GFMD at the European Parliament for a dialogue on media, development and the post 2015 agenda18.02.14
On 17 February, together with two Members of Parliament, speakers from African Media Initiative, BBC Media Action, UNHCR, Global Forum for Media Development and DW Akademie discussed how human development is also linked to freedom of expression - and how to integrate media development into the new global development agenda #post2015 .
Watch the discussion here:
Summary of the event
What role does freedom of expression and independent media play in international development? How can independent media contribute to good governance objectives in the post-2015 development agenda?
This discussion, hosted by MEPs Michèle Striffler, Thijs Berman and Norbert Neuser, was the first time that the role of media was specifically discussed at the European Parliament in the context of development.
The event was jointly organized by the Global Forum for Media Development and Deutsche Welle Akademie.
Michèle Striffler opened the discussion by highlighting the role of media in ensuring accountability and good governance, and reminding participants of Article 11 of the EU Charter, which enshrines respect for media freedom and pluralism. ‘In its external relations, the EU must ensure that the principles, rights, and freedoms that it upholds on its territory must be fully taken into account by its partners…. It is important to ensure the integration of freedom of expression and communication in the funding strategies and policies of development programs.’
Patrick Leusch of Deutsche Welle Akademie emphasized the uncertain future of the media in a world of shifting power relations between north and south, the digital revolution, the changing role and mandate of media, new business models and the rapidly changing relationship with media consumers.
For those involved in media support and development, Leusch said ‘we have learned that it does not automatically follow that good journalism leads to democracy. But what is true is that usually there is no democracy and economic development without a degree of freedom of expression and a sound media sector. Look at the Human Development Indicators and the degree of freedom of expression, there is a link.’
In total the EU spent about €14m per annum over 10 years 2000-2010, on international media development, a total of €148.8m. More than half was spent in neighbouring countries (around 40 per cent), with 23 per cent going to sub Saharan Africa.
Leusch emphasized the lack of focus, not only by the EU but other international institutions, on the role of media in development. Media support funding by the EU was spread over 12 different areas, with no coherence or focus.
According to Leusch the UNDP has no one who looks at media in the development context at all. UNESCO has a set of indicators on media development that cover regulatory environment, policy, business models, journalism education and the self-organisation of the sector.
Leusch concluded by urging the EU to use its comparative advantage over national governments and institutions to boost understanding of media support, take a lead in providing a platform for coherent discourse and coordinate donor funding.
James Deane of BBC Media Action drew attention to the report of the UN High Level Panel on new post 2015 development agenda, saying that the HLP has acknowledged the profound impact of media and information in how development is achieved. ‘Development is increasingly being driven by information-liberated people’, he said.
Deane also emphasized that the media sector is in trouble. There are more and more attacks on journalists, media is coopted, not just by governments, but by religious, political and other vested interests. He warned that this media increasingly exists to serve the factional agenda of those who are paying for it, or who are behind it.
Deane drew special attention to Afghanistan, where it can be argued that the media sector is a huge success, but is also heavily dependent on external support. As the international community withdraws, local advertising will not be able to support it, media is likely to be consolidated and fall into the hands of those who can pay for it, such as warlords, including some backed by other countries including Iran – which is possibly the second largest media donor to Afghanistan after the US.
‘There is no strategy for dealing with the future of the media (in Afghanistan). How are people going to be able to discuss, debate and argue the way forward? What will be their platform? What does it say about the international system that there has been so much investment, yet no coherence to ensure sustainability?’
Deane, like Leusch, also pointed out that no UN agency apart from UNESCO has the power to support media, but that it has no resources to do so. ‘The EU is a notable exception.’
‘This sector is increasingly effective and evidence-based,’ he said. ‘This is a sector that is achieving real democratic governance and development results, but media is lost in the international development architecture. It is hard to see how the good governance goal and especially the recognition of the role of media will survive – there is very little leadership and few champions. A far greater sense of urgency is required. ‘
Amadou Mahtar Ba, CEO of the African Media Initiative and founder of AllAfrica.com quoted two eminent leaders, Thomas Jefferson and Nelson Mandela, on the role of media in relation to governments.
Jefferson, in the 1780s, wrote: ‘…..were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’
200 years later, just before South Africa’s historic 1994 elections, Nelson Mandela told an audience of journalists that nothing could replace independent media: ‘that it is as important as the existence of democratic government.’
Ba pointed to a rapidly changing media landscape in Africa thanks to the spread of mobile technology, which means that societies that, in the past, had only one voice, that of government, are becoming ‘pluri-vocal’. The young population of the continent (75per cent of Kenyans are under 25) is also a major factor in the changing use and role of media.
He highlighted the difference between government laws and actions. In many African countries the constitutions are almost perfect renditions of Article 19 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights (on freedom of expression), but there is a fundamental gap between what is in the law, and what is done in practice.
‘The majority of problems in the African continent are issues of governance, he said. ‘A solution would be to give more power and freedom to media, to make governments more accountable. However, unfortunately many of the so-called independent media are controlled by vested interests.
Ba proposed a series of steps to address this issue, the first being for the media to reconcile with themselves. The African Media Initiative has devised ethics and leadership programs for media owners so that they recognize the role they have in promoting a just, democratic society and human development.
‘We also have to reconcile media with citizens they are meant to serve, said Ba. ‘And we need to reconcile the media and government members, but it is hard to find bridges for genuine dialogue. They distrust each other, and sometimes there is government repression, despite what is enshrined in constitutions.’
He said partners in development, like the EU can ‘help a little bit’.
Ba provided a number of examples where independent media has helped to address development challenges.
In Zambia, media reports about the negative environmental and health effects of water pumping and pollution in farmland around copper mines prompted an investigation directed by the President. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture investigated further and confirmed that the mines were consuming excessive water in farming areas, with children’s health seriously affected. A buffer zone was created around the copper mines, bore holes dug and a fund of $100,000 created to build schools and address health issues. ‘This is a clear example of media helping to change policy and achieve something positive for human development.’
In Kenya, a reporter from the Nation group used government data on girls’ drop out rates from school to draw a link with sanitation. Among girls aged 8 to 13, drop out rates were highest in areas where schools had poor or non-existent sanitation. Sanitation is now high on the agenda of the Ministry of Education, and budgeted for all primary schools.
And in Malawi and Ghana, AMI created an anti-corruption campaign called (in pidgin) ‘where my money dere?’, which showed media houses the resources that should have been made available to communities from extractive industries. Funds paid to local chiefs, for example, were not reaching the community. The AMI project enabled media to follow exactly where money was invested, creating a new paradigm and relationship between citizens and their leaders.
Troy Etulain, UNHCR adviser on ICTs and internet governance highlighted the importance of technology and media to refugees, who often experience protracted periods of displacement. ICTs give them a voice and increase opportunities for work and self-reliance, he said, telling the story of Ke, a Congolese refugee in Uganda whose expertise in repairing TVs and radios enabled him to build a functioning FM radio station from spare parts and metal plates. ‘It shows that people hunger for news,’ said Troy. UNHCR is also enabling refugees to use technology to do remote work like data entry, which allows them to be employed no matter where they are.
With more than half of refugees living in urban areas, mobile technology also enables UNHCR to collect and distribute info and improve services. ‘They all require a healthy flow of information and we should support free and open media and the internet so that the world’s displaced also have their place in international processes. It’s often the only way they have to participate and they often have weakest hand in bargaining positions.’
Etulain also supported previous comments on Afghanistan: ‘In general we poured money in as though it would solve the problem – it’s a lesson in having a longer view in having an eye on the sustainability of the media’.
Moderator Leon Willems, Chair of GFMD invited Thijs Berman, MEP, a former journalist and rapporteur on the European Parliament’s Development Committee to open the discussion. Berman described ‘far more potential under new EU law to support media than in the past and stated that the EU does need to speak with one voice on this issue.’
Christina Dahlman, EU adviser on media development and freedom of expression, said it was hard to translate EU policy statements into programs on the ground and hands on issues of accountability at country level.
James Deane acknowleged that this is a ‘big messy political issue’ that can get quite contentious.
‘We need to integrate it (media support) into other development strategies. We also need to realize that there are few political rewards for an open media – what can we do from the EU and elsewhere for governments that are supporting independent media?’
Amadou Ba remarked that all those who are now in state houses have in the past been the biggest friends of media – but once they get in, it changes completely.
Leusch pointed out that media profit from freedom – but access to information is a political concept. You can’t do it only from a bottom up approach. That is something that needs to be done on a political level. He suggested that the European External Action Service may be better placed to make that point.
Charlotte Gill from Article 19 asked about EU processes and how civil society could be more involved in shaping the EU’s post 2015 position.
Thijs Berman reiterated the potential in new EU legislation which should usually be mirrored in national approaches. He added that he would like to see EU as much more direct defender of human rights, rule of law – as it was not in the shaping of the current MDGs.
Christina Dahlman, said the EU needs to be much sharper about how media supports development and do more than just training professionals to create good content. ‘We will not be able to address issues unless we dare to step into that space.’
Miodrag Mijosavljevic of Open Society Foundations in Serbia pointed out that EU accession countries have been measuring good governance indicators including media freedom so the EU can have strong role in advocating for these goals.
Leusch called for a structured dialogue with the Commission on policy and implementation as exists in other development sectors – we don’t have that.
Deane urged the EU to give the debate a ‘kick up the backside’ warning that this issue will be lost in the post-2015 agenda without someone making this a key issue.
In conclusion, Thijs Berman made the following summary points:
- Media support is essential in public terms, also within the post-MDG framework. Open democracies allow people to both consume and produce information; this creates wealth and self-realization.
- A critical eye must be kept on the EU. A law is one thing – the reality needs to be checked.
- Social media ensures that information flows and provides essential connections for all of us, but comes with the risk that we only hear the views of the like-minded.
- EU plays a key role through its Transparency Directive. The EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive is also relevant here, requiring bigger companies to report on human rights, environment etc. – information that journalists can use.
- Internet networks are global public goods. This needs infrastructure, which can and is being provided by the private sector, but it also needs more, including a legal framework, allowing open space, with freedom from fear as the main characteristic.
- Finally freedom of media is important, but with which incentives for governments? This is not so easy. The long-term benefits are of course stability and self-realization of citizens but the short-term costs for governments can be very high, especially in developing countries.
- If the EU itself compromises on freedoms within its own borders, with what legitimacy can we ever pressure governments outside the EU?