“These are exciting times for those who believe media can help transform the world,” according to a report released today.
“The global reach of digital technology has armed the public with tools hard to imagine even a decade ago,” says Empowering Independent Media: U.S. Efforts to Foster a Free Press and an Open Internet Around the World, a report from the Center for International Media Assistance.
“Journalists—both citizen and professional—now have the ability to shoot video, record audio, and send dispatches from the remotest corners of the world. Armed with smart phones, tablets, and tweets, a media-savvy citizenry has the chance as never before to enforce accountability on those who hide from public scrutiny,” the 150-page report observes:
Even before the digital revolution, the evidence was in. Research by respected scholars confirms what media development veterans have long known from their work abroad: that free and independent news media are closely tied to social and economic progress. The more media freedom, the lower are rates of corruption, the higher are incomes and investments, and the greater is political stability. A free press, in other words, is inextricably bound up with successful development, and for societies to move forward, they will need to open up their media and allow their citizens unfettered access to the Internet.
“U.S. efforts to bolster independent media and an open Internet overseas are having significant impact,” the report concludes, but they “face a lack of funding, growth in online censorship and surveillance, and rising attacks on journalists,” says CIMA, a special initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED):
For two decades, the media development community has worked to empower a free press around the world, in the belief that independent media will foster democracy and development. Those in the field are now moving rapidly to embrace these latest digital tools, combining them with the best practices of professional journalism—watchdog reporting that is fair and accurate, backed by high ethical standards and smart business practices. As we move forward, the impact could be nothing short of extraordinary.
The 150-page report, Empowering Independent Media: U.S. Efforts to Foster a Free Press and an Open Internet Around the World, provides a comprehensive survey of American initiatives by private and public donors, nonprofit organizations, universities, and others that focus on media as a means to encourage economic development and democratization. The report’s findings will be presented and discussed at a May 1 event at NED, which will be webcast live here.
Among the report’s findings:
- Transformative Digital Media. With 90 percent of the world now with access to cellphones and 30 percent with access to the Internet, a multitude of digital tools are transforming the ability of citizen and professional journalists to promote accountability. “The global reach of digital technology has armed the public with tools hard to imagine even a decade ago,” said CIMA Senior Director Marguerite Sullivan. “Not only are there tweets, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos, but citizen journalists armed with smart phones, mapping software, anti-censoring technology, and more.”
- A Digital Arms Race. Authoritarian governments are fighting back with increased Internet surveillance, censorship, and attacks on those who publish online. “The counterattack by heavy-handed governments has led to a kind of digital arms race between repressive regimes and advocates of democracy and a free Internet,” the report found. Governments in more than 40 countries now censor the Internet, affecting a half-billion users. In response, the U.S. Department of State and USAID spent about $76 million on Internet freedom initiatives from 2008 through 2011.
- Media Assistance Makes an Impact. Studies by scholars have found that a robust, independent media has a positive impact on reducing corruption and inequality, while helping to promote government accountability and political stability. Among U.S. media assistance success stories are programs on professional training, citizen journalism, and community radio.
- Media Assistance Just 0.4% of U.S. Foreign Aid. Despite its impact, U.S. government spending on media assistance comprised just 0.4 percent of the nation’s foreign assistance in 2010. And this is after a 56 percent jump in media aid funding–from public and private sources–between 2006 and 2010, fueled largely by USAID and State Department programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spending by U.S. agencies and federally funded nonprofits accounted for $156 million in 2010, nearly two-thirds of all U.S. funding that year.
- Journalists Increasingly Under Attack. Murders of journalists, after staying fairly constant during the 1990s, jumped by more than 30 percent over the past decade, the report found. And far more numerous than the killings were beatings, kidnappings, and threats against the press. There is also a rising trend of imprisoned journalists, from 81 in 2000 to 179 in 2011. The worsening conditions come amid a global decline in press freedom, after two decades of progress. According to Freedom House, only 15 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that enjoy a free press.
- Investigative Journalism Success. The export of investigative journalism techniques has been a success story, with the practice spreading worldwide and playing a frontline role in fostering accountability, battling corruption, and raising media standards. Behind the growth is the global spread of nonprofit investigative journalism organizations, which now number more than 110 in 40 countries.
- Journalism Education Goes Global. Worldwide, scholars have identified more than 2,300 journalism education programs, with rapid growth in places such as China and India. But those trying to build modern programs face tough challenges: an overabundance of applicants combined with a lack of funding, practical training, quality faculty, electrical power, affordable textbooks, and up-to-date curricula.
- Community Radio Gives Voice to Millions. Among the promising developments is the global spread of low-budget, locally-run community radio stations, which now number in the tens of thousands across the developing world. In poorer regions of the world, radio is still the mass medium of choice, and community stations have proven adept at informing and empowering local populations on education, public health, and economic development.
- Freedom of Information Laws Spread Worldwide. Freedom of information statutes–sometimes called right to information laws–have grown rapidly over the last decade. Worldwide, 93 countries now have specific freedom of information laws, the vast majority of them passed in the last decade. Unfortunately, many of the recently enacted laws have been poorly implemented.
Drawing on original research as well as CIMA’s past reports, Empowering Independent Media examines seven core areas of media development—funding, digital media, sustainability, media law, safety, education, and monitoring and evaluation. The report also delves in depth into four areas deserving of greater attention: citizen journalism, investigative journalism, community radio, and media literacy.
In addition, Empowering Independent Media includes briefs on such topics as raising professional standards, bribery among journalists, covering corruption, transparency in government communications, the Pentagon’s information operations, China’s global media initiative, and growing concern over Latin America press freedom.
The report makes a dozen recommendations to strengthen independent media around the world. Among them are calls to expand funding; increase coordination; build citizen journalist capacity; embed digital media and project evaluation into all programs; and put greater emphasis on business skills, legal issues, community radio, and investigative journalism. It will be available on CIMA’s website on May 1.
The Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy, works to strengthen the support, raise the visibility, and improve the effectiveness of independent media development throughout the world. The Center provides information, builds networks, conducts research, and highlights the indispensable role independent media play in the creation and development of sustainable democracies.
On May 1 at 4 p.m., the National Endowment for Democracy holds a panel discussion on “Empowering Independent Media: U.S. Efforts to Foster a Free Press and an Open Internet Around the World.”
Speakers include Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas Melia; U.S. Agency for International Development Director of the Office of Democracy and Governance David Yang; Barbara Haig, deputy to the president of NED for policy and strategy; Marius Dragomir, senior manager at Open Society Foundations; David Sasaki, Omidyar Network; and David Kaplan, editor of “Empowering Independent Media”
Venue: NED, 1025 F Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C.