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A new look at the media in fragile states: a core element of the future development agenda?


By dxw

Our upcoming conference follows recent important developments at the UN, and will provide a forum for detailed discussions on issues relating to the role of media and communications in fragile states taken up there and elsewhere.

Media and fragile states

Wednesday 9 – Friday 11 October 2013 (WP1278)

A week ago, discussions closed at the 68th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), for which John Ashe, the General Assembly President, had chosen the theme for general debate: The post 2015 development agenda: setting the stage!

Calls during the General Debate to address ‘the struggle against injustices, and greater dissemination of knowledge’ and ‘glaring disparities in the access to information and knowledge among the peoples that inhabit our planet’ highlight international concern about the state of the world’s media, and peoples’ access to information globally, as well as the necessity to set a new agenda after the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.

President Ashe subsequently indicated he will convene three high level meetings and three thematic debates on issues raised during the UNGA General Debate. None of them refer to the media directly, but they include issues in which the media and communications play a major role such as ‘contributions of women, the young and civil society;’ ‘Human rights and the rule of law;’ and ‘ICT for development.’ These events are geared towards providing ‘results oriented outcomes’ on the chosen themes.

The future of the MDGs also provided the backdrop for the publication of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons report on the post 2015 development agenda. Published in May 2013, and entitled A New Global Partnership,  the report proposes twelve indicative goals, and recognises five elements as vital for their accomplishment, among them, ‘to guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data’ and ‘to ensure people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information.’

The role of the media in fragile and conflict-affected states has not been a priority in development aid policy so far. BBC Media Action, a co-sponsor of our conference, recently published a report on Fragile states: the role of media and communication arguing that freedom of the press and freedom of expression have ‘often been sacrificed in the interests of state stability,’ and asserting that ‘such sacrifices do more harm than good.’

The report also says that control of the media and of open communications is becoming harder and harder for governments in the networked modern world, and yet ‘support to free and professional media needs is poorly integrated and reflected in most development assistance strategies to fragile states.’

Since the turn of the Millennium, there has been huge growth in access to information, and a boom in the number of organisations and individuals diffusing and gathering media. This has effectively fragmented and expanded the traditional media environment and given citizens much greater direct involvement in the method and habits of their own media consumption. New communications technologies are providing far greater and easier access to information.

However, these new technologies have also for example increased the vulnerability and exposure of individual citizen to ‘factional interests,’ which now possess much greater ‘capacity…to coopt and manipulate the media and communication…in many fragile states.’ Such cooptation and manipulation of the media can lead to greater political polarisation and conflict rather than to the shared identity and sustainable political settlements that a free media would ideally help shape.

Yet, a recent brief by DfID this summer has also suggested that there is extremely limited evidence to support the view that ‘media promotes or prevents conflict’, and that interventions using the media and technology to help bring about political change in fragile states should ‘be viewed as innovative rather than tried and tested.’

  • So why should media and communications be a higher priority for policymakers engaged in fragile state issues as the expiration of the MDGs draws nearer?
  • Have certain strategies worked in support of the media in fragile and conflict affected environments, while others have been unsuccessful and hence damaging?
  • How effective is the media as a driver of accountability and peace building?
  • And how can international donors better integrate support to the media within development assistance strategies to fragile states?

This conference intends to address these questions and more.


Further information

Conference on Media and fragile states