting, as they undertake educational and cultural programs. The nominally autonomous management boards remain vulnerable to the manipulation by public officials.

[25] Alexandra Wilde, Supporting Public Service Broadcasting: Learning from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Experience (New York: United Nations Development Programme, Bureau for Development Policy, Democratic Governance Group, 2004),, 13.

[26] Rich McClear, Suzi McClear, and Peter Graves, “I Called for Help and 100,000 People Came: Media Assistance Programs in Serbia, July 1997-June 2002, An Experience Review,” (unpublished paper, 2002).

[27] Krishna Kumar, Media Assistance: Policy and Programmatic Lessons(Washington: U.S. Agency for International Development, 2004),, 15.

[28] Institute for War & Peace Reporting, “Journalism Safety,” Reporting for Change: A Handbook for Local Journalists in Crisis Areas (London: Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 2004),, 242.

[29] Department for International Development, Working with the Media in Conflicts and Other Emergencies (London: Department for International Development, 2000),$file/DID-mediaandconflict-aug02.pdf?openelement, 20.

[30] Rich McClear, Suzi McClear, and Peter Graves, “I Called for Help and 100,000 People Came.

[31] See Search for Common Ground Web site at

[32] John Marks, “Preface,” in The Power of the Media: A Handbook for Peacebuilding, eds. Ross Howard, Francis Rolt, Hans van de Veen, and Juliette Verhoeven (Amsterdam: European Center for Conflict Prevention, 2003),, 15.

[33] Search for Common Ground has documented the impact of its programs. See

[34] Susan Manuel, “Reviving War’s First Casualty: How the UN Communicates in Post-Conflict Turmoil,” Media: Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction (Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2004),, 38.

[35] Maureen Taylor, Final Evaluation of Office of Transition Initiative’s Programs in Bosnia and Croatia (Washington: U.S. Agency for International Development, 2002),

[36] Krishna Kumar, Promoting Independent Media: Strategies for Democracy Assistance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006), 21.

[37] Ibid., 97-105.

[38] Mark Frohardt and Jonathan Temin, Use and Abuse of Media in Vulnerable Societies (Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 2003),, 6.

[39] For example, it is reported that the Media Council of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights has an independent media monitoring operation, and has alerted the society and the international community to cases of hate speech. See Aaron Rhodes, Ten Years of Media Support to the Balkans: An Assessment(Amsterdam: Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, 2007),, 35.

[40] James Putzel, Joost van der Zwan, Tim Allen, Monroe Price, and Nicole Stremlau, Why Templates for Media Development Do Not Work in Crisis States(London: Crisis States Research Centre, London School of Economics, 2005),, 2.

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