On the Media

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ON THE MEDIA: Strong, independent media critical for good governance

devex.com, 03 February 2016, by Jeanne Bourgault, Kristin Lord3 min read, original

A presenter reads the news at Radio Shabelle in Somalia. How does healthy media contribute to better, more responsive, and more effective development outcomes? Photo by: Tobin Jones / AU-UN IST

Do not envy U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Gayle Smith, who recently took the helm of one of the world’s largest development organizations. Violent extremism is on the rise. The largest number of refugees since World War II are fleeing intractable wars in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and elsewhere. Humanitarian crises caused by droughts and natural disasters are likely to persist. Widespread corruption continues, undermining the legitimacy of governments. Over a billion people still live in extreme poverty.

Emergencies like these, coupled with tight budgets, make it tempting to cut into investments that do not relieve immediate human suffering. Yet, as Smith surely recognizes, USAID must also invest in core institutional development if we want to move from transactional to transformational development assistance. USAID must invest in the conditions that enable sustainable, accountable and locally led development.

We argue that strengthening independent media and access to trustworthy information is one of the most important conditions for enabling all other development activities to succeed. Healthy media contributes to good governance and better, more responsive, and more effective development outcomes. USAID should refocus its efforts on strengthening media after years of dwindling funding.

In our experience working in some of the most challenging environments in the world — from closed societies to conflict zones to humanitarian crises — people need trusted information to understand the world around them, engage in conversations with their communities and their leaders, make decisions, and act to improve their lives. Strong independent media is critical to effective, responsive and transparent governance. It disseminates important information and represents people’s opinions and needs to decision-makers. It is also the foundation for strong markets and economic growth.

“Trusted, local information forms the cornerstone of civic discussion; it promotes transparent and accountable institutions; it informs choices during crisis, and it empowers societies to find inclusive, sustainable solutions to their own development challenges.”

— Internews President Jeanne Bourgault and IREX CEO Kristin Lord

Allow us to share just two examples of how support for media can make a difference:

In the context of the refugee crisis in Europe, information offers one of the most basic forms of aid. The lack of current, local information puts these vulnerable populations even more at risk from kidnappers, traffickers and smugglers. Misinformation puts them in the wrong place at the wrong time and they get involved in riots or stampedes.

While much has been made of the use of smartphones by the current wave of refugees, these high tech tools are useless without good, local information that answers specific questions using language people can understand such as: how do I get to the registration center? Where can I find medical support? To help solve this issue, Internews has pioneered a solution called News That Moves, a multilanguage content service drawing from stringers along the route and pushed out to the affected populations both online (apps and portals) and offline (leaflets and flyers).

In Ukraine, divisive information from dubious sources has exacerbated ethnic tensions, contributed to conflict in the eastern part of the country, and challenged the government’s reform agenda. To address this challenge, IREX provides hands-on training in critical thinking and media analysis skills for media institutions, media leaders, communities, and citizens so that they can recognize fact-based reporting when presented with contradictory information from both Ukrainian and Russian-language media.

The ultimate goal of this type of work is to build information-savvy societies that both produce reliable information and discern the trustworthiness of the information they encounter. We have found that once citizens are equipped with skills to identify biased reporting, unreliable sources, and hate speech, their appetite for truthful reporting — and their ability to find it — increases. Citizens learn to avoid manipulation, and they can more effectively pressure their government to act responsibly.

Administrator Smith will have a powerful impact on the lives of many people around the world during her tenure. To amplify that impact, we recommend increasing support for the professionalization of journalism (including investigative reporting and data journalism), media business management, multimedia production and internet freedom. Support for media literacy is needed to ensure that citizens seek out and produce trusted information.

Community media (from radio to locally created news apps), last mile infrastructure to ensure that communities have the means to access information, and well-implemented laws that protect and ensure people’s right to information are all critical. USAID should also increase support to information aid during moments of crisis, to ensure that other forms of humanitarian aid do not go to waste. A commitment to strengthening independent media and good local information, even in the most challenging of conditions, will empower citizens to drive their own development in the long term.

USAID has long been a leader in building the capacity for communities to produce independent media and locally trusted information and we urge Smith and other development leaders to build on this foundation. Our organizations’ experience over the past three decades — much of it in partnership with USAID — provides ample evidence that strengthening the production and exchange of local information is critical for addressing key development challenges at their foundations.

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

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ON THE MEDIA: Sundance rundown: This year’s standout documentaries

Child gangs in Afghanistan, prostitutes in Mexico and two moviemakers kidnapped by Kim Jong Il are festival highlights

Land of Enlightenment, Pieter-Jan De Pue
The armed group of children in “Land of the Enlightened,” who roam the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan.
Pieter-Jan De Pue

The Kochi tribe of northeastern Afghanistan inhabits some of the most rugged terrain in the world. The rocky hills of this region are gorgeous, but they’re barely arable, and the grassy plains below aren’t much better. Nearby, caverns that for 7,000 years have been mined for semiprecious lapis lazuli now contain something else: Soviet land mines. These explosives, dormant relics of the occupation, are carefully removed from the terrain above by child bandits and bartered to equally young miners for use in unearthing the gemstones. These gangs of armed Afghan preteen marauders, who often go on to steal those stones in dangerous ambushes, are at the center of “The Land of Enlightened,” one of the most stirring documentaries to screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which runs through Sunday.

Sundance’s world documentary competition, in which “The Land of Enlightened” is entered, routinely launches the most talked-about nonfiction films every year from around the globe. Spanning subjects from hair metal bands in Japan to competitive tickling in Australia and political repression in Iran to settler expansionism in the West Bank, the selection provides a cross-section of films, most of which are dedicated to unusual or underreported stories in some of the world’s most troubled regions.

Among them is “The Lovers and the Despot,” which tells the bizarre story of the kidnapping by the North Korean government of South Korean movie star Choi Eun-hee and her husband, director Shin Sang-ok. They were abducted by Kim Jong Il’s agents in the late 1970s and forced into cinematic slavery of sorts by Kim, a noted cinephile, who charged them with improving North Korean cinema. They did so by making expensive propaganda films, which often had a nuance, style and attention to character previously not allowed in North Korean films. On one of many secret recordings made by Choi, Kim is heard complaining that North Korean films never play at Cannes.

Choi Eun-hee, Kim Jong-il

From left, director Shin Sang-ok, North Korean President Kim Jong Il and actress Choi Eun-hee in 1984.
Courtesy Hellflower Film Ltd.

With an aesthetic that evokes paranoiac thrillers from the 1970s — its interviews are dimly lit and interspersed with images of reel-to-reel tape recorders playing illicit audio in dark locations — the film’s style is immediately gripping. Directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, “The Lovers and the Despot” is built largely around a single long interview with Choi, along with copious remarkable archival footage, including scenes of North Korean society and clips from the films she and Shin made during their South Korean heyday and in North Korean captivity. The movie works as an international thriller and a love story, with a fair amount of humor and irony; although Shin wasn’t pleased to be in captivity in North Korea, he made much of his best work for Kim, who lavished Shin with resources he was never able to access when working in the capitalist production systems of South Korea and the U.S. They escaped North Korea in 1986. He continued his career in Hollywood and is best-known in the U.S. for producing the “Little Ninja” series in the 1990s.

Perhaps the most viscerally affecting film in the competition is “Plaza de la Soledad,” a portrait of the sisterhood among a set of Mexico City prostitutes, many of whom would be collecting Social Security checks if only they lived 400 miles to the north. Carmen, 68, the linchpin of the group, prays to God that the women won’t be attacked by johns or the police. Dramatic accounts of violence — such as one woman’s description of how she became a prostitute shortly after being raped as an 8-year-old — are often staged like confessions and are interspersed throughout an otherwise warm and easygoing vérité film, in which director Maya Goded treats her subjects with great dignity. While she never portrays the women in the midst of their trade, she also never lets us forget real and present dangers that the prostitutes face, including disease and abusive johns who stalk La Merced, a district of Mexico City that is a tolerance zone for prostitution. There, cops look the other way, both from the trade and from the danger that workers face.

Goded zeros in on five women, ranging in age from late 40s to early 80s: Carmen, still very alluring in her late 60s, looks after many of the younger prostitutes, including Lupe, who suffers from the double whammy of being newly homeless and having a child to raise. Lety has a boyfriend in his 80s who helps support her daughter as she battles cancer. Esther and Ángeles, in a clandestine relationship for 14 years, share a love that they keep mostly private, guarding it from their sex work. Raquel, the oldest and frailest of them, yearns for someone to love in life, both in and out of her bed.

“Plaza de la Soledad” softens the blow of their harrowing stories with humor, leavening what can feel like series of grim tales of woe. Goded doesn’t provide false hope, and most of her subjects don’t seem to want it; they know their lot in life and have gained expertise from plying their trade on La Merced. The level of intimate access and candor exhibited in the documentary reflects the remarkable amount of trust between the director and her subjects. Goded, who was a photographer of much acclaim before she made the leap into cinema, has been focusing on La Merced’s forgotten citizens for 23 years, and many of the women in the film have appeared in her photography. The frankness with which the women speak about the sex trade — in one unnerving, oddly humorous discussion, a prostitute talks about controlling her orgasms only to allow herself release at the end of a long workday with someone she is really attracted to — are clearly the result of their relationships with Goded over a long time.

"Plaza de la Soledad", Maya Goded

Filmmaker Maya Goded, right, shooting Lety in “Plaza de la Soledad.”
Monstro Films

The myths and rituals that these women indulge in, whether tarot or faith healing, act as a sort of protection from the cruelty of their world. Raquel, a spitfire who keeps keys in her bra to defend herself from cancer, dons a wig after being told by a mystic that it will keep at bay those who wish her ill. The film never belittles or critiques such beliefs, and that this is notable is not just a credit to Goded but also a reflection of how accustomed many viewers are to the exoticism that pervades so much documentary cinema made by Westerners about the so-called third world.

The same might be said of “The Land of Enlightened,” although one cannot be sure the extent to which these children are being exploited. First-time director Pieter-Jan De Pue also came to cinema by way of photography, and he spent seven years hauling 16-millimeter film canisters through the hills of Afghanistan while embedded with child gangs and American troops. He blends fiction and documentary in his depiction of the region, though he doesn’t own up to it in the film.

“The Land of Enlightened” runs right into the argument that has surrounded documentary aesthetics and authenticity since “Nanook of the North.” The film’s artistry is incredible; its ethics, less clear. Watching the children delicately remove a land mine from a barren landscape or rob a diamond merchant as he crosses the terrain, one first wonders how much De Pue has affected events with his mere presence. When the gangs roam the region’s plateaus, raiding deserted Russian outposts, one is encouraged to question how the footage was acquired. Although you’d never know it from watching the film, all the children are nonprofessional actors impersonating the kids De Pue met during his years in Afghanistan.

Unlike Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” or Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing,” “The Land of Enlightened” neglects to signal that what we are seeing is re-enacted. And as we watch the gang members gin up food, arms and opium however they can, it becomes increasingly difficult to suspend disbelief. De Pue juxtaposes the children’s exploits with glimpses of U.S. forces at rest and at war. In an ironic echo of the Afghan child bandits, adolescent American troops are seen shelling sites along a valley in glee and rage, profanity spewing and weapons blasting. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, an American service member plays a melancholy guitar riff as a young Afghan freedom fighter relates, via a poetic voiceover, his hopes for Afghanistan once the Americans leave and his belief that the country will remain at war as long as outsiders seek to tame it.

Documentary filmmaking has undergone a revolution in the 27 years since Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” took the Sundance Film Festival by storm. Since then, the number of people making documentary films has increased exponentially, and the reach of documentaries, mostly thanks to cable television and Internet streaming, has expanded even more. Sundance remains one of the few international brands that champion the intersection of artistry and journalism and push the form in ways meant to provoke. Here’s hoping the festival keeps at it.

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ON THE MEDIA: The Fearful World of Network News in 2015

ipsnews.net, by Jim Lobe, 9 min read, original

Andrew Tyndall

– If your view of world events outside the U.S. was shaped in substantial part by watching the evening news shows on the three major U.S. networks last year, you’d probably want to stay home.

Terrorism and the bloody wars of the Middle East dominated the network news coverage of the world outside our borders last year, according to the latest annual summary of the authoritative Tyndall Report, which was released just last week. Domestically, it was pretty scary, too, with two of the year’s three top domestic stories featuring Donald Trump’s ugly presidential primary campaign and last month’s San Bernardino massacre, which was allegedly inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS or IS).

As in virtually every year since 9/11, Latin America, Africa, and East Asia (which includes China, Japan, and the Koreas) barely registered in the networks’ universe. Global warming—arguably the greatest existential threat facing our way of life—made only a cameo appearance in the guise of last month’s Paris climate summit, despite today’s New York Times headline: “2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record.” Unfortunately, the Paris summit coincided with the San Bernardino massacre, which received eight times the coverage.

As noted by Andrew Tyndall, the Report’s publisher, in an email exchange today,

This last year has been especially narrow in the range of international stories, in that few stories that are unrelated either to terrorism or to the Middle East (or both) have attracted attention. No Ebola. No Fukushima. The excitement around the new pope is starting to subside. No royal wedding. No Olympic Games. …Europe has received prominent coverage. However, the three biggest European stories (Charlie Hebdo, the refugee crisis, the Paris concert massacre) can be portrayed as spillovers from Mideast tensions. All three of these major European storylines fit neatly into fearful narratives made by domestic politicians.

Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe

Tyndall has been tracking and cataloguing the evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC each weekday since 1988. That comes to roughly 22 minutes for each network per evening, or nearly 15,000 minutes a year for all three weekday evening shows combined. (The total this year was 14,574 minutes.) His findings are considered the most authoritative publicly available source on network news coverage.Although citizens increasingly rely on the Internet for national and international news, the network evening news remains the single biggest source, attracting a nightly audience of around 24 million viewers, according to the latest report by the Pew Research Center on Journalism and the Media. By comparison, the average primetime audience for all cable news channels combined is a mere 3.5 million. Thus, the news priorities reflected in the amount of attention the three networks devote to national and international trends and events exert a significant influence on how much of the U.S. citizenry sees the world. In other words, the nightly evening network news offers the closest thing we have to a collective national window on what is happening beyond our borders. Which is why it’s important.

The Highlights

Each year, Tyndall publishes a one-page summary of highlights, including the 20 stories to which the three networks devoted the most time in their coverage. The summary also notes more general findings. In 2015, for example, the three networks provided a combined total of 941 minutes to foreign policy coverage (not to be confused with coverage from overseas). Not only was that a mere 6.5% of total news coverage, it was slightly less than half of the annual average between 1988 and 2014. This could reflect the gravitational pull of the 2016 presidential campaign and/or the perception by network news gatekeepers that the public is increasingly uninterested in or fed up with foreign policy issues.

In any event, here are the top 20 and the combined number of minutes they received from the three networks. Together, they accounted for 3,422 minutes of the three networks’ coverage, or less than 25% of total evening news coverage.

Winter weather                                     377

Donald Trump campaign                     327

San Bernardino shootings                     237

Islamic State declared by ISIS             220

Terrorism in Paris: concert massacre   188

Refugees to the European Union         174

Police: lethal Baltimore arrest             174

Forest fires in western states                161

Boston Marathon bombing trial           160

NFL post-season: deflated balls           145

Pope Francis visits to Cuba and USA   142

Syria civil war                                       136

Iran nuclear program negotiations       132

Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris         132

New York prison escape                       131

Republican presidential debates           123

Hillary Clinton campaign                     121

AMC church massacre in Charleston   117

Germanwings jet crash in Alps              114

Iraq civil war/ISIS in Iraq                     113

Some of the top stories are obviously related to each other, although Tyndall is very careful about not double-counting stories. For example, Trump clearly factored heavily in the Republican presidential debates, but the minutes devoted to his contribution to that debate would not have been included in the category of the Trump campaign itself. The EU’s refugee crisis was obviously related to the wars in Syria and Iraq, not to mention IS.

Thus, among the 20 most-covered stories, the 2016 campaign garnered 571 minutes (Trump, Republican debate, Clinton). But terrorist acts or organizations claimed five of the top 20, at nearly 1,000 minutes (San Bernardino, the Islamic State, two Paris stories, the Boston Marathon trial), and that doesn’t count the civil wars in Syria and Iraq or the Charleston church massacre. Those, plus the Germanwings jet crash, alleged police brutality in Baltimore, the prison escape, and the huge refugee influx into Europe, make for a pretty scary world (not to mention the heavily fear-based Trump campaign itself or other fear-mongering Republicans).

Indeed, the only good news that featured in the top 20 last year was the Pope’s visit, the Iran nuclear agreement (albeit not for Bibi Netanyahu and his followers here), and deflated footballs if you care passionately about Tom Brady. Of course, as Tyndall suggests, by depicting such a frightening world, the networks are—presumably unconsciously—propagating a fundamentally far-right narrative that can only benefit Republicans during this year’s campaign.

A Closer Look at the Numbers

To help draw a more complete picture of the networks’ view of the world outside the United States, I asked Tyndall for the statistics on the top foreign stories of the year. They comprised 41 of the top 150 stories, including nine that appeared in the top 20 cited above. The results:

Islamic State in Middle East declared by ISIS 220
Paris terrorism: stadium, restaurant, concert attacks 188
European Union faces influx of refugees and migrants 174
Pope Francis I visits Cuba and United States 142
Syria politics: rebellion designated as civil war 136
Iran nuclear weapons program prevention talks 132
Paris magazine offices assassination: 12 dead 132
Germanwings 9525 crash in French Alps: 150 dead 114
Iraq: combat resumes after US troops pull out 113
Afghanistan’s Taliban regime aftermath, fighting 85
Nepal earthquake levels Kathmandu: Richter 7.8 70
Metrojet charter flight crash over Sinai Desert 59
Moslems in western nations recruited by terrorists 48
Malaysia Airlines 370 missing: Indian Ocean search 43
Cuba-US diplomacy: relations normalized 42
Air Asia 8501 crash over Java Sea kills 162 39
Zimbabwe nature preserve celebrity lion killed 37
Soccer: FIFA Women’s World Cup won by USA 33
Yemen civil war 32
British royals coverage 32
Global warming climate change: Paris Summit 30
High-speed train on-board attack foiled in Belgium 30
International Space Station mission in orbit 30
Libya: US diplomats assassinated in Benghazi 29
Belgium terrorism: surveillance in Brussels suburb 28
Ukraine civil war: secessionist fighting in east 28
Tunisia terrorism: beach resort shooting spree 26
El Nino current forms in Pacific Ocean 25
Syrian-American immigration: seek refugee status 25
CIA drone kills Americans in raid on Pakistan 25
Diesel engine pollution tests rigged by Volkswagen 24
Cargo ship SS El Faro founders off The Bahamas 23
Israel-Palestinian conflict 22
Cuba-US sanctions relaxed: more trade, travel 22
Syria refugees flee abroad to overcrowded camps 21
Greece politics: referendum on fiscal austerity 20
Hurricane Patricia forms in Pacific off Mexico 20
Syria archeology: antiquities looted, vandalized 20
Vietnam War remembered 20
Nazi Holocaust remembered 19

This is essentially the image that most Americans received from their most popular source of international news. Is it any wonder that so many foreigners are shocked by how little Americans know about their home countries or regions?

There’s obviously some good news in this list—including the normalization of relations with Cuba, the climate treaty in Paris, the International Space Station, the perennial British royals story (maybe that’s bad news, I don’t know), the US women’s victory in the World Cup. Again, this picture is pretty scary. But there are a few things worth noting (and I’m sure you will find many more):

  • The list contains absolutely nothing about China, including its economic troubles, its build-up in the South China Sea, its environmental or minority problems, its crackdown against outspoken dissidents and lawyers— or really the rest of East Asia.
  • A grand total of 22 minutes is devoted to the Israel-Palestine conflict despite the violence that has been going on since October and shows no sign of abating, not to mention the increasingly right-wing nature of the Israeli government or the clear disdain in which Obama and Netanyahu mutually hold themselves.
  • Aside from Cuba, there’s no real mention of anything related to Latin America. And normalization with Cuba—a historic development that effectively ended nearly 60 years of hostility—rated a grand total of 66 minutes on all three networks. By comparison, deflate gate and the NFL got 145 minutes, more than twice as much! At least, the Pope gave it some additional attention, albeit not much.
  • Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe. Not even for acts of terrorism carried out by Boko Haram or any other group affiliated with al-Qaeda or IS! This, of course, upholds the long-enduring Victorian notion that the only good things about Africa are its animals.
  • Despite the increased threat posed by the Taliban, as well as the belatedly reported death of Mullah Omar and the decision by Obama to put off a final withdrawal, Afghanistan didn’t make the top 20, receiving a grand total of only one hour and 25 minutes in the evening news for all of 2015.
  • Yemen’s devastating war garnered a total of 32 minutes, ten minutes more than the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Tyndall on the News

I asked Andrew Tyndall to comment on some of these observations, and here are some excerpts of our emailed interview:

Lobe: Did you see any greater effort on the part of the newscasters in 2015 to link the weather or weather-related disasters to global warming than in previous years?

Tyndall: I see no evidence of it. First, because gradual, secular weather events (the drought in California, El Nino in the Pacific) received less coverage than extreme, sudden weather events (winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires, flash floods). Second, because the Paris Summit on Climate Change was undercovered, since it coincided with the San Bernardino office party massacre, which eclipsed it.

Lobe: East Asia appears to have been almost entirely ignored in 2015, despite tensions between China and its neighbors in the South and East China Seas? Was this different than or consistent with coverage of the last few years when these territorial claims became more salient? What do you think are the implications of the lack of coverage?

Tyndall: Yes, the military tensions over marine territorial rights have barely been mentioned. The driving force to make such tensions newsworthy is usually not an editorial decision by news executives, but a political decision by an administration in power. In other words, the news tends to follow the Pentagon, reacting to its initiatives, rather than alerting the public, so that it can understand the issues at stake in advance of a debate over such initiatives.

Over the past 25-or-so years of my database, it is a rule of thumb that Republican administrations tend to be more bellicose in addressing overseas disputes, which leads to newscasts being more active in following them. In other words, we can expect coverage of the South China Seas to escalate if and when the US Navy is dispatched to confront the Chinese military in those waters. Lack of coverage, therefore, is a reassuring sign that we are not gearing up for a war with the People’s Republic.

Lobe: And what do you make of the absence of Africa coverage except for the lion?

Tyndall: Yes, given that terrorism and Islamist insurgencies are popular themes for the newscasts to cover, I would have expected more attention paid to Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. I have no problem with the attention paid to Cedric the lion and the Minnesota dentist [who killed him]. A perfect summer sensation.

Lobe: And Latin America except for Cuba?

Tyndall: With reference to Spanish-speaking Latin America, one of the unfortunate consequences of the success of Univision in providing news to Hispanic-Americans is that the Anglophone newscasts act as though their coverage would be duplicative. Thus, the end of the civil war in Colombia was hardly mentioned. The crisis of legitimacy and narco-corruption of the Mexican government only broke through onto English-speaking airwaves through the figure of El Chapo.

One of the advantages to the publicity and promotion around the Olympic Games is that resources and personnel are on site to cover non-sporting-related issues that would normally be ignored. I anticipate that the Zika virus will be the first of several stories to come out of Brazil this year, to coincide with the Rio Olympic Games.

For Mexican-US immigration policy: see Trump, D.

Lobe: Yemen got only 32 minutes despite the fact that it’s in the most heavily covered foreign region, its depiction as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the presence (and apparent expansion) there of al-Qaeda and IS? Any comment?

Tyndall: Logistically, Yemen is a very difficult country to cover. Its undercoverage belongs in the same category as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. The rumblings of a possible third intifada on the West Bank also received surprisingly little airtime. I ascribe the lack of interest in covering the proxy Iran-Saudi war to two factors. First (as with the South China Sea) is the Pentagon’s lack of enthusiasm for getting involved. Second, the true anxieties associated with turmoil in the region are associated with symptoms (the spread of terrorism and refugees) not underlying causes (struggles for sectarian and regional hegemony).

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

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ON THE MEDIA: Herzog and Oppenheimer draw lines regarding documentary filmmaking

parkrecord.comScott Iwasaki, Jan. 26, 2016, original

Filmmakers Werner Herzog, left, and Joshua Oppenheimer talked about their craft as documentarians during a Cinema CafŽ TimesTalk at the Filmmaker’s Lodge panel at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday. (Stephen Speckman/Sundance Institute)

Although both forms of communication attempts to reveal the truth of an issue, there is a difference between documentary filmmaking and journalism, and that was what Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer discussed at the Sundance Film Festival’s Filmmaker’s Lodge Monday morning.”You see too many documentaries where you see all of this investigative reporting that is finding out that this guy is bad and not only did he expose himself to a woman, but that he also has a bad political agenda,” Herzog told the audience. “It goes on and on ad nauseam, but it’s just journalism.”

Oppenheimer concurred and said he and Herzog are aware that documentary films must divorce themselves from journalism.

“Yes, most documentary films are an extension of journalism, so do them and declare them journalism,” he said. “I think it’s a pity that nonfiction cinema and documentary filmmaking in the United States in particular, is colonized by this. It may be perhaps because of the mainstream media’s failure to deeply investigate, what we, as nonfiction filmmakers, care about in the world.”

Sundance Film Festival veteran Herzog’s new film, “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World,” which looks at the perils and possibilities of life connected to a vast network, premiered Saturday.

Oppenheimer directed the 2012 film “Act of Killing” and the 2014 follow up, “Look of Silence” which examines the horrors and effects of the Indonesian Massacre of 1965 and 1966, where government officials and the military conducted mass killing of suspected communists, Chinese nationals and left-wing sympathizers.

This year’s festival was his first.The award-winning documentary filmmakers’ panel was part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Cinema Café TimesTalk program, moderated by Kathleen Lingo of the New York Times.

During the hour-long presentation, Herzog and Oppenheimer, who are good friends, showed mutual respect for each other’s works.

“Throughout your nonfiction films, you make up stories with your voiceovers,” Oppenheimer told Herzog.

Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, center makes a statement while New York Time’s Kathleen Lingo, left, and Werner Herzog, right, look on during a Cinema CafŽ TimeTalk panel at the Sundance Film Festival’s Filmmaker Lodge on Monday. (Stephen Speckman/Sundance Institute)

“Sometimes they are outlandish and sometimes fictional, but as viewers we know that you are taking us to a hidden truth.”Herzog said his narrations are a guide for his viewers.

“I want to take the audiences just under the arm and take them with me into pure poetry, fantasy and illumination,” he said.

He then told the audience that Oppenheimer’s films are just as powerful, especially when he crafts a scene with little or no dialog to emphasize a statement.

“These moments are of silent contemplation and the notion of memory that has been wiped out and silenced,” Herzog said. “[That’s when] you know this is a film that has unprecedented depth and that’s what brings me close to Joshua and his films.”

Lingo said both the filmmakers’ recent works appear to come from two different realities, but also reflect the current state of humanity and asked if there was anything for the human race to be hopeful for.

“I think I’m more hopeful,” Oppenheimer said to Herzog, lightening the mood. “So you go first and we’ll end on an ‘up.'”

Herzog said his films aren’t made from the notion of being hopeful or not.

“I find it odd that people are striving for happiness, as if it’s the primary goal in life and I find that silly,” he said. “Americans take it seriously because it’s even in their Constitution, ‘the pursuit of happiness.’ But that doesn’t touch me. It doesn’t interest me.

“You find these people stepping on the bus with the frozen rictus of a smile to show how happy they are,” he said. “It’s just awful.”

Lingo then asked about the pursuit of justice.

“That’s something else, something more meaningful,” Herzog answered. “Of course, being part of something meaningful like striving for justice or equal rights for humanity is a much more dignified goal than just personal happiness.”

Oppenheimer jumped in and said that people have tricked themselves into thinking everything in the world is OK as it should be.

“What [Werner and I] share is our profound disgust with pretense, denial, facade and the collective lies that naturalize and makes everything unjust and terrible, small and debased around us feel inevitable,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is make visible the fantasies, lies, delusions and self deceptions that constitute immoral imagination, which allows us to feel everything is fine, when it is really catastrophic.”

When those things are exposed, the audience may be taken aback.

“In that moment everything looks strange because a world that is depicted as a world of delusions, lies and fantasies, looks strange and we try to resist it,” Oppenheimer said. “But I think if there is any power to my films or Werner’s films, it’s because, in fact, it’s not the shock of [seeing] anything new, but the shock of recognition.”

Getting to the objective heart of the subject is a documentary filmmaker’s goal, Herzog said.

“It’s always an illumination of what we are at our best and our worst, and your approach is one from deep compassion,” he said. “You go into the deepest spot of human suffering and human pathos and I walk away from [Joshua’s] films illuminated. That’s what you do not have in cinema nowadays.”

Oppenheimer said that’s what he feels Herzog tries to do, even though the elder filmmaker tries to hide behind a state of anger.

“That openness you bring to everyone you film, even if you are ridiculing their delusions, is never from a place of sarcasm, but from a tragic sense of, ‘ we’re in this together and this is the wrong path,'” Oppenheimer told Herzog. “I think that is hopeful. It’s the opposite of cynicism.”

With all that is going on in the world, it is understandable why nonfiction filmmakers have taken on the job that Oppenheimer says journalists aren’t doing.

“It’s a pity, because this is a colonization of our art form by something else,” he said. “I think that we have to distinguish between journalism that pretends to understand, but really condemns, and confuses that with comprehension.

“You can’t divorce great filmmaking, even fiction, from empathy, and from the sense we need to strive to understand how we as human beings create these monstrous conditions and the inseparability of the violence, fear and silence which is seismically rocking the United States right now in our inner cities and the criminalization of huge swaths of our fellow countrymen,” he said. “You can’t divorce that from trying to understand how we in an everyday way, lie to ourselves to justify that. We can’t do that, with out understanding, empathizing and opening our hearts.”

The Sundance Film Festival will run through Jan. 31 in various venues in Park City. For more information, visit www.sundance.org .

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ON THE MEDIA: Syrian activists promote filmmaking, reading to ease daily suffering

al-monitor.com – Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East
Author: As-Safir (Lebanon) Posted January 18, 2016, original

Children walk beside a painted wall inside Jarmaq school in Yarmouk camp April 14, 2015. The text on the wall reads in Arabic "It's my right to learn." Picture taken April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Moayad Zaghmout - RTR4XFMX

Children walk beside a painted wall inside Jarmaq school in Yarmouk camp April 14, 2015. The text on the wall reads in Arabic “It’s my right to learn.” Picture taken April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Moayad Zaghmout – RTR4XFMX

Despite the cruelty of the war in Syria, community-based initiatives emerged from the pain from which society is suffering. As international initiatives crowd to resolve the intractable crisis, Syrian youth keep their initiatives on the local level without getting into politics and its ramifications. They focus on the people’s concerns and needs.

International news agencies and newspapers rush in with their cameras to capture scenes of the war in Syria to report on the daily news and events. However, Peace Lens is an initiative not related to the world of news, but based on documentary filmmaking.

The initiative’s team believes documentary filmmaking conveys the reality as it is through the camera lens and turns this reality into a series of pictures and scenes, to encourage the viewers to agree with a particular opinion or do a certain thing.

Documentaries are the most important tools nowadays, not only for their ability to influence the current situation. They can be used in the future as a deterrent for future generations, preventing them from entering into conflicts after seeing the amount of suffering resulting from the current conflict in the country.

The initiative’s team quotes Mikhail Kirkorov, a professor at the Petersburg State University of Film and Television, who said, “Syria is now the most important theater in the world for the documentary industry.”

Bashar al-Majdalawi, an official in the initiative, explained the project’s objective and work process: “The initiative was presented to the United Nations Development Programme. It is a cultural art project that brings together a group of people interested in filmmaking. They are taught how to shoot documentary films to convey social problems.” He added, “It is called Peace Lens because we wanted to link between documentaries and peace in light of our current situation.”

Majdalawi said, “A lot of things must be highlighted. We selected 10 young people, from different [social] categories, from the 40 people who applied for the course, according to UN standards and those of the project’s organizer. They were gathered in one place to brainstorm for a comprehensive idea for all the people in Syria to highlight peace.”

“At the end of the workshop, the film is shot and marketed — whether at festivals or special screenings — or posted on social networking sites, in order to make viewers think of solutions for the problems we are facing. We only put the problem in the spotlight, we do not give solutions,” he said.

Majdalawi added, “Such work could help the people we put in the spotlight in getting the support they need from organizations and institutions that care about them.”

Peace Lens organized two workshops for four months in two provinces, where a group of interested and talented people are trained for documentary filmmaking: writing texts, shooting and editing. After the workshop is done, two documentary films are made on cases of peace in the two provinces. The next phase would be to have a big screening for the documentaries in order to sell them. The proceeds of that money would be used to support families affected by the conflict.

The Book Initiative

It may be strange, and even undesirable under the shelling and the need for safety, to hold a book by Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf and offer it to a family affected by the war.

The Book Initiative was launched by a team dubbed “A drop of Ink” in Damascus. The person in charge of the group, Youssef Sabbagh, said, “I first thought of how to encourage people to read.”

He added, “The idea is based on the establishment of a study with the various books, while focusing on those that are interesting for the youth and children. This is because this age category is important in building a better country, since they are the ones who engage in violent acts. Reading builds a human being that is balanced, honest and less violent — a person that has a weak culture of violence and higher prospects.”

On the importance of the initiative, Sabbagh explained, “One of the advantages is that online reading is prevailing, which is not wrong. The problem is that we do not know whether the sources are reliable. We tend to acquire a part of a certain idea without being aware from which book it comes. The initiative is a contribution to prove that the Syrian mind is the product of a well-established ancient civilization and is capable under the most difficult circumstances to move away from the culture of revenge.”

On the implementation of the initiative, Sabbagh said, “This study is placed in cafes, schools, cinemas, universities, centers and shelters. They consist of medium-sized studies that can be manufactured by local carpenters and includes diverse books. The idea was discussed at more than one level. Some have supported it and others considered that it is not the right time to read. I finally made the suggestion to the United Nations Organization for Refugees, which kept the door open for initiatives. A team of four members was made, and this is how ‘A Drop of Ink’ was formed.”

Sabbagh explained, “Work is currently underway in two parts. First is placing in specific places, where anyone can read a book without any fees. Second is about not contenting oneself with reading. In the care center in Dweil’a in Damascus, a library was established, composed of a variety of books for children and adolescents. We focus on the youth, because we have the ability to continue working with them until they get older. The next plan is to establish a library in shelters, as they accommodate affected families.”

On the idea that it is not the right time for reading, Sabbagh said, “Nothing justifies abstaining from reading. Education at home and schools is intrinsic. Reading builds [the youth] psychologically. We are not calling for giving reading a priority over the daily needs such as eating and drinking. But could it be possible to not have time to read?”

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/culture/2016/01/syria-local-initiatives-documentary-films-books-reading.html

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Media, Development: Stories from the soils: an audio series

Stories from the soils: an audio series produced by AMARC, in collaboration with FAO

2015 has been declared the International Year of Soils (IYS) by the 68th UN General Assembly. The IYS aims to be a platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential eco-system functions.

The IYS aims to attain the following objectives:

  • Create full awareness of civil society and decision makers about the fundamental roles of soils for human’s life;
  • Achieve full recognition of the prominent contributions of soils to food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, essential ecosystem services, poverty alleviation and sustainable development;
  • Promote effective policies and actions for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources;
  • Sensitize decision-makers about the need for robust investment in sustainable soil management activities aiming at healthy soils for different land users and population groups;
  • Catalyze initiatives in connection with the SDG process and Post-2015 agenda;
  • Advocate rapid enhancement of capacities and systems for soil information collection and monitoring at all levels (global, regional and national).

The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production.
José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

An audio series

As part of the International Year of Soils, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) is partnering with the Office for Corporate Communication of theUnited Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to facilitate the production of 80 audio pieces by producers and community radio journalists in an effort to engage discussion, improve public education and encourage the sharing of scientific knowledge on the topic of environment, climate change, food security, agriculture, sustainable development, resilience and economical, cultural and political issues related to soils.

From March to December 2015, two productions a week will be featured on AMARC’s and FAO’s website. This audio series aims to illustrate how different community interact and deal with issues related to soils. AMARC and FAO wishes to share the communities’ voices and help them resonate on an international level.

More information: http://www.amarc.org/?q=node/2121

If you wish to participate or have a question, please contact secretariat@si.amarc.org

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Media, Development: Bringing drones down to earth

irinnews.org

By Caterina Pino and Obinna Anyadike

KATHMANDU, 12 May 2015 (IRIN) – Disaster coverage now seems incomplete without amazing drone footage of the damage, accompanied by effusive media reports on the technological wizardry of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their humanitarian application. But is that really the story? Here’s a look at the evolution needed for them to better fulfill their potential.Right tool for the job?

The advantage of UAVs is that they are a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft and the smallest can fit into the hand luggage of a humanitarian response team. They provide very high resolution imagery and can carry an array of sensors. “They provide extra information in the phase where you need a quick overview,” explained Arjan Stam, overall leader of international Urban Search-and-Rescue units in Nepal.

But misconceptions remain, including within the humanitarian community, over what UAVs can achieve. “People who have not seen UAVs often think of the military versions that can fly a long way and carry heavy payloads,” said Andrej Verity of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Commonly used micro-UAVs, like the quadcopter DJI Phantom, has a flight time of under 25 minutes and doesn’t fly in high winds and bad weather. There are larger, more capable UAVs, but drones are far from always the answer. In many circumstances old-fashioned helicopters, manned aircraft and people doing assessments on foot are better options.

“If we prioritise using the cool new toys instead of choosing the collection platform that meets needs and constraints, we risk being less useful than we could be and probably slower,” said John Crowley of UN Global Pulse. “[UAVs] can be amazing assets when they fit into a larger system that makes it safe, secure and legal to use them – [that requires] trained people, clear policies, and established protocols.”

UAVs in disaster response are largely privately operated. There are currently 10 UAV teams in Nepal, from Canada’s Global Medic to California-based Team Rubicon, whose philanthropic partner is US intelligence-linked data mining firm Palantir. Encouraging adherence to standard operating procedures and maximising the humanitarian value of these diverse teams has historically proven a challenge.

Coordination conundrum

“Disaster responders in an emergency are generally too overwhelmed to lead on innovative methods,” Crowley told IRIN. “A disaster is rarely the time to introduce unfamiliar tools with lots of elements that require coordinated action between several organisations.”

Keeping on the right side of the law can be the first challenge. While some countries have UAV legislation in place to cover safety, privacy, national security and insurance liability, many do not. Where no regulations exists, UAV flights are either cleared with national authorities on an ad-hoc emergency basis, or are flown without permission – a reality that has a host of implications.

Then there is the glaring gap in the humanitarian response structure to facilitate UAV use. OCHA serves as the secretariat for critical coordination mechanisms like the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and the UN’s rapid-response Disaster Assessment and Coordination system and International Search and Rescue Advisory Group. But it has no formal oversight role as far as UAV operations are concerned, and has been cautious in claiming a mandate.

Who can we talk to?

In the Philippines, during Cyclone Haiyan in 2013, there was little coordination or clarity over how UAVs were to be used. OCHA then worked with the authorities on recognizing the value of UAVs and including them in national disaster response plans. But in 2014, when Cyclone Hagupit arrived, there was only an ad-hoc link between UAV operators, the humanitarian community and the government.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam that tore through the Pacific islands of Vanuatu earlier this year, a World Bank project used the volunteer Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators) to provide damage assessment imagery. There was better engagement with the government and military on basics like flight path clearance and notification to local communities, but the arrangement was still informal.

In Nepal, UAViators has taken the lead in engaging with the civil aviation authorities and the police, but it lacks institutional clout. For drones to be better established, the founder of UAViators, Patrick Meier, argues what is required is “strong backing or leadership from an established humanitarian organisation that is able and willing to mediate with appropriate ministries.”

In a Skype conversation with IRIN, he added: “The UN has not designated a formal focal point for UAV flights who can serve as liaison with [government]…. This is a big problem, as UAV teams need formal letters confirming that they are part of the humanitarian response. Also, we need this focal point to serve as initial liaison with ATC [air traffic control] and the military. In sum: [it is a] major institutional gap here.”

But in a disaster, where aid agencies and government officials are scrambling to respond and capacity is stretched so thin, should the appointment of a focal person to work with UAV operators always be a priority?

Sharing is caring

The purpose of UAV imagery is to help better shape the humanitarian response.

To get proper value out of UAVs “we need to make sure that we’re as clear as possible on where imagery needs are greatest, where the gaps in coverage may be, and how those imagery needs are going to be connected directly with practical relief efforts,” Andrew Schroeder, director of research and analysis at Direct Relief, a medical aid charity, told IRIN.

“We need an easy way for people and organisations to express where and why they need imagery so that priorities can be established quickly and those with skills and access to the technology can be appropriately tasked. We need to make sure that we’re sharing data effectively and adhering to open standards,” said Schroeder, who chairs the UAV working group at Nethope, an NGO consortium.But the reality is that people can be averse to sharing. This can be due to legal and political considerations, with some humanitarian organisations leery of associating too closely with private UAV teams, or data hoarding by the drone operators.

Data is power

“Some UAV teams have not (yet) expressed an interest in sharing their imagery. Some have not provided information about where they’re flying,” Skyped Meier. “Of course, they are incredibly busy. And besides, they are not required to share.… [W]ithout strong public backing from established humanitarian groups, there is little the network can do.”

“Data is power, and people perceive it that way,” said Nama Budhathoki, the head of Kathmandu Living Labs. His team of volunteers is working with OpenStreetMap, a crowd-sourced geographic information system (GIS), to map the impact of the Nepal quake.

A significant impediment to working with UAV imagery is the size of the data files, which in the case of a country like Nepal, with low internet bandwidth, impacts on the speed with which data can be analysed.

“Aerial imagery typically constitute large files, which means they take longer to upload, and with unreliable or low bandwidth it can take multiple repeat attempts to upload just one mosaic [GIS maps are composed of a multitude of data mosaics],” said Meier.

“Figuring out file transfers from the field… this is a huge problem… and getting it out of disaster zones is really not easy. We need to treat the logistics for this as seriously as the damage assessment,” Robert Banick, a GIS expert at the Assessment Capacities Project, told IRIN.

Build local capacity

“I think we’re so excited about the possibilities of UAVs and so challenged by making it work that we’re not giving full attention to the data analysis,” he added.

Kathmandu Living Labs is trying to reduce the dependence on external analysis by using local mappers, who have the additional advantage of a “better sense of location and geography,” said Budhathoki.

His goal is not only to build sustainability in GIS, but also to develop a local “UAV capacity with Nepal.” It’s a project that Meier and UAViators are collaborating on.

Reducing the need for external assistance by assisting national authorities and local NGOs build their capacity in high disaster risk countries like Nepal would be a step forward.

Caterina Pino works with German Technical Cooperation in Turkey. She has worked for OCHA’s Regional Office for Eastern Africa, and  the Somalia country office. In her last OCHA assignment, Caterina advised the Philippines government on how to include civilian UAV capacity in their disaster preparedness and response plans. Obinna Anyadike is IRIN’s Editor-at-Large.

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Media, Haiti: Media’s Multiple Roles in Democracy and Development

USAID, by  on Friday, May 1st 2015

A reporter in Yerevan, Armenia scuffles with a police officer while covering a protest against the demolition of a historic building. / Photolur, IREX

A reporter in Yerevan, Armenia scuffles with a police officer while covering a protest against the demolition of a historic building. / Photolur, IREX

Reading the newspaper while sipping morning coffee and settling into an armchair to watch the evening news have long been iconic images — and for good reason. These sources of information are critical to promoting civil engagement and democracy

Today, in advance of the United Nations General Assembly’s World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, we take a moment to reflect on the vital role that journalists and media play in our daily lives and pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives for their profession. Operating around the clock, year-round, the media is expected to provide factual up-to-the minute reporting in addition to deeper analyses of societal issues ranging from democratic governance and free and fair elections to disaster reconstruction and reducing preventable diseases.

USAID Community Radio struggles to keep lines of communication open in a rural, isolated community in Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Over the last 15 years as senior media advisor for USAID’s Center of Excellence for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, I have observed a recurrent theme of the media as a central hub of information exchange. This seems to be something almost everyone can agree on–ordinary citizens and elites alike, regardless of the issue.

This expectation was recently reiterated in Haiti, when a leading Haitian human rights activist told our USAID delegation that “everything is channeled through the media,” comparing media to a “traffic circle, where all issues must pass.” A former journalist, she understood how the media system in Haiti can be a double-edged sword. While some journalists provide accurate and professional media content, educating the public and promoting progress, others can spread misinformation, increase tensions and even undermine stability.

A man in Myanmar reads a newspaper on the street. / Kim Nguyen van Zoen, Internews

While in Haiti, we visited seven towns, where local focus groups talked about what they liked and disliked about the Haitian media. Individual opinions differed, but we found widespread appreciation for a few specific areas, such as the recent health information campaigns that helped reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, cholera and other illnesses.

However, Haitians across the board also expressed clear frustration with the lack of quality local news; they felt that more coverage of social issues and educational content could help the country develop faster. This kind of media, they reasoned, could help people make better life choices and engage citizens in their country’s government and development. Simply stated: People valued the power of knowledge and believed in media as a translator of information and source of empowerment.

Women radio journalists from  Radio Ibo FM 98.5 read the midday news for the listening public in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Haitians and international representatives across development sectors agreed. A medical doctor noted that “using community radio for prevention is much more cost effective” than treating diseases that could have been prevented. A specialist working to improve food safety nets added: “The more I work on health issues — including nutrition, the more I realize that the main problems arise from the public’s lack of information.”

USAID Media Officer Mark Koenig treks to the isolated, rural  community radio station, Radyo Vwa Peyizan Abriko / Radio Voice of the People of Abricot. This radio station has received support over the years from USAID and is beloved by the community, not only for sharing news and information, but also for acting in a mediation role and helping in lost and found. / Nicole Widdersheim

Throughout the world, USAID supports programs in over 30 countries to strengthen journalistic professionalism, establish media management skills and promote freer media. USAID programs are helping local media systems deliver critical information in diverse areas of development including agriculture, education, health, growth, environmental protection, resource management, conflict mitigation, election reporting and more. In countries struggling to cope with and recover from conflict, USAID also supports peace-building messaging and civil society monitoring.

As the testimony of Haitians suggested, citizens in all countries can be empowered by local media to address the issues they care about. People everywhere — across all development sectors — need trustworthy information and opportunities for public discourse. Access to information is a basic human right — freedom of press is a key foundation of this right. Today, and every day, we applaud the difficult work that journalists and media do and refocus our efforts on how best to empower media systems across the globe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Koenig is Senior Advisor for Independent Media Development at USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.
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Media: Open Letter to The Media, re: Nepal Earthquake

From AidSpeak

Aid workers, you know how this goes. In approximately one year, the media is going too be all up in our grill.

Why? Because after a gazillion dollars in aid, Kathmandu will still not look like Singapore; some people will still be living in tents (as opposed to two-storey modular homes with Direct TV and WiFi); foreigners will have been seen going to meetings in white Land Cruisers; and, well, frankly no one was “accountable” or “transparent.” At least a few journalists will jump-start stagnating careers by writing books stridently critical of the aid industry (The Big Drone That Flew By, etc.) and at least two will claim to have been “the only foreign correspondent in Kathmandu at the time of the earthquake.” (They’ll refer to themselves as “earthquake survivors” in their bios and interviews.)

At the one year anniversary, major networks will run specials on “where the money went” or “did aid really help Nepal?” Of course, a bunch of new INGOs (some started up by failed climbers) specifically focused on the earthquake will be interviewed and featured at length. They’ll make outrageous (and impossible to verify) claims about how they cut through red tape and outwitted the aid system to deliver life-saving assistance to those who most desperately needed it.  (I’ll never understand why the go-to response by everyone who feels that the aid industry is an inefficient bureaucracy seems to be to start their own NGO, thus adding to the net amount of bureaucracy in the world. But obviously I digress.) They’ll use words like “bloated” to describe NGO salary structures, and point to the fact that aid workers took R&R as proof that everyone in the aid system is hopelessly self-interested.

At some point during year one there will be a celebrity visit that goes wildly/hilariously amuck: Someone (my money’s on Ian Birrel) will latch onto that as proof that “aid doesn’t work”, and do a lot of strident tweeting about it. Wonks from think tanks or universities that end in “ord,” who’ve never implemented anything even remotely close to a relief response, will give soundbites about the importance of innovation, humanitarian UAVs, and big data. Maybe Richard Engel or Ann Curry will fly in and have scripted heart-to-heart interviews with survivors, after which they’ll gaze into the camera and offer pithy one-line analyses in their best weary/soulful voices.

Yes, those of us in the aid industry know this is coming. It happens every time, it’s annoying as hell, and it sucks up precious overhead to deal with it on top of everything else. So maybe let’s just nip some of that in the bud right now.

Media, you’re on notice:

If you want to say that the aid industry was not accountable in Nepal, then articulate the baseline and the standard now. What is our target?

If you want to say that we are not delivering aid fast enough, then do share—what’s the metric that we’re aiming for? At what objectively verifiable rate of delivery will this simply cease to be an issue for you?

If you want to complain that we’re not transparent, then tell us right now what level of transparency, in your expert opinions, is sufficient?

Please do explain right now what state of recovery Kathmandu should be in in one year’s time if we’re doing our jobs properly.

Too many INGOs swarming to Nepal? Okay, how many should there be? Do be specific. Too many foreigners going to too many meetings? Please, what is an optimal, or at least an acceptable foreigner-to-local ratio? And what is the preferred number of meetings per day/week/etc?

This will make all of our jobs (including yours) easier.

Thanks.

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On the Media: Reframing the Message

Original article found on: DEEEP

Reframing the Message” is an EU-supported training and communication project implemented by three organizations in three European countries. The participating organizations are Wilde Ganzen from the Netherlands, Divoké Husy from Czech Republic and CISU – Civil Society in Development from Denmark. The three organizations’ joint application was approved by the EU in the autumn of 2012.

The project aims to strengthen the communication on development for the civil society organizations of these three countries so it reflects the structural causes of poverty in a balanced manner. The object is to produce reliable and respectful communication that will affect the citizen’s commitment to development cooperation.

“Reframing the Message” serves as best practice example on how to work ‘hands on’ with civil society organizations and their communication. It is a practical take on the various initiatives such as DEEEP4 that aims to challenge and change the existing paradigm on development.
During the two-years-project period we have found great inspiration from DARE Forum’s DEEEP project.

What paradigm was challenged? The old aid and charity paradigm which reproduces an unequal balance of power with a strong giver to a grateful receiver: the main storyline is roughly that the developing countries and their populations are perceived as poor dependent wretches with no ability to change their own way of life.

What new paradigm was developed? While civil society organisations have, through “Reframing the Message”, rejected the old paradigm, defining a new paradigm has proved more difficult.
However, a new European focus on the Global South as strong and independent communicators and storytellers has arisen. Organisations have started to listen to these voices and a new paradigm could potentially emerge from a global dialogue between citizens.

What did we learn? Across three participating countries we learned that we can address change from a practical point of view and start bottom-up with each CSO and their communication.

What is the next step? As the project expires in spring 2015, next step is not discussing what should be “reframed” but instead uniting across organizations and countries to engage citizens in global matters – like DEEEP4 works to do.

An overall objective and two specific objectives were formulated for the project:

  • Overall objective: To change the attitude towards development cooperation among the general public through a large number of small and medium sized development organisations and groups that stress the progress made in reaching the MDGs, while depicting the need for structural change.
  • Specific objective 1: Build the capacity of these organisations in order for them to better communicate ‘Best News’ and take stronger action.
  • Specific objective 2: To achieve synergy between the three project partners through exchange of ideas, best practices and joint methodologies.

Components in the project

During the two-years-project period “Reframing the Message” offered the following activities for the participating organisations and to a larger audience:

  • A variety of different trainings, workshops and presentations. On communication strategy, storytelling, social media, smartphone as a monitoring tool, efficient websites and press work – capacity building was a key component in the project.
  • Developing an online communication toolkit in Dutch and English to be used by civil society organisations and their partners in the Global South.
  • A sub-granting pool where organisations were allocated 2,000 euro to test their new skills and approach to communication and fundraising.
  • A competition on communication products and plans in connection with a counselling program with professional communication advisors.
  • Stakeholder meetings every year in each of the three countries.
  • Raising public debate on the subject.
  • Establishing a national network for development education.
  • National actions for the “World’s Best News” campaign.

What went well

All in all the project was a success. Both in matter of project planning across three countries but certainly also in matter of participants, debate and a possible new discourse. This is what we would highlight:

  • Engaging a large number of active citizens from a variety of civil society organizations.
  • Finding a practical and ‘hands on’ approach to telling stories about developing countries.
  • The three project countries working closely with the civil society organizations and developing the project in relation to their context in order to create deeper impact.
  • Starting a buzz and maintaining the discussion on development education amongst practitioners in the three countries.
  • Establishing and using the synergy between three organisations in three countries connecting and challenging each other – also in connection with other international initiatives as DEEEP4 and The Smart CSOs Lab.

Which challenges are still to be faced?

Although we did several attempts to get the larger organisations on board we found it difficult  connecting to the organisations dependent on private fundraising – especially regarding their fundraising campaigns where the hard-hitting argument seemed to be “but photos of starving children is what get people to donate money”. Future challenges will be:

  • Engaging the large international organisations in the discourse.
  • Identifying and developing synergy between fundraising and communication in a constructive way (instead pointing fingers at each other’s shortcomings).
  • Continually to cultivate and support the national and transnational networks initiated by Reframing the Message.

Original article found on: DEEEP

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On the Media: Ebola – media ‘overlooked Africa’s role in combating crisis’

Original article found on: The Guardian

By: Sam Jones on April 7, 2015

African Union says media downplayed Africans’ willingness and ability to deal with Ebola and focused instead on part played by international agencies

A Liberian health worker checks the temperature of students to curb the spread of Ebola in Caldwell, outside the capital Monrovia. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

A Liberian health worker checks the temperature of students to curb the spread of Ebola in Caldwell, outside the capital Monrovia. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

Africa’s efforts to tackle the Ebola crisis have been largely overlooked even though Africans have taken the lead in providing frontline staff and shown themselves “better placed to fight infectious diseases in their continent than outsiders”, according to the African Union (AU).

Dr Olawale Maiyegun, director of social affairs at the AU commission, said that despite the fact that Africans had proved both willing and able to deal with Ebola, the focus had been on the work of international agencies and those with the greatest media clout.

“Unfortunately, Africans do not have the international voice of CNN, BBC and France 24, therefore much of our work is overlooked in the western media,” he said. “Most of the assistance provided by the international community is in the areas of finance and infrastructure. In the most critical human resources for health, Africans – including the affected countries – have had to take the lead.”

His comments come six months after Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, accused African leaders of failing to do enough to address the health crisis. “Ebola has exposed the extreme weaknesses of our institutions as governments; countries which are affected were found totally unprepared,” she told African business leaders in November last year. “It’s time Africa began to give real value to human life, in other words African human lives.”

Others have criticised the AU for waiting 10 months before holding an emergency summit on the outbreak.

However, Maiyegun argued that the AU and the Economic Community of West African States had reacted well to the crisis, with the AU deploying more than 835 African health workers to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea at the peak of the epidemic. “The success of African health workers – including the heroic health workers of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – shows one thing: African health workers are better placed to fight infectious diseases in their continent than outsiders,” he said.

Maiyegun said the AU’s response had been guided by the philosophy that it should not dictate how the the affected countries should run their fight against Ebola. “We put volunteers at the disposal of the governments of the affected countries,” he said. “They told us what to do and we have performed creditably.”

He added: “The people of the affected countries must be given credit for doing a good job. With so many actors in the field, it’s important that it’s not just those with the loudest voices who are credited in the press for bringing Ebola under control.”

Maiyegun said the recent report from the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières‎ (MSF) – which accused the governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone of obstructing the early response and contributing to the loss of life – had shown that everyone involved in managing the crisis needed to reflect on their actions.

“There is no doubt that MSF has played a very important role in the fight against the epidemic and they should be well acknowledged,” he said. “However, MSF also needs to have a comprehensive assessment of its involvement, particularly in its approach and its methods in the fight against Ebola.”

In January and February, lab workers in two Guinean medical centres – one of them run by MSF – put blood samples in the wrong test tubes. The mix-ups led to the release of at least four patients who later tested positive for Ebola, two of whom went on to die. Rather than “pointing accusing fingers at others”, said Maiyegun, the charity should be conducting an internal review.

MSF said it had taken the incident very seriously and worked with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Guinean ministry of health to make sure the situation was contained and lessons learned. “We are relieved that no one else contracted Ebola as a result of coming into contact with a patient who wrongly tested negative and have taken steps to make sure such an incident does not happen again,” said a spokeswoman.

She described the report as an “initial reflection on the past year”, adding: “With our teams still heavily involved in tackling the ongoing outbreak it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions; we do not yet have the necessary distance for a thorough critical review. More in-depth assessments – including of MSF’s own work – will certainly follow.”

Maiyegun counselled against premature talk of an end to the Ebola crisis, describing the race to halt new infections as a “bumpy road”. He said the hundreds of potential new cases discovered following Sierra Leone’s three-day lockdown last weekend underlined the need for continued vigilance.

Maiyegun declined to put a date on an end to the crisis – which has killed more than 10,300 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – pointing out that unpredictability was one of the hallmarks of previous Ebola outbreaks in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“One thing is certain,” he said. “We cannot completely declare one of the three affected countries free of Ebola if the outbreak persists in two other countries.”

According to the latest figures from the WHO, 79 new confirmed cases of Ebola were reported in the week to 22 March – the lowest weekly total in 2015. Guinea reported 45 new cases and Sierra Leone 33. Liberia, which had seen no new cases for three consecutive weeks, confirmed a new one on 20 March.

Original article found on: The Guardian

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On the Media: ZEKE Magazine – The Magazine of Global Awareness

ZekeGraphic

A great new magazine is launching very soon. ZEKE, published by the Social Documentary Network, will explore the world through photographs, ideas, and words, by leading documentary photographers from across the globe. The first issue will feature the best work from SDN from the previous year. ZEKE will combine photography with essays about the issues explored by the photographers.

The first issue has feature articles on Water/Scarity, Bangladesh Garment Industry, and Rio/Brazil, as well as interviews and other photography and content of interest to people interested in documentary.

Visit the ZEKE website for more information, and if inspired (which I hope you are) consider purchasing a print or digital copy.

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On the Media: Albert Maysles (1926-2015) Pushed Documentary Filmmaking Forward to the Very End

Original article found on: Slate

By: Charles Loxton

Two men who revolutionized documentary filmmaking: Al Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker. Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Two men who revolutionized documentary filmmaking: Al Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker. Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images

In the 1960s, siblings Albert and David Maysles helped pioneer the techniques of cinema verité in a form of documentary film that they liked to call “direct cinema.” Adapting new, portable 16mm cameras so that Albert could shoot picture while David recorded sound, the brothers placed themselves in the heart of the action—on location with Orson Welles in Madrid, on the primary campaign trail with JFK, at Idlewild Airport for the Beatles’ first touchdown in the U.S.

Along with contemporaries D.A. Pennebaker, Ricky Leacock, Robert Drew, and Frederick Wiseman, the Maysles brothers liberated documentary from the presentational format of the newsreel and the talking head. They crafted compelling narratives by capturing real-life drama enacted by real people, from Bible salesmen (in 1969’s Salesman) to the Beales (in 1975’s Grey Gardens) to the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band.

Direct cinema’s influence on nonfiction filmmaking was so extensive that the style is now virtually indistinguishable from the form itself. But it’s worth remembering that the movement would not have been possible without the technical innovations that made motion picture cameras lightweight enough to be handled deftly by, say, a diminutive psychology teacher from Brookline, Mass., which is what Albert Maysles was when he made his first film.

David Maysles died in 1987, but Albert continued shooting and making movies pretty much until yesterday, when he, too, passed away. I worked in production with Albert at Maysles Films for three years at the turn of the millennium, a time when his passion for the possibilities of nonfiction filmmaking was reignited by another technological revolution: that of the digital camera.

Throughout his career, Albert remained a bit of a techie. Always adapting his gear for the field, he once glued a small circular mirror to an elbowed metal rod, which he then secured with electrician’s tape to the bottom of his old Bach Auricon so he could see what was going on behind him while he was rolling.

I took a look and told him that it didn’t work—the image in the mirror was blurry. He grinned broadly as he replied that he had found a reflective lens that matched his eyeglasses prescription. I’m still not sure if he was having me on.

Early in 2000, Albert got his hands on Sony’s PD150, a very lightweight, truly handheld DV camera capable of recording high-quality picture and sound in a digital format. Yes, he beamed like a kid with a new toy, but he also spoke with the conviction of a visionary when he said that such cameras would usher in a new wave of documentary film by granting shooters unprecedented freedom, access, and opportunity.

Albert Maysles with Morgan Spurlock at Sundance. Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Albert Maysles with Morgan Spurlock at Sundance. Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

It’s difficult to convey how ludicrous this sounded back then, before we all carried phones that take substantially better pictures than Al’s PD150. For every day’s shooting, we incurred tens of thousands of dollars of film stock and processing fees. We did so because video just looked cheesy. How could a movie have an impact if it had all the visual appeal of the local weather report? If you wanted to make an enduring, serious picture, you had to shoot in film, and you had to find a way to finance it. And before just about everybody else, Albert knew all that was about to change.

Within a year, he was in Rome with his PD150 shooting Martin Scorcese and his crew on the set of Gangs of New York, one part of a series commissioned by the Independent Film Channel titled With the Filmmaker.* It was, I believe, one of the very first programs shot in digital video format to be aired on a serious cable channel.
Before citizen journalists, before YouTube, Albert was giddy over the prospect of more cameras in more hands recording more unexpected moments. Albert’s camerawork features in some of American cinema’s most iconic documentaries because he always kept this eye for action. He understood the documentary cinematographer’s art to be primarily that of the storyteller, and he always believed that what he captured was related, not inconsequentially, to the truth.

*Correction, May 7, 2015: This article originally misstated that Albert Maysles was in Rome shooting Wes Anderson on the set of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He was shooting Martin Scorcese on the set of Gangs of New York.

Original article found on: Slate

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On the Media, Afghanistan: Reporting open data in Afghanistan

Original article found on: Journalism.co.uk

By: Catalina Albeanu; February 18, 2015

Credit: By Jorge Franganillo on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Credit: By Jorge Franganillo on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

“A lone man data journalist is not very tenable anywhere, let alone in some developing countries and conflict environments.”

So says data journalism adviser Eva Constantaras, who has been running data journalism workshops for local media in countries such as Afghanistan, as part of her work with the NGO Internews.

One project developed after Internews’ workshops is an investigation into Afghanistan’s drug trade by Rohullah Armaan Darwish, an investigative reporter at PAYK.

The first story in the series, looking at the country’s opium eradication programme, was published last week.

Constantaras told Journalism.co.uk part of Internews’ aim is helping media outlets in developing countries make the most of open data movements and platforms that are being set up, and also prepare for digital conversion.

She said the combination of low data literacy and an independent media landscape that’s not fully established yet means citizens in countries like Afghanistan are not demanding data driven stories from news outlets.

The workshops in Afghanistan were set up with the aim of getting journalists “more engaged in the accountability and transparency process,” and to showcase tools they can use to tell stories with data.

Internews works with journalists who want to explore subjects in-depth and who usually have a history in feature writing or investigations, said Constantaras.

She added that the best data journalists aren’t necessarily those who “are very good at math”.

“Really they might have never heard of data journalism but they’re already looking for the tools for actual quantifiable information about a sector or about a subject,” she explained.

Constantaras highlighted the language barrier as one of the main challenges journalists in Afghanistan face when working with data. There is a “crazy level of linguistic isolation,” she said.

“I’m not talking about they can’t code in Python. [With] most tools, the menus are in English. Even if the data is about Afghanistan, the data is still in English.”

Even if the data is about Afghanistan, the data is still in English
Eva Constantaras, Internews
She explained that even in the case of survey data where the questions were asked in the local language, the results are often translated into English before publication.

As most Afghani journalists do not speak English, she said, tools highlighted during the workshops include Infogram and Excel, whose menus are available in local languages, while Google Translate features heavily in their work.

Most data scraping programmes are also designed to work in English, she added.

While investigative or data-driven stories are published from Afghanistan, they are more likely to appear in English, targeted at an international audience.

But stories such as the drug trade investigative series address angles that would interest an Afghan audience, said Constantaras.

They are also designed to present a story in an accessible format – usually in print or on the radio, she explained.

She added that quality data-driven stories increase a media outlet’s credibility and reputation.

“Open data is a really new concept in Afghanistan. Can we channel that through trusted information channels, so through radio and some print [outlets] in Kabul, and have people access that information and make better decisions and be more aware of what the government is doing?”

While the workshops run by Internews cover tools like Infogram, which enables users to embed interactive graphics into online stories, Constantaras said reporters often save their data visualisations as static images to be published in print.

“That’s how people are consuming their news,” she said.

“[But] we also want them also to know how to make interactive data visualisations. It will just make them more competitive when digital conversion does happen.”

Original article found on: Journalism.co.uk

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On the Media: Muslim Women In South Thailand Empowered To Develop Their Own Citizen News Reports

Original article found on: Emergency Journalism

By Angelique Reid for UNDP Thailand, November 19 2014

Published on January 30th, 2015 | by EJC

Published on January 30th, 2015 | by EJC

Songkhla, Thailand – Thirty-four Muslim women from Southern Thailand, used their new found skills in broadcasting journalism to direct and edit their own news reports on issues pertinent to their lives. The women’s first-ever citizen news reports were developed over a three-day media communications training held in Songkhla province, in collaboration with Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS), Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and supported by UNDP in Thailand.

The Muslim women aged between 30 and 60 years old attended the training organised by Thai PBS, to give citizens especially those who are marginalised, the opportunity to have their voices heard and to share their ideas and viewpoints about their communities.

Understanding the basics of broadcast journalism

The women, who are members of the Association of Muslim Women in Songkhla and Yala provinces, worked with a team of four from Thai PBS’ Civic Media Network Department to learn the basics of broadcasting journalism. With an agenda packed with theoretical and practical sessions, they learnt how to write their own scripts, take their own pictures and present their stories in styles and dialects most comfortable to them. Using video cameras and editing equipment supplied by Thai PBS, the women learnt about directing, story-telling, teamwork and how to think creatively about issues. Working in small groups of four, the participants ventured out into a number of communities in Songkhla province and met with residents. The women then set about interviewing a variety of people, with an aim to produce their own stories that covered everything from the environment, cultural issues and problems in the communities.

Effective practical training

“What I learnt from the media communications training, is that reporting is not about assuming; it’s about investigating the facts,” said Umaporn Sahimsa, a participant from Songkhla province. “The more I learnt, the more I became interested in all aspects of the training – I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the training is very important, although I’m old, it will benefit my community [Thepha District] because it has become a historical area for tourism and I would like to produce a short film about it,” she added.

Nareerat Samoh, who also produced a citizen news report, said it was the first time she had ever encountered this type of practical training. “We learnt about the importance of good communications because if you don’t communicate effectively, it can have negative connotations. Good communication helps to build mutual understanding among the people,” said Nareerat enthusiastically. “I will apply what I’ve learnt in the training to raise awareness about the development activities taking place in my community and to highlight the issues of concern,’ she said.

Overseeing the training, UNDP Thailand consultant, Walaitat Worakul described the Muslim women as ‘enthusiastic with an unwavering willingness to learn’. “The communication training was designed, not only to teach media production techniques, but to also empower the Muslim women to communicate the issues they saw in the communities through a ‘civic journalist lens’.  The eight short documentaries produced by the women reflected the issues in the communities from eight different angles. Yet, all of them are equally important. The skills and the confidence they have gained will be invaluable and stand them in good stead in the future,” said Ms. Worakul.

Empowering local communities

Thai PBS Manager, Acharawadee Buaklee, who manages the civic media network department and organised the training said, “Citizen journalists play an important role in news gathering and news reporting at Thai PBS. Citizen journalism is an effective way to empower local communities. It provides them with space they cannot find in other mainstream media. Through citizen news reports, ordinary citizens hold local authorities accountable and air grievances on issues that were previously ignored. Several of their reports have been picked up by mainstream media and become national issues. At the end of this training, the women have produced high quality citizen news reports that we will definitely be airing,” said Acharawadee.

Reflecting on the success of the training, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Luc Stevens said, “The training has been a great exercise in empowering Muslim women to have their voices heard. They have created informative documentaries about a variety of issues in local communities for all to see. It was also great to see such excellent cooperation between UNDP Thailand, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and Thai PBS in making this happen.”

Thai PBS conducts training and workshops for citizens in various regions of Thailand to train them on the basics of broadcasting journalism, in collaboration with both local and international organizations. Thai PBS provides a three-minute daily time slot at the end of the evening news cast for the Citizen News Reports, where the reports produced by the members of the Association of Muslim Women of Songkhla and Yala provinces will be aired.

This citizen news report was produced by a group of participants who were involved in the media communications training. This video was on aired on Thai PBS on 11 November 2014, and tells the story about the Kao-Seng community and their efforts to prevent coastal erosion in taking place in Songkhla province.

Original article found on: Emergency Journalism

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On the Media: Book Review – Media and Development by Martin Scott

Martin Scott’s Media and Development, published in 2014.

Martin Scott’s Media and Development, published in 2014.

Original article found on: The Source 

By: Ann Hendrix-Jenkins on Jan 28, 2015

We work in an era when technical specialties dig ever deeper into their own rabbit holes of complexity and nuance, while simultaneously calls resound for a next generation of global health and development based on integration, “silo-busting,” and cross-cutting approaches, including capacity development.

In his book Media and Development, Martin Scott, of the University of East Anglia, confronts this dichotomy head on by sketching out three separate media related “fields,” while considering their (at times uneasy) relationships within the one world of global development.

Through delineation and comparison, he highlights their unique conceptual and practical potentials, and then considers their sometimes symbiotic, sometime divergent natures. Overarching all, Scott notes how fast-moving trends in communication technologies that are opening up new frontiers within each.

The three fields:

Communication for Development (C4D). Inclusive of approaches known as behavior change communication, social and behavior change, and entertainment-education, C4D traditionally aims to foster pre-determined awareness, attitudes, and ultimately behaviors that have proven to contribute to better health or development. Well established and relatively well funded, this field boasts the ability to make credible links between donor investments and desired health outcomes.

Media Development. By focusing on the development of a sound in-country media sector, this relatively young development approach aims to support essential foundations for democracy, good governance, human rights, healthy markets, advocacy opportunities, and more.

Media Representations of Development. Characterized by the author as the portrayal of the “global South” and development efforts to Northern audiences, these take the form of humanitarian appeals, NGO fundraising efforts, news, documentaries, films, novels, reality TV, and more. Such efforts often attempt to show both causes and solutions (usually entailing Northern intervention) to global poverty, disease, inequity and more. Among global development practitioners, this wide-ranging set of ideas and formats doesn’t get much notice, and is not often analyzed as a whole, or for its effects on the other fields.

As a premise for considering the state of—and possible futures for—global health and development, the novel juxtaposition of these three fields provides fresh food for thought, including a range of capacity development implications. Foremost, Scott clearly presents the case for recognizing these perspectives as potentially powerful, he warns that too often proponents unfairly elevate them to “magic bullet” status. With that qualification, he explores the transformative role they might play in international development—if we both reimagine them and better position them within this larger context.

Beginning with C4D (but with application to all three) Scott reminds development practitioners to put aside the false assumption that the mere dissemination of information is sufficient to create change. Another idea to jettison: development as a linear process of modernization that eclipses the “traditional.” Media and technology-based approaches are extremely susceptible to these failed premises. [Editorial note: how many photos have we seen of indigenous laughing with amazement at their digital images, presumably shared with them by a foreigner.] Both assumptions are anathemas to true capacity development based on the “agency and distinctiveness of local populations.” (p.33) Conversely, media efforts—within any of the three fields in question—carefully designed and employed to foster agency and voice have incredible potential. For example, what Scott designates as “media hybrids”—e.g. media-based advocacy for policy change or to address inequities—have successfully challenged social or legal structures in many places. Regardless of the model employed, a key role for global development practitioners that becomes apparent throughout this book is that of facilitator, rather than technical expert, technologist, or content supplier.

Scott’s exploration makes wonderfully apparent an entrenched problem of development. Within global health, for example, we are firm in our rational, scientific self-assurance gained from successes based on established biomedical facts and proven using tools like randomized control trials. Too often, we have transferred that certainty to other areas that are not based on predictable physical realities, e.g. communication, policy, advocacy, governance, democracy, and finance. Given the intangible, highly context specific and variable nature of these focus areas, we must unpack our inherent biases (basically, that we know best), change our premises, and THEN imagine development solutions. If our media efforts are based on such biases, they will simply be a new version of the same old thing.

With regard to conceptualizing media development, Scott likens it to “nailing jelly to the wall.” But one thing is clear: again, simply digitizing the old formats is not the way forward. The tenets of classic journalism and freedom of expression hold strong, but as applied with an open mind to emerging models including citizen journalism, crowd-sourced content, and a voice for civil society within or alongside elite- and government-owned and controlled media. Ultimately a strong media can play the role of watchdog, set agendas, and serve as a civic forum. An enabling environment of laws, policies and regulations must be in place to foster a diverse media landscape. All of these—and more—jelly-like  parameters call for diverse and creative approaches to fostering a thriving “media sector.”

Next, Scott breaks humanitarian communication of Northern NGOs into three categories: shock effect appeals, deliberative positivism, and post-humanitarian communication. While the first two attempt to relay the “reality” of life in the global South in order to generate engagement, the third gains attention through NGO brand appeal and new forms of engagement including “clicktivism:” online activities such as sharing on Facebook, and signing online petitions. This shifts the emotional focus to the audience’s own selves, rather than on the people of the global South. While the author doesn’t take a stand on the approaches, Scott makes the case that perhaps the most problematic aspect of this whole “field” is the lack of understanding of causal links between it and mass stereotyping, foreign aid and political decisions, news coverage, and other important implications.

It’s exciting to see this “field” get fresh and serious consideration given extraordinary influence these media approaches must have on the fundamental beliefs and ideas of millions of people in the global North. Yet, a stronger critique is surely warranted, given the appalling nature of much of the content, which is often appears designed to simply fulfill short-term fundraising efforts, rather than promote nuanced understanding.

In sum, this book provides an accessible overview for students, and a timely stock-taking for experienced professionals trying to keep up with dizzying rates of change. Thus, this book speaks to any “career at the intersection between media and development.” (p. 195)

As the fields of media, communication and technology are at times thoughtlessly conflated, yet also actually converging at points, the implications are myriad. Scott portrays media within development, media about development, media as a delivery device, and media’s role in fostering change. A widening range of actors are involved, and he notes the potential value of incorporating a political economy perspective. While he cautions against undue influence of ICT4D technologists who rely on an “innocent, techno-fascinated worldview” (p.197), he also recognizes how “new media can promote interactivity, debate, decentralized networks and greater individual autonomy.” (p. 202) Then again, media can also have the opposite effect.

More than ever, design and implementation of development efforts must take into account the larger contexts: Scott cites the need “to speak of media’s role in social change, rather than development.” (p. 199) Scott recognizing that his wide-ranging exploration might raise more questions than provide answers. Nevertheless, any shortcuts that don’t include grappling with these ideas are likely to do just that—fall short.

While Scott’s book doesn’t focus on capacity development per se—that might call for a second volume—the one-step removed nature of capacity development fundamentally lends itself to taking the long and bird’s eye views to enable us to strategically support locally-conceptualized, locally-driven and locally-implemented employment of media formats and communication content to promote equitable global health and development through social change.

This book review was written by Ann Hendrix-Jenkins for LenCD. Ann has an MA in International Development from American University and 25 years of experience in international development and global health. Ann currently works at Futures Group as a Technical Director on Capacity Building. 
Contact Ann on Twitter @AnnHJenkins or by email AHendrix-Jenkins@futuresgroup.com
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Development, On the Media: The Great Debate – Freedom of Information and Media in the UN’s New Global Development Goals

Original article found on: The Source
Posted on January 20, 2015Bill Orme
UN Representative, Global Forum for Media Development

This Monday, the UN General Assembly began its final phase of negotiations over the UN’s next set of global development goals, which will succeed the expiring Millennium Development Goals and guide international development priorities and aid funding for the next 15 years.  The debates will continue in weekly sessions every month through July, with the new “Sustainable Development Goals” to be adopted in September.

These new goals could provide an unexpected long-term global boost to public access to what should be public information, from official and private sources alike.

Or they may not – but we’ll know within a few months.

The ‘SDGs’ differ from the MDGs in that they are intended to be universal, applying to the developed North as well as to the South, with goals ranging from poverty eradication and disease prevention to gender equity and environmental protection.

They also differ notably from the MDGs in that they include – as currently drafted, despite objections from many UN member states   – several quite specific obligations intended to promote just and effective governance.

Among those proposals, to the surprise of many UN observers, is a commitment to public access to information, as one of the 169 proposed SDGs ‘targets,’ which still need to be backed up by agreed factual ‘indicators.’  Those yet-undetermined indicators could include legal guarantees and the actual observance of the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas, through any media and regardless of frontiers” – to cite the prescient but nonbinding language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

World leaders and development experts advising the UN on the post-2015 goals have stressed the need for freedom of expression and independent media in monitoring and ultimately achieving these goals.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his official recommendations to the General Assembly on the post-2015 agenda last month, pointed to “press freedom, access to information and freedom of expression” as essential “enablers of sustainable development.”

Yet as debate gets underway this week, it remains uncertain whether any clear commitment to the public’s right to all relevant information – from governments or elsewhere – will be included in the 2015-2030 “Sustainable Development Goals” that the UN General Assembly will adopt in September.

In the 18 months of UN negotiations over the 17 proposed  “SDGs” that are now being debated, draft references to “independent media” and “freedom of expression” were deleted in response to objections from several influential UN members, including Security Council powers Russia and China. Yet surviving in the agreed final text, in the 16th of the 17 recommended goals, is a “target” requiring all countries to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”

As UN diplomats convened for the post-2015 negotiations Monday, there was clearly growing resistance to any major redrafting or reduction of the painfully achieved compromise proposal for 17 goals, out of concern that any gains in precision or practicality would be outweighed by losses in substance and impact.

But the 169 aptly named ‘targets’ remain very much in the crosshairs, vulnerable to rewriting or elimination for a variety of practical and substantive reasons.  As an Austrian diplomat noted at the UN Friday, the current SDGs proposal would in effect obligate UN agencies to monitor 32,617 different data sets from 193 governments on 169 targets on an annual basis – a task that would be politically and technically daunting, if not impossible.

Technically, however, progress on access to information is not that hard to track, UN officials acknowledge. Moreover, many governments and civil society activists from North and South alike have strongly endorsed the proposed target on access to information, improving its chances of survival.

Leading international human rights groups, in a joint message to the UN Friday as civil society representatives met with UN officials in New York to discuss the post-2015 deliberations, stressed the need for “transparent monitoring and accountability mechanisms at the national level which are underpinned by a safe and free environment for civil society, and access to information.”

Also on Friday, the team of statisticians and economists advising the UN on indicators for the proposed SDGs released its penultimate draft report, with newly added recommendations for Target 10 of SDG 16.   The experts in the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network proposed that UNESCO monitor the adoption and implementation of legal guarantees of public access to information, as well as cases of journalists killed in the line of duty. Separately, under goals aimed at economic development, the report proposed indicators from the International Telecommunications Union on progress toward universal access to online information.

That’s a significant advance. The soberly phrased inputs of UN technocrats in this contentious area – showing that freedom of information and media is not only important but measurable, and in fact already measured by the UN in many ways – may overcome political and practical concerns in some wavering countries.  But diplomats stressed to NGO representatives at the UN Friday that transparency and accountability provisions in the SDGs remain vulnerable without sustained public support from civic activists in coming months – and more active coverage of the issue by the journalists whose interests an access-to-information commitment would help protect.

Original article found on: The Source
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On the Media, Afghanistan: Violence, threats and insecurity – The challenges of reporting in Afghanistan

Original article found on: IFEX
By Alexandra Theodorakidis
5 December 2014
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
This statement was originally published on cjfe.org on 1 December 2014.

 

Violence against journalists in Afghanistan has been steadily increasing in 2014 with the withdrawal of foreign troops and a decrease in international aid. Five journalists were killed in the first four months of 2014. As control over Afghanistan’s national security transfers from international to Afghan forces and peace talks continue with the Taliban, there has been some uncertainty as to what will happen to the media and free expression in the country, especially as it underwent presidential elections.

CJFE’s 2014 Tara Singh Hayer Award winner Kathy Gannon was one journalist caught in the crossfire. She and her longtime friend and work partner, photographer Anja Niedringhaus, were covering the run-up to the elections in April 2014 when an Afghan police officer suddenly opened fire into the back of their vehicle. Niedringhaus was killed instantly, while Gannon was severely injured.

The latest upsurge in violence against journalists follows a short period of opening and development in the media. Pre-9/11 Afghanistan under Taliban rule had restricted access to independent media, both local and international. There was one Taliban-controlled radio station, used for state announcements and religious proclamations. Things began to change after the US invasion of Afghanistan that saw control lifted from the Taliban and transferred to an ostensibly more democratic system. In 2014, there are “175 FM radio stations, 75 TV channels, four news agencies, and hundreds of publications, including seven daily newspapers, Internet cafés in major cities and mobile phones in the hands of about half the population of 29 million people.”

While Afghan journalists have made great strides in establishing media outlets and providing Afghans with comprehensive coverage of local and national events in recent years, there are still many challenges being faced by local and foreign journalists alike, namely, harassment, threats and lack of support from government authorities.

Afghanistan currently ranks sixth on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Global Impunity Index. According to CPJ, fatalities are higher among foreign journalists than local journalists. Many Afghan journalists have been specifically targeted, kidnapped or intimidated by the Taliban, local warlords and on occasion by Afghan government or security officials. The situation is particularly bad if they are associated with Western media, which is being increasingly smeared by the Taliban and similar armed groups. Nai, a non-profit organization supporting open media in Afghanistan, reports 52 incidents of violence against journalists so far this year.

British-Swedish journalist Nils Horner was killed in March 2014, targeted while reporting on a suicide bombing that had occurred earlier in the year in Kabul. A Taliban-splinter group claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that Horner was not a journalist but a spy working for MI6. However, there is no concrete evidence that this group actually carried out the murder. Cilla Benkö, the director general of Horner’s employer Swedish Radio, said that Afghan authorities have not been very active in seeking the actual perpetrators of this crime, likely because Horner was a foreign correspondent.

Journalists not only face threats and attacks from terrorists but also intransigence from government officials who are uncooperative and withhold access to information. Authorities have been known to make threats in order to deter journalists from pursuing a story. The situation is even worse for women who are still largely underrepresented in the Afghan media.

According to a female journalist who heads a radio station in Balkh province, being a female journalist is particularly challenging. They face sexual harassment and threats from officials, strangers and sometimes even family members. Cultural constraints on women in Afghanistan often restrict them to work inside the office, instead of venturing out to do field work. In many places in Afghanistan, the idea of women undertaking public roles and working is considered taboo. Additionally, there is pressure on women working in the media from family elders to quit their jobs in order to avoid wider repercussions for the entire family, or because they view the career as unseemly. Lack of training and resources for women in the media is also a serious issue.

In September 2014, Palwasha Tokhi Meranzai, a female Afghan journalist, was killed inside her home by an unknown assailant. She had received a death threat relating to her reporting about a month before her murder; despite evidence that the motive was tied to her profession, Afghan security services persist in treating it as a robbery.

Since early 2013, press freedom organizations have noted a decrease in the number of women currently working as journalists in Afghanistan due to the culture of fear created by religious militants such as the Taliban and related organizations. Shaffiqa Habibi, director of the Afghan Women Journalist Union, told CPJ in 2013 that she estimated that 300 of the 2,300 professional female journalists had stopped working out of fear for their personal safety.

While there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future of a free press in Afghanistan and the safety of journalists working in the country, many are taking steps to ensure they will be safe in their work. In August, 20 female journalists in the northern province of Jawjzan formed the first union of female journalists in Afghanistan. The union aims to promote women’s rights in the region and provide training and support specifically geared to women in the field. Similar unions have been established in other provinces across the country.

There is also evidence that the current Afghan government might be softening towards journalists; a New York Times correspondent, expelled from Afghanistan earlier in 2014 over a story he wrote on the presidential elections, was recently allowed to re-enter the country. Matthew Rosenberg was told to leave Afghanistan by the administration of former President Hamid Karzai after he penned an article stating that a group of government officials had formed an interim government in the hopes of seizing power during the election’s stalemate.

On October 5, Mohammad Daoud Sultanzai, an adviser to newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, said in a statement that if a journalist has a credible source for a story, they should be allowed to write it, as per the law. Although there has been a spike in violence over the last year towards journalists working in Afghanistan, there remains cause for optimism that the country can continue to develop a strong independent press. If the current government continues its commitment to protecting the rights of journalists and freedom of the media, Afghans may be able to avoid returning to the oppression and censorship they experienced under Taliban rule.

Alexandra Theodorakidis is a former CJFE intern and current freelance journalist based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @AlexandraTheo.

Original article found on: IFEX

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On the Media: UN Secretary General Calls for Media in Post-2015

Original article found on: The Source

Posted on December 8, 2014Rosemary D’Amour

 

The campaign for media and access to information’s inclusion in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals gained a new advocate last week in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who reaffirmed their importance in a synthesis report for the SDGs.

The report, noting the evolving information needs of communities and the necessity of supporting institutions for inclusive societies, cites access to information and media as integral to the post-2015 development agenda, a topic which CIMA has been following closely over the last  year.

“Press freedom and access to information, freedom of expression, assembly and association are enablers of sustainable development.” ~Synthesis Report of the Secretary General on the Post-2015 Agenda

Ban’s report is welcome support for what has been a lengthy challenge for press freedom and freedom of information advocates, including the Global Forum for Media Development and Article 19, who have spearheaded initiatives to get these issues on the table at United Nations Open Working Group sessions.

“The Secretary General’s report today echoed civil society calls for post-2015 commitments to freedom of information and media both as crucial rights-based ends in themselves and as practical necessities for monitoring progress towards all the proposed new goals,” GFMD said in a press release last week.

However, the process is not over yet. The road to final adoption of the SDGs faces significant roadblocks from authoritarian countries opposed to media’s inclusion on the indicators. On another front, the SDGs have come under criticism of late for the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed, which some member states feel would be challenging to implement by 2030. Ban’s synthesis report, which highlights the necessity of these goals, comes as a strong recommendation for their adoption.

The Global Forum for Media Development has launched a campaign to keep media and freedom of information as part of the post-2015 process. We recommend you join the coalition and take a look at their resources, including the video below.

Original article found on: The Source

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On the Media: The Kremlin Is Killing Echo of Moscow, Russia’s Last Independent Radio Station

Original article found on: The Daily Beast

By Anna Nemtsova, 11/07/14

For years, if you asked politicians whether Russia had freedom of speech, they’d cite Echo of Moscow. Now the station may be fighting its last battle, its editor tells The Daily Beast.

Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

The situation sounded ridiculous to the 89 journalists who work for Russia’s most famous independent radio station, Echo of Moscow, and to many of its 7 million listeners across the country. Circumventing Echo company policy and going over the editor in chief’s head, Gazprom-Media, the company’s main shareholder, fired one of Echo’s most respected hosts, Alexander Plyushchev, and ordered security not to let journalists into their office Friday morning.

What for? Officially for an “insensitive” tweet by Plyushchev earlier this week about the accidental death of the elder son of Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff. Plyushchev later apologized and deleted the tweet. But Echo editor in chief Alexei Venediktov sees the incident as a pivotal incident in the “long-term war” the Kremlin has fought against the radio station, he told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview.

That war has been a long one. Venediktov has weathered many battles as Echo’s editor, and his own life has been threatened. One morning a few years ago, the editor left his apartment to find an ax stuck into a log on his doorstep. During the last few months of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Venediktov and his colleagues have appeared on multiple black lists, labeled as “enemies of Russia,” “Russophobes,” and members of a “fifth column.”

But this time, Echo is coming under attack from all sides. “This war is being fought on all fields, starting in the Ministry of Natural Resources and ending with the prosecutors,” Venediktov said. It is clear to the veteran editor that if he lets the authorities fire his reporter today, tomorrow there will be no Echo of Moscow. So Venediktov has decided to take the “illegal attacks” on the station to court, though his chances of success are low. “Plyushchev’s case was a way to show us the mechanism for Echo’s destruction,” he said. “The order comes from the very top. The Kremlin is determined to eliminate Echo’s policy by dismissing me, the station’s editor in chief, and the core reporters.”

Does Venediktov have any hope that Echo of Moscow will survive this battle? “I don’t think so,” he said. “Look outside your window. We are just a part of the landscape.”
To the millions of Russians who listen to Echo both on the radio and online, the idea of life without Echo is unthinkable. Muscovites call their favorite station “Ukho Moskvy” (Ear of Moscow) and see it as an institution, a compass for society. Echo has documented all the crises of the post-Perestroika era, wars, conflicts, scandals, and protests. “In all our worst crises, politicians have always supported us, since they knew that once every door was closed to them, if they were blackmailed or discredited, Echo would always give them a chance to speak out, as our policy is not to participate in any media or political wars,” radio host Olga Bychkova told The Daily Beast on Friday.

Echo’s microphone has always been available to any top politician, from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to Hillary Clinton; opposition leaders; social workers; and even random Russians, calling in to Echo’s live shows day and night. For Russians, losing Echo would be as painful as losing NPR would be for Americans or losing the BBC would be for Britons. But in Russia, there is no alternative to Echo.

Would the Kremlin and its supporters regret losing Echo? “I don’t think any Russian patriot will miss them,” said Yuri Krupnov, an analyst for a pro-Kremlin think tank and a blogger for Echo, said in an interview on Friday. “Echo has very professional journalists, but all of them have purely neoliberal views. We don’t need a radio station with an agenda.”

But is there any chance Russia will get an alternative to Echo, a stage for wide-ranging discussions? “No, there is no demand for professional journalism,” Krupnov said. “The team in power want to keep things as they are now.”

For over two decades, if you asked Russian politicians whether there was freedom of speech or democracy in Russia, the answer would be: “Yes, look, we have Echo of Moscow.” So what got the Kremlin so angry at Echo of Moscow this time? It may come down to Ukraine: On the Echo show With My Own Eyes on October 29, Sergei Loiko of the Los Angeles Times and Timur Olevsky of Rain TV described covering the battle for the Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine. Two days later, for the first time in Echo’s 25-year history, the authorities presented the station with a written warning, with the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications accusing Echo of “extremism.”

The war against Echo has coincided with the rise of Russian nationalist and pro-Kremlin movements. Last weekend, on Russia’s Unity Day, about 60,000 demonstrators gathered in central Moscow, waving placards that said: “An Attack on Russia Is an Attack on Me.” A majority of Russians take the economic sanctions imposed by Europe and United States deeply personally, as an attack on Russia’s sovereign policy. The sanctions have consolidated Russian support for Vladimir Putin, pushing the president’s approval rating to 84 percent. Does Venediktov have any hope that Echo of Moscow will survive this battle? “I don’t think so,” he said. “Look outside your window. We are just a part of the landscape.”

 

Original article found on: The Daily Beast

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