by Ginnie Seger
Freedom of the press has always been the backbone of democracy, and historically serves the fourth estate — a citizen’s tool against tyranny. Globally, media have developed to serve a similar role, from the corruption reporting through cell phone technology in Kenya, to the explosion of social media in the Arab Spring. The discussion around aid and development often revolves around issues of health, economics, and education but some are wondering if media aid should be priority, and what will it take to get funders on board?
A recent event held by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) titled “Can Media Development Make Aid More Effective?” addressed emerging topics in media for development.* Research from organizations such as Internews, report that countries with a free press are less dependent on aid, create a more vibrant business environments, and strengthen democracy. Despite this, funders often overlook media development for fear that projects will appear too political.
Speaker Daniel Kaufmann, from the Brookings Institution explained: “It is a sobering picture. There has been a decline in aid from key donors and insufficient selectivity on projects to fund.”
So what can bridge the gap for media development? One avenue can be relevant research on global media systems. The non-profit Internews which works to empower local media worldwide recently collaborated with the World Bank Institute to create the Media Map Project. According to Internews the map “ has made 25 data sets which collectively touch on every country in the world and up to 30 years’ worth of information available to the public for download and analysis.”
The map allows for substantive analysis on trends regarding the media and development benchmarks. In addition, the map covers a multitude of topics surrounding the media such as cash for news coverage, and a bribe payers index. This rich data-set allows for great interactivity, and is available for download for free.
Tara Susman-Peña, the director of research for the Media Map Project believes that the information will be relevant for researchers and donors as well. “The map is a framework to keep in mind when thinking of how media development can make aid more effective,” Susman-Peña said.
Media have indispensible roles in evolving democracies. They have the potential power to educate, inform, and even revolutionize political structures. The relationship between development work and media aid should mature to reflect the important roles media play. Programs such as the Media Map Project will provide an avenue for critical analysis of the clear connection between the fourth estate and international development.
*The event “Can Media Development Make Aid More Effective?” was co-sponsored by Internews.
(The photo of Freshta Shikhany is by Internews via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see video of the session on development and media co-sponsored by CIMA and Internews, please check below.)