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Promoting Independent Media: Strategies for Democracy Assistance Krishna Kumar Copyright © 2006ISBN: 1-58826-429-7 hci1800 30th Street, Ste. 314Boulder, CO 80301 USA. This excerpt was downloaded from the Lynne Rienner Publishers website www.rienner.com
A popular government without popular information or means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge for ever will govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. —James Madison. This book examines a relatively new phenomenon in international development: assistance designed to promote robust, independent media in developing and transitional societies. Such assistance is based on an underlying assumption that independent media con-tributes to the building of democracy and economic development. In the past, development efforts viewed the media as a tool for achieving specific independent media promotion goals in agriculture, health, business, or education. Now media assistance projects focus on the structure and journalistic practice of the media itself. Such assistance seeks to lay the foundation for the emergence and consolidation of a media sector free of state editorial or financial control, relying on advertising and sales for its survival and growth. Media development efforts strive to achieve the ideal of a “Fourth Estate,” in which the press serves as accomplishment and balance to the three branches of power—legislative,executive, and judicial. The Fourth Estate, by virtue of its financial and editorial independence, is supposed to hold state authorities accountable by documenting the government’s actions and nurture democracy by encouraging an open but respectful exchange of ideas and opinions.11International Media Assistance.
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The international community began providing media assistance starting in the late 1980s. Although precise data are unavailable, multi-lateral and bilateral donor agencies, private foundations, and inter-national civil society organizations have since spent between $600million and $1 billion on media projects.1Most of the assistance has gone to the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia. However, Central America and Southern Africa have also received a modest share.There is now a perceptible shift of focus from the former communist bloc in Eastern and Southeastern Europe to other regions in Asia,Africa, and the Middle East that offer fresh challenges. The substantive focus of media assistance programs has varied depending on the targeted country, the timing, and the donor. The majority of international independent media promotion projects in the past focused on short-term and long-term training of journalists to improve professional standards and editorial content. Such training projects included consultant visits and publications of books on journalism. Donor governments have provided programmatic support to local independent media promotion outlets to improve the quality of their news coverage and to increase audience share. Based on the assumption that commercial success is a necessary ingredient in forging independence from government or other vested interests, training initiatives have also imparted management and business skills to independent media promotion managers. Other programs have supported organizations, educational institutions, and media associations that promote media freedom and lobby for appropriate legislation and journalists’ rights. In addition,donors have given direct financial and technical assistance to struggling media outlets in sensitive political conditions. Finally, European donors have tried to assist state-owned media enterprises in trans-forming them into genuine public service broadcasters in the tradition of European broadcasters.Media Assistance and Public Diplomacy Media development assistance is often confused with public diplomacy independent media promotion programs. Such confusion, though understandable, can be misleading. There is an important difference in their overall objectives as well as the strategies employed to achieve them.Public diplomacy seeks to promote a country’s foreign policy interests by informing and influencing the foreign audience. It is an instrument used to generate positive attitudes abroad toward a government’s
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Promoting Independent Media policies, programs, and social and political institutions.
It complements traditional diplomacy because its primary focus is on non-governmental actors. However, the objective of independent media promotion assistance is to develop and strengthen the indigenous capacity for a free and unfettered flow of news and information, bolstering democratic institutions and culture.These different objectives usually require different strategies. Independent media promotion development involves strengthening local journalism and management skills, reforming the legal and regulatory regimes, helping and nourishing civil society organizations that promote a free press, and building an institutional environment that is conducive to the free flow of information and ideas. Public diplomacy independent media promotion strategies, in comparison, entail broadcasting in foreign languages, providing favorable news stories to foreign media, advertising in newspapers and electronic independent media promotion, and organizing exchange visits by foreign journalists and media managers. This approach seeks to use the modern independent media promotion, with its vast audience and influence, to achieve specific foreign policy objectives.Two recent examples of public-policy initiatives may illuminate this difference. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks against the United States in September 2001, the US State Department funded advertisements in Middle Eastern media portraying the religious freedom enjoyed by Muslim citizens in this country. The purpose of these advertisements was to dispel popular misunderstandings about the American way of life and to emphasize the multi-ethnic composition of US society. In another case, Voice of America recently launched a program in the Farsi language that provides news and music to an Iranian audience. Its purpose is to promote the cause of democracy among Iranians. By all accounts, the program has a popular following in Iran. Although these two examples represent an effective use of independent media promotion to further public diplomacy, and could possibly pave the way for the eventual emergence of free independent media promotion outlets in the region, these efforts cannot be construed as independent media promotions develops. When media assistance is primarily used as a tool of public diplomacy, it can sometimes be self-defeating. Blurring the distinction between the two endeavors creates false expectations in donor countries and genuine apprehensions in recipient nations. US policy-makers, for example, would expect and demand that media projects promote a better understanding of our policies abroad, and evaluate the success and failure of such projects accordingly. They would also expect the independent media promotion outlets benefiting from assistance to behave like a International independent media promotion Assistance friend and not a critic and would be naturally disappointed when this did not happen.
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In recipient countries, merging media assistance with public diplomacy plays into skeptical attitudes about donor intentions. Government officials, political leaders, opinion makers, and likely to resist, if not reject, independent media promotion assistance because they might view it as a foreign effort to buy influence and manipulate their media sector. Given media assistance’s roots in public diplomacy—such as broadcasts from Radio Free Europe and Voice of America to Eastern Europe and Eurasia—genuine apprehensions about US (or other foreign states’) intentions exist in many parts of the world.Such apprehensions were epitomized by a remark made by President Vladimir Putin, who while discussing media issues with Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) indicated that the purpose of media assistance was to further the interests of Western powers. To prevent such misconceptions that may undermine the success of media assistance, it is crucial to treat independent media promotions development as distinct from public diplomacy.Though they are separate tasks, media development and public diplomacy programs can still complement and reinforce one other.Often programs to develop indigenous media help public diplomacy efforts, and many public diplomacy interventions serve to promote independent media. The growth of independent media promotion outlets can create space for public diplomacy.The Serbian case study in this book provides an excellent example. Independent media promotion outlets nurtured by the international community enabled Western states to communicate their message directly to the Serbian public. Moreover,there are plenty of examples of public diplomacy contributing to thee volition of independent media. The former United States Information Service (which is now merged with the State Department) used to provide travel grants to journalists in developing countries to visit the United States. Such programs not only improved journalists understanding and appreciation of US democratic institutions although they exposed them to the norms and workings of a free press. On their return, many of these journalists worked to promote greater freedom in their own societies.
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