Below is a draft concept note on the above I prepared from DGG Directorate this week.
DGG and Media Development
UNDP’s support to media development has been scant to say the least. UNESCO and other UN agencies have usually taken the lead here for many years now.
While Access to Information (A2I) become a dedicated service line of UNDP in 2004, the work in this area, led and fully undertaken by OGC, centered on issues related to right to information policies and programmes. It was only in 2006 when a new DGG director who had previously done plenty of work on media and freedom of information got a professional journalist to be seconded from OA to DGG to work in this area for the first (and so far last) time. The secondment only lasted 2 years after which the work completed by the staff was left unfinished and did not receive any additional support from DGG, BDP or UNDP.
In parallel and independent fashion, OGC started to engage with the Communications for Development (C4D) initiative in 2007. This was in effect a continuation of sort of the previous work that It had completed on A2I. The difference here was that C4D was a global initiative that had much less impact on UNDP programme countries relatively to the work done on A2I. Being that as it may, OGC stopped supporting C4D in 2010. And once again, UNDP did not continue to support it in any way or fashion.
So our record for supporting media development is not only scant but also not very strong or consistent,.
The so-called Arab Spring and subsequent events in many other countries, including developed nations, have brought back to the forefront the importance of media in governance and democratization processes. Although undue emphasis has been placed on the use of private social networks, the vast majority of people participating in these new social movements do not have access to such networks as less than 1 billion people in the globe actually has used them at least once.
Most however have access to a basic mobile device that allows them to network with many others at relatively low cost. Latest data indicates at there are 6 billion mobile subscribers around the globe -and 75% of them are in developing countries. However, mobile devices are not seen as media (nor social media for that matter) in the traditional sense.
In a nutshell, media development efforts has been heavily focused on the (traditional) media sector. And within the sector on independent media and journalism/journalists. The media sector however has undergone immense transformations in the last 30 years or so. This change has bee characterized first f all by a notable increase in the concentration of media outlets thus reducing the number of competitive offerings, specially at the local level. Latest data indicate that 6 companies or conglomerates control close to 80% of the world’s media outlets. Secondly, traditional media outlets have now become large private conglomerates traded in stock markets and functioning as any other private company in the world. So say CNN is pretty much just like Microsoft and have shareholders who are seeking to maximize income. In the meanwhile, small media and truly independent outlets have a hard time competing with the large conglomerates and depend on donations from stakeholders and others to survive.
Being that as it may, the Internet and now social networks and mobiles technologies have started to change this -to a point. The “democratization” of the access to the new means of communication has open the door for any citizen, stakeholder, network, etc. to use an independent media channel to reach millions if not billions in real time and from almost any location. This in itself presents serious challenges to the traditional media sector since it might affect its profitability. The sector thus needs to transform itself to survive this challenge. It is also important to note that companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are not media companies in the traditional sense.
UNDP’s work on media should thus depart from the current juncture and ongoing changes not only in the sector but throughout the global communications arena. UNDP should also bring together the work it has done on A2I, C4D and e-governance.
With this in hand, UNDP should the focus on:
- The political economy of communication, PEC (and not just media). This used to be a rather important field of research which originated in the North American academic sector after WWII. And the focus was on public access and fostering social movements to support the former. By the early 1990s, such field had almost disappeared from the media and communication discussions. The Internet, social media and the ensuing communications “revolution” is providing fertile ground to PEC to make a big comeback. With OGC supporting political economy approaches to development, DGG can perhaps piggyback on this to include communications on these analysis
- New media or new communication channels that are now opening new ways and forms for stakeholders to have their voices heard, be part of decision-making processes other than elections, and foster the creation of truly independent and community owned communication channels. Bear in mind that the new ICTs are not only co-existing with traditional media channels (radio, TV, etc.) but also reviving them, so to speak, by providing new dissemination channels (multi-media, Internet and satellite radio, podcasts, etc.). And this can be linked to new social movements, participation, social accountability, etc.
- The role of the new communication channels in the “public” sphere or in creating/enhancing “democratic space” (RBAP). With some exceptions, the new communications channels are in private hands. This is particularly true when it comes to social networks and mobile technologies. However, since most of these companies are not part of the traditional media sector they have little interest in the content that is transmitted by its networks. It is just a numbers game: the more users the higher my revenue. In any event, most people now use these networks as part of the new “public sphere”. This can have serious governance implications, specially for developing countries who do not own any of these networks
To start supporting this work, DGG should create a multi-cluster working group (MCWG) which also include OGC. The task force should facilitated by DGG Directorate. The MCWG should piggyback inasmuch as possible on ongoing work the various service lines are undertaking. ToRS for MCWG should be drafted. And the above suggestions should be distilled and/or refined by the MTWG.
In the end, DGG should be able to promote some of this work in programme countries. Demand for this kind of work in on the increase. So we have a great opportunity here to make a difference where it matters: in the field.