Issues & Analysis
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Media: Citizen Participation and Technology: An NDI Study

Posted on July 1, 2014Julianna Jerosch  

After the Arab Spring, technology became the panacea for democratic development issues. Many programs focus on using technology to engage citizens and to spread information, but how effective are these tools at promoting democracy?

Representatives from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) visited NED headquarters on June 30 to discuss their recent study, Citizen Participation and Technology. The study aims to provide realistic expectations for technology as a democracy-building tool. By examining case studies of several NDI programs, the study assesses the effectiveness of tech tools and how they can enhance development work.

Information and communications technology (ICT) creates more space for citizens to use their voice and provides greater access to information. In closed environments, increased information and communication is vital, but the real challenge is to turn this into meaningful political dialogue. Tech tools may strengthen citizen voices, but often the normative framework that drives political action is not democratic. Technology does not negate the need to develop the non-technological facet of programs. Further political development is needed along with the tech tools to see democratic outcomes. A clear connection between the use of technology and democratic developments is necessary for program planning.

Governments that do make use of these new technologies are able to reach a wider audience. However, they treat the public as consumers of services, not as citizens with agency. The underlying incentives for action haven’t changed. Technology has changed the ability to respond, but actual government responsiveness and public input into decision-making is lacking. Additionally, citizens may become disillusioned when increases in information and communication fail to result in reforms. More transparency doesn’t always translate into greater accountability.

Technology is very effective at building coalitions of citizen groups and contributes to their political organization. These groups can focus attention on particular issues and take advantage of political opportunities, applying external pressure when the political will is there. Crowdsourcing does not create self-organizing, politically-influential groups. Citizen groups that use crowdsourcing for public input must use additional engagement activities to mobilize citizens for collective action.

It is unclear that access to technology increases the political power of marginalized groups, who may not have access to technology in the first place. Those who use these tools are often the same individuals and groups who were already occupying the political sphere. The tools end up adding to the number of voices, without necessarily strengthening democracy.

Many programs attempt to use technology as a shortcut, but you can’t get democracy on the cheap. Aspirations are too high for the democratizing power of technology. We need to understand how technology is integrated into the daily lives of citizens and to figure out how technology can be used to address governance issues. What’s the next step in tech?

For more information on this topic, check out the World Bank’s study, Closing the Feedback Loop: Can Technology Amplify Citizen Voices?, and the report by the Institute of Development Studies,Understanding ‘the users’ in Technology for Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

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Media, Development: Calls for media freedom to be included in post-2015 development goals

NEW YORK, 4 July 2014 (IRIN) – In the debate over the inclusion of media freedom and access to information in the post-2015 development agenda, it is perhaps fitting that it all comes down to language.

A growing international coalition has come together in the belief that sustainable development cannot be achieved “without public access to reliable information about health, education, the environment, and other critical development areas – and that requires independent monitoring of that data by media and civil society,” as William Orme, UN representative for the Brussels-based Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), characterized the stakes to IRIN. But will this notion be enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals, currently under discussion in a series Open Working Group meetings? And if so, what will the precise wording be?

The matter is controversial, noted James Deane, director of policy and learning at BBC Media Action, speaking during a panel discussion on 5 June.

“Any discussion of having some kind of goal around governance is already contentious,” he said. “Having a discussion that mentions the word media, especially if it’s associated with anything called freedom, immediately creates a dynamic in the development discussion where a lot of developing countries – and I think particularly the Chinas of this world – become increasingly uncomfortable, feeling that this is a Western agenda, an excuse to compose a conditionality on developing countries, their values, that it will be interpreted in ways that are damaging to their interests and it just immediately becomes – it takes the discussion out of a development context into a much more politically charged set of arguments and discussions.”

“This is not a North vs. South debate, as some have wrongly portrayed it,” said Orme of GFMD. “Many African, Asian and Latin American countries have strongly backed the inclusion of ‘A2I’ [Access to Information] targets in the continuing UN discussions about the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In contrast to the Millennium Development Goals, the new SDGs are intended to apply to all countries, to the North as well as the South. And there is no country where the public availability of independently evaluated development information cannot be improved.”

Last year, the Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons, co-chaired by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, suggested five ways “to ensure good governance and effective institutions” in the post-2015 framework. One was to “ensure people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest, and access to independent media and information”. Another sought to “guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data”.

At the same time, the Open Working Group (OWG), which is made up representatives of 69 member countries, began meeting to develop its own recommendations for the SDGs. In April 2014, the OWG released the Focus Area Document, which asked nations to “improve access to information on public finance management, public procurement and on the implementation of national development plans”. It also advocated removing “unnecessary restrictions of freedom of media, association and speech”. Many media-freedom advocates regarded the document as a regression from the high-level panel’s work.

Stronger wording 

But aided by the advocacy of more than 200 organizations led by GFMD and Article 19 (an NGO dedicated to press freedoms), OWG released a Zero Draft on 2 June that contained much stronger wording than the Focus Area Document. It proposed that SDG No. 16 to “achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law, effective and capable institutions” include subgoals to “improve public access to information and government data” and “promote freedom of media, association, and speech.”

“Having a discussion that mentions the word media, especially if it’s associated with anything called freedom, immediately creates a dynamic in the development discussion where a lot of developing countries … become increasingly uncomfortable”

Jan Lublinski, a project manager for the German international media development agency DW Akademie, said he was “delighted” that the first version of the Zero Draft included passages on media freedom and access to information.

“More and more people are becoming aware that these issues need to be included in the future framework of SDGs,” he told IRIN. “So I am quite optimistic that we will see these important elements in the final document.”

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Media, Development: Guide to Apps for Social Change

One of the main goals of this site is to help practitioners, students, and scholars network, connect, and share best resources. This guide will look at some of the key issues and considerations around using apps in peace and development work, as well as offer some examples of how they are being used.  An app, which is short for (software) application, is  software that is used on a mobile device or smartphone (Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad, etc.).  With the boom in use of smart phones, we have seen a corresponding growth in number of available apps, some of which are being leveraged for social change. According to Forbes, as of December 2013, there are 1,000,000 apps available in the Apple store, with 25,000-30,000 apps being added every month.

This guide is not specifically an endorsement of any particular product/company, but rather some resources you might find useful in your work and research. Before downloading any resource on your device of choice, we highly recommend ensuring the download is safe, spyware and virus free and also appropriate for your operating system.  We encourage others to suggest additional tips and resources in the comments.

When thinking about using or developing an app for your program, here are some key issues to consider:

Does the tool fit the objective?  While apps show a lot of potential in our field, it is important to think about whether or not the technology matches with the goals and means of the project.  Some questions to consider:

  • Do people have access to smart phones? 
  • Will their identities and data be protected? 
  • How will data be monitored, used, and/or put into action? 
  • Are people expecting a response? How will the app meet those expectations and needs?
  • Is there an easier way to meet the same objective(s)?
  • How expensive will it be to develop an app?  Will the app be offered for free?
  • How do you verify accuracy of information and reporting?

There are many questions to ask yourself before deciding that an app will be the most effective tool for your project/program/organization.  Feel free to add additional considerations in the comments below!

Examples of Apps

Apps are being developed in a number of ways.  Some apps focus on sharing and disseminating knowledge and information. Others focus on increasing transparency and accountability by allowing users to submit texts reporting human rights violations, bribery, crime, etc.  There are apps to monitor public health and water quality, apps to promote local commerce and trade, apps to educate girls, apps to educate others about the need to educate girls, and more. Below are just a few examples of the types of apps available to users.  Click on the link for more information about each one.  A reminder: PCDN is not endorsing  any particular product/company. Please make sure the download is safe, spyware and virus free and also appropriate for your operating system before downloading anything.

Source for Infographic: http://www.thinkcomputers.org/infographic-smartphone-trends-for-2013/

Apps for Transparency, Accountability, and Reporting- apps that are used to report crime, incidences of violence, traffic violations, each time they pay a bribe, etc.

Apps disseminating Knowledge and Information– apps that share news sources, videos, educational materials or tutorials, indexes, data, etc.

  • App to strengthen women’s human rights by making the texts and content of UN and other international agreements, resolutions and documents about women’s human rights more easily accessible.
  • United Nations Handbook 2013-14 details how the UN works.
  • Red Flag is a guide to working in high-risk areas that educates businesses about potential human rights violations.
  • IRIN News is a daily humanitarian news and analysis service offered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs with a wide network of locally-based writers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
  • The OECD Info app allows users to access and comment on news, publications, videos, and indexes, as well as participate in discussions, from the OECD.
  • World Bank finances app gives the general public access to mapping, contracts, and procurement data for World Bank projects, loans and grants.
  • Better World Flux lets users look at progress made towards the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, both by indicator and by country, using World Bank Open Data.
  • People Power App, produced by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), gives users access to ICNC’s educational and research materials, information on activities, current events/news related to nonviolence, lectures, interviews, webinars, and an online resource library.

 Apps in Action– apps that are used as a part or whole project/program themselves, in which organization put the information gained from their app into action.

  • Circle6 is an app that allows users to prevent sexual assault by alerting their  close friends through a series of icons that quickly and easily lets their “circle” know where they are and how they can help.
  • UNMAS Landmine and ERW Safety allows individuals to report hazardous areas and items to UNMAS using photos, GPS coordinates, and any other descriptions they can provide.  UNMAS will then use this information to coordinate with the appropriate agency and handle the hazardous areas and items.
  • mWater monitors and maps the quality of drinking water in Tanzania.
  • Ustad Mobile, also known as Mobile Teacher, uses audio and video tutorials to teach users mathematics and two languages (Dari and Pashto). Using phones for education overcomes the lack of computers and increases access to education for women and those in rural areas.
  • KivaLender App users can send micro loans to those in developing countries, scrolling through the latest loan requests on Kiva.org by sector or country, as well as track the progress of individuals they have previously loaned to.
  • Dialogue App– allows citizens to discuss ideas and strategies for improving their communities through an online platform.

  Apps for Philanthropy- apps that are used for charity, philanthropy; creating awareness, support, and funds.

  • Feedie For every photo of food that is shared, The Lunchbox Fund donates actual food to children in need.
  • Charity Miles Users can choose a charity to which a certain amount of money is donated based on how long they run, walk, or bike, tracked by the GPS on the app.
  • Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Equality App lists brands and products from businesses that support LGBTQ equality.
  • Amnesty InternationalAiCandle allows users to light a virtual candle, take part in international campaigns, and sign petitions.

 Putting yourself in their shoes- apps that are geared to help others understand the perspective of those in circumstances different than their own by allowing them to experience or see things from alternate viewpoints.

  • My life as a refugee is a game that creates awareness by role playing the tough decisions and events that real refugees face on a daily basis.
  • Get Water! Is a game that creates awareness about the struggles girls face when trying to access education.  Users have to help Maya collect clean water quickly so she has time to go to school and study.
  • One Day’s Wages raises user’s awareness of global poverty, allowing them to calculate one day’s wages in different areas of the world.
  • UNESCO Bangkok’s Flood Fighter App is a game that teaches about flood safety.

 Conclusion

Funding opportunities for apps and technology for change are rapidly increasing- with challenges to Silicon Valley being made by Kofi Annan, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bob King’s Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, Google Ideas, the World Bank, and more.

If you are interested in learning how to code or build your own app, check out Code Academy’s free online courses,Forbes’ list of cloud-based tools, and/or this list of 9 resources for building your own app. Nextgov offers someguidelines on building a better app, and reviews apps used and produced by the US government.

As noted in this Foreign Policy article, while technology offers us hope and the promise of a brighter future, it is unrealistic to think it can solve all world problems.  In fact, some of the better solutions come from simple projects, rather than overly-ambitious and unnecessary technological inventions (FP compares a $99 dollar soccer ball that will generate power after being kicked around to a more economical and useful $10 solar-powered lamp).

 

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Media: Participant Index Seeks to Determine Why One Film Spurs Activism, While Others Falter

LOS ANGELES — You watched the wrenching documentary. You posted your outrage on Twitter. But are you good for more than a few easy keystrokes of hashtag activism?

Participant Media and some powerful partners need to know.

For the last year Participant, an activist entertainment company that delivers movies with a message, has been quietly working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to answer a question vexing those who would use media to change the world.

That is, what actually gets people moving? Do grant-supported media projects incite change, or are they simply an expensive way of preaching to the choir?

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“The Square” scored extremely high for emotional involvement at 97 out of 100, but dropped to 87 in terms of provoking action. CreditNetflix/Noujaim Films

More immediate, those behind the effort say, new measures of social impact will enable sharper focus and rapid course corrections in what have often been guesswork campaigns to convert films into effective motivational weaponry. That approach would apply to a hit like the movie “Lincoln,” which counseled civic engagement, or to a box-office miss like the antifracking film “Promised Land.” Both were Participant-backed films.

To get the answers it wants, Participant is developing a measuring tool that it calls the Participant Index, assisted in the effort by the Annenberg school’s Media Impact Project. In rough parallel to the Nielsen television ratings, the still-evolving index compiles raw audience numbers for issue-driven narrative films, documentaries, television programs and online short videos, along with measures of conventional and social media activity, including Twitter and Facebook presence.

The two measures are then matched with the results of an online survey, about 25 minutes long, that asks as many as 350 viewers of each project an escalating set of questions about their emotional response and level of engagement.

Did it affect you emotionally? Did you share information about it? Did you boycott a product or company? Did it change your life?

“If this existed, we would not be doing it,” said James G. Berk, chief executive of Participant. “We desperately need more and more information, to figure out if what we were doing is actually working.”

The answers result in a score that combines separate emotional and behavioral measures. On a scale of 100, for instance, “The Square,” a documentary about Egyptian political upheaval that was included in Participant’s first echelon of 35 indexed titles this year, scored extremely high for emotional involvement, with a 97, but lower in terms of provoking action, with an 87, for a combined average of 92.

By contrast, “Farmed and Dangerous,” a comic web series about industrial agriculture, hit 99 on the action scale, as respondents said, for instance, that they had bought or shunned a product, and 94 for emotion, for an average of 97. That marked it as having potentially higher impact than “The Square” among those who saw it.

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The documentary “The Cove,” which looks closely at dolphin killing in Japan, had worldwide ticket sales of just $1.2 million after its release in 2009. Yet it has repeatedly led to campaigns to protect the Japanese dolphins. CreditOceanic Preservation Society/Roadside Attractions

Daniel Green, the deputy director for strategic media partnerships at the Gates Foundation, traces the new drive for impact measurement to a Seattle meeting in December 2011 among about two dozen representatives of nonprofits with an interest in social change.

“Grantors didn’t have a lot of sophistication around their analytics,” said Michael Maness of the Knight Journalism and Media Innovation program, a group that attended. He joined Mr. Green last month in describing frustration among nonprofits at their inability to gauge how much change their projects are prompting.

The Seattle gathering led to an association with the Annenberg school’s Norman Lear Center, which early last year established its Media Impact Project. That project then served as a consultant to Participant in creating its index, which received $4.2 million in combined financing from the Knight and Gates foundations and from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

The methodologies being used for the index will be provided on an open-source basis to those who are interested — whether on the left or right or in the center of the ideological spectrum.

“We’re developing a set of tools and measures that will be available for any researcher, no matter what their viewpoint,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the Lear Center.

Participant, created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, is using that methodology to build a proprietary database. It will feature three echelons with 35 projects each, or about 100 distinct bits of media, annually.

The company will lean heavily toward films and television shows of its own, especially those carried on its activism-driven online and pay-television network, Pivot. But it will also index properties for partners, like the Gates and Kaiser Family foundations, and for companies or others who will pay a fee.

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Participant was created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, left, pictured here with James G. Berk, chief executive.CreditEmily Berl for The New York Times

(Prices have not been set, Mr. Berk said, but he expects to serve nonprofits at cost. He declined to say how much Participant has invested in the index.)

In an inaugural general survey, which polled 1,055 of its viewers in March and April of this year, Chad Boettcher, Participant’s executive vice president for social action, and Caty Borum Chattoo, a researcher and communications professor at American University, found some perhaps surprising results.

Even among the presumably progressive Participant audience, crime ranked near the top of the list of 40 primary concerns. It was cited by 73 percent of respondents as an important social issue, placing it just behind human rights, health care and education.

Gay rights, female empowerment and prison sentencing reform, by contrast, ranked near the bottom of the list, while climate change was stuck in the middle, a concern among 59 percent of respondents. Digital intellectual property issues, at 38 percent, brought up the rear.

Stories about animal rights and food production, it turned out, were the most likely to provoke individual action. But tales about economic inequality — not so much.

Over all, said Marc Karzen, a social media entrepreneur whose company, RelishMix, advises film and television marketers, Participant will most likely affirm what is becoming clear to conventional film studios: Impact can be less about persuasion than nudging an audience to go where it is already pointed.

“You have to embrace your fans, not shout at them,” Mr. Karzen said. “They need to be inspired to spread the word.”

One of the weirdest problems in measuring social impact, and one still unresolved, Mr. Boettcher said, is the paradox of “The Cove.”

That documentary, which looks closely at dolphin killing in Japan, had worldwide ticket sales of just $1.2 million after its release in 2009. Yet it has repeatedly led to campaigns to protect the Japanese dolphins, Mr. Boettcher notes, particularly among activists who are aware of the film but will not watch (and hence, would not be counted under the current methodology of the index) because of its gory content.

“They don’t want to see it,” Mr. Boettcher said, “but they will sign up.”

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Afghanistan: Bicycle a new metaphor of freedom for Afghan women

Paghman (Afghanistan), 27 June 2014 – AFP

Anuj CHOPRA / FEATURE

Trundling down dun-coloured mountain slopes, they ignore hard stares and vulgarities from passing men, revelling in an activity that seemed unthinkable for previous generations of Afghan women –- riding a bicycle.

The sight of a woman on a bicycle may not be unusual in most parts of the world, but it is a striking anomaly in Afghanistan where strict Islamic mores deem the sport unbecoming for women.

The country’s 10-member national women’s cycling team is challenging those gender stereotypes, often at great personal risk, training their eyes not just on the 2020 Olympics but a goal even more ambitious — to get more Afghan women on bikes.

“For us, the bicycle is a symbol of freedom,” said Marjan Sidiqqi, 26, a team member who is also the assistant coach.

“We are not riding bikes to make a political statement. We’re riding because we want to, because we love to, because if our brothers can, so can we.”

One crisp morning, dressed in tracksuit bottoms, jerseys and helmets, Marjan and half a dozen team members, all aged between 17 and 21, set out for a training ride from Kabul to the hills of neighbouring Paghman.

Mindful of turning heads and ogling eyes, they rode in the amber light of dawn through a landscape of grassy knolls, fruit orchards and tree-lined boulevards.

A little boy dressed in a grubby shalwar kameez stopped by the wayside and stared at the girls with wonder and amazement.

Up ahead, dour-looking bearded men in a Toyota minivan pulled up parallel to the cyclists — their stares were more menacing.

But the wheels continued to spin as the women powered ahead undaunted.

They have become accustomed to the hostility, often accompanied by insults:

“Whore.”

“Slut.”

“You’re bringing dishonour to your families.”

“Go home.”

But the team say they are emboldened despite such attitudes -– partly due to the encouraging support from unexpected quarters.

– ‘Living my dream’ –

Fully cloaked in black, the mother of one cyclist came out to cheer them on the way to Paghman, waving, applauding, and exuding enthusiasm that is not shared by most of her extended family.

“My daughter is living my dream,” said Maria Rasooli, mother of 20-year-old university student Firoza.

“My parents never allowed me to ride a bicycle. I can’t let the same happen,” she said, adding that she and her husband kept relatives and neighbours in the dark about their daughter’s sport because “they just won’t understand”.

Thirteen years since the Taliban were toppled from power in a US-led invasion, Afghan women have taken giant strides of progress with access to education and healthcare.

Female lawmakers are no longer an anomaly in Afghan politics and the ongoing election saw the participation of the country’s first woman vice presidential candidate.

That marks a sea change in women’s rights from the Taliban-era, when women weren’t allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone and were brutally repressed and consigned to the shadows.

But gender parity still remains a distant dream as conservative attitudes prevail.

That sentiment is portrayed in a mural by graffiti artist Shamsia Hassani on the walls of a Kabul cafe: burqa-clad women trapped in a watery universe — an allegory of women in the post-Taliban era who have a voice but still cannot be heard.

– ‘Boys or girls?’ –

It’s hard to reason with self-proclaimed arbiters of “morality” who regard a woman mounted on a bicycle as unconceivably risque, say members of the cycling team.

On a recent training session outside Kabul, three young Afghan men riding a motorbike swooped out of nowhere and sideswiped one of the cyclists, 18-year-old Sadaf Nazari, who tripped and tumbled on top of Marjan.

Marjan badly injured her back in the incident, which drove Mohammed Sadiq, head of the Afghan Cycling Federation who was trailing the women in his SUV, into a paroxysm of fury.

He chased down the men -– the two pillion riders escaped, but he caught the driver by his collar and hauled him over to the police headquarters.

Sadiq, who established the team in 2003 after his own daughter expressed an interest in cycling, said the women’s safety was a constant concern — and plans for international troops to pull out of Afghanistan by 2016 has perpetuated those anxieties.

“If the Taliban return, the first casualty will be women’s rights,” he said in an interview in Kabul’s old city.

As he spoke, half a dozen young women, some sporting kohl-accented eyes and henna-dyed hair, convened in his living room for a discussion about nutrition and diet with Shannon Galpin, an American competitive cyclist who is coaching the team for the forthcoming Asian Games in South Korea.

Back on the training ride, the exhausted girls gathered by a freshwater stream in Paghman to refuel on naan bread, raisins and cottage cheese.

Near a roadside kiosk where fresh plums, cherries and mulberries dangled from strings, a curious Afghan man sidled up to Marjan.

“Are you with those cyclists going around the mountain?” he asked.

Startled, Marjan’s eyes darted around as she braced for trouble.

“Yes,” she replied hesitantly.

“Are they boys or girls?” the man enquired.

Marjan’s face lit up with bravado.

“Girls,” she beamed proudly.

 

http://www.afp.com/en/news/bicycle-new-metaphor-freedom-afghan-women

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Afghanistan: Stark choice for many Afghans: sickness or debt

KABUL, 2 July 2014 (IRIN) – The cost of health care is throwing many poor Afghans into a cycle of debt. While most now have access to basic public health care, the quality is so low that many patients seek out private services at a higher cost than they can afford – driving some of them further into poverty.

When Reza Gul’s children get sick, she takes them to a private clinic. Like most Afghans, she thinks she will get better health care there, so she forks out 2,000-3,000 Afghanis (US$35-53) for each visit.

But in order to do so, her jobless husband is forced to borrow money. They have had to borrow 35,000 Afghanis (US$615) to cover health costs. In the winter, her family migrates to Pakistan in search of work and then comes back to Afghanistan during the summer, when employment opportunities pick up in the capital Kabul. They fear they may never be able to repay their debts.

According to a recent report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which surveyed 700 patients in four provinces, 44 percent of respondents were forced to sell their possessions or borrow money to get health care during a recent illness.

“When families get into debt, they cannot afford proper food. Their kids get sick, and malnourished and it creates this perpetual cycle,” said Edi Atte, the field coordinator at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital in Kabul.

“They have to borrow money from a neighbour or someone who has money in order to take care of their child.

“The children can die from something simple, something easy to cure in the hospital. This cycle affects their whole life. The next time around, maybe they cannot get the money. Another child dies. Or if they do get the money, it just adds to the debt they already owe.”

Even though nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment hovers between 35 and 40 percent, reports dating back to 2006 show the vast majority of the population rely heavily on private health care.

Two in three people who described their household as “poor to extremely poor” in the MSF survey (living on US$1 a day or less) had paid an average of $40 for health care during a recent illness. One in four spent more than $114.

“Most people seek private services over governmental ones because their services are of higher quality,” said Mohammad Amin, a supervisor at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital. “And if you compare people’s income to the cost of the health services, the cost is higher than their income.”

But even the private healthcare system pales in comparison to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and India, according to Amin, prompting Afghans to travel abroad for care. MSF found that 65 percent of those who went to Pakistan for treatment were forced to borrow the money or sell goods to make the trip.

Tough choices

The public health system presents its own very serious risks.

Recently, a young woman in Paktia Province was sent to hospital due to complications during pregnancy. On the way, the woman went into labour, according to a woman who accompanied her to the hospital and gave only her first name, Leila. The baby, a stillborn, was only partially delivered – only the head and one hand had exited the mother’s body.

“When we reached the hospital, it was night time,” Leila told IRIN. “The baby was still half-delivered and the woman was in bad condition, but the female doctors told us they could not admit the patient because it was too late.”

The women turned back. By the time they got home, the mother was also dead.

“We had to pull the baby out of the patient’s body,” said Leila, visibly distraught.

This quality of public health care leaves most of the population with limited choices: access the public system and risk poor treatment or access the private system and risk impoverishment.

Nearly 20 percent of patients interviewed by MSF had had a family member or close friend die in the past 12 months due to lack of access to health care. According to the report, the three main obstacles to accessing health care, in cases where its inaccessibility resulted in death, were lack of money, long distances, and conflict.

A grandmother’s experience

Leila, a grandmother living in a household with more than a dozen family members, cannot afford to go to private clinics in her province of Paktia.

“When you’re sick, you have to spend a lot of money in private clinics. We don’t have money and we can’t afford it, so we go to the public clinic. They don’t have a lot of medicine and qualified people, so we just take the medicine we’re given and wait. We hope and see if we get better – or we die.”

The public clinic in her village closed after the Taliban fired rockets on it.

Leila and her husband heard that MSF provided free, quality care so they risked a dangerous five-hour trip to get their pregnant daughter-in-law to MSF’s maternity hospital in Khost. The trip cost the equivalent of $80 – they used their savings from selling pine nuts, but had to borrow $50 to make up the shortfall.

While health costs place considerable strain on people from all strata of society, the poor are hit particularly hard. A 2010 Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) report found that some families were refused treatment in private clinics because they could not afford it.

Corrupt doctors?

In line with Afghanistan’s constitution, primary health services, including medication, at public facilities is free. But stocks often run out, and patients are then forced to buy the medication in private pharmacies or at the bazaar.

The MSF survey showed that 56 percent of patients interviewed who visited a public facility paid for all their medication.

“Often, the doctor has a relationship with a pharmacy,” said Ahmadullah Safi, a medical staff member at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital. “When people go [to the doctor], maybe they don’t need an antibiotic, they need something else. But to do their business [and make money], the doctor prescribes a lot of medicine.”

The private sector accounts for 70 percent of the largely unregulated pharmaceutical market – a system that is contaminated with “substandard, falsified, counterfeit and diverted” medicine, says one report published in what has since been renamed the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice.

For Najibullah Safi, a primary healthcare officer at the World Health Organization, the Afghan health sector is doing the best it can under challenging circumstances.

“There are certain standards that must be followed and we are following those standards. If we compare to some other places, definitely there are a lot of problems with quality… but the types of facilities that are locally acceptable or feasible at this stage are available here.”

According to the World Bank, 85 percent of the Afghan population lives in districts with facilities able to deliver a basic package of health services; and around 60 percent live within one hour’s walking distance of a public health facility.

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Development: Killer Facts on Global Poverty and Development

oxfamblogs.org

Please steal these killer facts: a crib sheet for advocacy on aid, development, inequality etc, by Duncan Green

Development Success

Income Poverty

Worldwide, the proportion of people living in extreme income poverty (< $1.25) has more than halved, falling from 47% to 22% between 1990 and 2010. (Source UN Millennium Progress Report 2013)

Between 1993 and 2008, Vietnam reduced the proportion of people living below the national poverty line from 58% to just 15%. Source ODI.

79% of the world’s $2 a day poor currently live in Middle Income Countries. Over time, the proportion in Fragile and Conflict Affected States (some of them middle income) will rise, although the extent of the shift is hotly disputed (see this blog)

Be cautious on global numbers. The May 2014 release of the World Bank’s new (2011) International Price Comparison dataset appeared to overnight reduce extreme poverty by more than half to 8.9%, according to an initial calculation by CGD. We will have to wait for this to be confirmed/replaced by the Bank.

Health

Nepal’s maternal mortality ratio (MMR) fell by 47% between 1996 and 2006. Source ODI.

Globally, the mortality rate for children under-five deaths fell by 41 per cent—from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990. Source UN In absolute numbers, Under-five deaths have fallen from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. Source UNICEF

Education

In Ethiopia, approximately 3 million pupils were in primary school in 1994/95. By 2008/09, this had risen to 15.5 million – an increase of over 500%. Progress has been through government-led efforts to reduce poverty and expand the public education system equitably, backed by substantial increases in national education expenditure and aid, as well as improved planning and implementation capacity at all levels. Source ODI.

Watsan

Uganda (Water and sanitation): Following reforms and sustained investment in water infrastructure, Uganda increased the proportion of people in rural areas with access to an improved water source from 39% in 1990 to 64% in 2008. Source ODI

Agriculture

With agricultural growth averaging more than 5% a year during the past 25 years, Ghana is one of the top 5 performers in the world. This has contributed to major reductions in poverty and malnutrition. Having raised food production per capita by more than 80% since the early 1980s, Ghana is largely self-sufficient in staples, owing in part to large increases in cassava and yam production as well as improved varieties. Source ODI

Social Protection

India has the largest rights-based employment guarantee programme in the world (NREGA), providing over 4 million households a year with 100 days work. With a strong focus on the poorest and most excluded, the programme is contributing to reduced vulnerability to seasonal and household shocks, as well as improved food security and use of basic services. Source: NREGA website

Finance for Development

From 1990-2011, total international resource flows to developing countries grew from US$425 million to US$2.1 trillion. Much of this has been driven by rapid expansion in foreign investment in developing countries, growing remittances, and increases in lending. Source Development Initiatives.

ODA remains the main international resource for countries with government spending of less than PPP$500 per person per year. Source Development Initiatives

Remittances to developing countries reached an estimated US$436 billion in 2014, over 3 times global aid flows. Source World Bank

Locally generated revenue: Government spending in developing countries is now US$5.9 trillion a year, over 40 times the volume of aid. Source Development Initiatives

Tax: Natural resources accounted for 40% of total tax revenue in Africa from 2008-2011. Source: Eurodad

While non-ODA flows account for over 90% of the total resource receipts in upper-middle income countries (UMICs), these flows account for only one third in least-developed countries (LDCs). Source OECD

Humanitarian

Conflict

According to the OECD, half the world’s poor live in conflict-affected or fragile states (Source: OECD DAC); by 2030 it may by two-thirds (Source: Brookings Institution).

In most yearsall the worst humanitarian crises are in conflicts like Syria, Pakistan, Somalia (Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance).

In 2014 the world will spend $8 billion on peacekeeping (Source: UN), compared to $1745 billion total military spending in 2012 (Source: SIPRI) (i.e. peace merits less than half of one percent of war).

Link to climate change:

  • According to research by International Alert, 46 countries with a population of 2.7 billion could face a high risk of conflict as climate change increases tensions, for example over scarce resources (Source: International Alert).
  • Syria’s conflict started in the fourth consecutive year of severe drought, after decades of falling precipitation, which had, in 2010 alone, driven 300,000 rural families from their land (Source: UN).

Disasters

An estimated 258,000 people died in Somalia from famine and food insecurity between October 2010 and April 2012.

The number of weather-related disasters reported has tripled in 30 years (Source: Oxfam).

By the 2030s, large parts of Southern Africa, South and East Asia will see greater exposure to droughts, floods and other hazards; 325 million people in extreme poverty will live in the most exposed areas (Source: ODI).

In the last 20 years, the impact of disasters has been devastating: 4.4 billion people affected, 1.3 million people killed, US$2 trillion in economic losses.

As well as mega disaster, smaller, localized disasters often go unnoticed: The attrition of small-scale disasters affects the poorest families, and accounts for significant disaster impact: 54% of houses damaged, 80% of people affected, and 83% of people injured.

Low-income and lower-middle income countries have accounted for only 33% of disasters, but 81% of all deaths.

Climate is responsible for three-quarters of all disaster events; the IPCC’s Special Report on Extreme Events suggests climate change could result in “unprecedented extreme weather and climate events.”

 

Humanitarian action

2013 saw the smallest proportion, 62%, of needs (as set out in UN appeals) met for a decade (Source: OCHA). Emerging donors aren’t yet filling the gap (Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance).

For all the talk of building long-term resilience, the world spent $532 million to prepare for and prevent disasters in 2011 – and $19.4 billion to respond (so 40 times more spent on cure than on prevention). (Source: Oxfam)

Yet prevention is value for money: every $1 spent in disaster resilience in Kenya has saved $2.90 in reduced humanitarian spend, reduced losses and development gains. (Source: Oxfam)

 Inequality and taxation

The 85 richest individuals in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. Source Oxfam report.

In Namibia and Bolivia, the richest ten per cent earn 100 times more than the poorest ten per cent. Source: Oxfam.

Governments around the world lose around £100bn a year in tax from rich individuals using tax havens. Source Oxfam.

In Indonesia, ending corporate tax dodging could help 3.5 million farmers provide food for their families. Source UNEP.

Inequality and Health & Education

More than 1.5 million lives are lost due to high income inequality in rich countries alone, according to a study in the British Medical Journal

In the UK, health care and education are worth as much to the poorest 20 per cent of people as their entire post-tax income. Source: Office for National Statistics.

For the poorest 20 per cent of families in Pakistan, sending all children a private low-fee school would cost approximately 127 per cent of that household’s income. Source: academic paper.

On redistribution

Brazil has achieved success comparable only to the New Deal, through a combination of social policy (Bolsa Familia, minimum wage), good economic management and job creation. Source Oxfam

If South Africa decreased income inequality by just 10 percentage points, this would lift 1.5 million people out of absolute poverty. But if inequality levels remain static, there will still be more than eight million South Africans living in poverty by 2020. Source: Oxfam report.

On work and wages

Tea pickers in Malawi are living below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 a day, even though they are earning the minimum wage. Source Oxfam.

Cocoa farmers receive as low as 3.5 per cent of the price of a chocolate bar, compared to 18% in the 1980s. Source Fairtrade Foundation.

Only 8% of global garment workers belong to a Union. Source Oxfam.

Food and Climate

Climate Change and Hunger

Climate change could increase the number of people at risk of hunger by 10–20 per cent by 2050, compared to a world with no climate change. Source: IPCC.

There could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of 5 in 2050, compared with a world without climate change – that’s the equivalent of all the children under 5 in the US and Canada combined. Source: Oxfam, based on IFPRI, UNICEF

Food Prices

Food price spikes can be a matter of life and death to many people in developing countries, who spend as much as 75 per cent of their income on food. Source: World Bank.

In 2012, the worst US drought in 50 years reduced the maize crop by 25 per cent, contributing to global maize price rises of around 40 per cent. Source OECD

That same year was the UK’s second wettest on record, leading to the lowest wheat yields in 20 years. Source: Met Office

Climate Change and Agriculture

Kenyan-grown flowers air-freighted to the UK are six times less greenhouse gas-intensive than Netherlands-grown flowers shipped to UK. Source: IPL Poverty footprint.

Climate Change and Fossil Fuels

Some 60–80% of the fossil fuel reserves of companies listed on global stock markets is ‘unburnable’ if the world is to stay below +2°C. At the current rate of capital expenditure, the next decade will see over $6trn allocated to developing fossil fuels Source: Carbon Tracker

Fossil fuel subsidies cost over half a trillion dollars ($500 bn) globally in 2011. Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Venezuela, spend at least twice as much on fossil fuel subsidies as on public health. Source: ODI.

Climate Change and Finance

At the Copenhagen summit in 2009, world leaders promised to provide $100bn per year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate and reduce their emissions. $100 billion is less than 5% of the wealth of the world’s top 100 billionaires. Source: Oxfam

They also committed to providing $30bn of ‘Fast Start Finance’ between 2010 and 2012, balanced between adaptation and mitigation.

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Afghanistan: How to Oversee Aid in Uncertain Times

From the U.S. Institute of Peace blog The Olive Branch. You can view this post on the USIP web site here. June 23, 2014

By Colin Cookman

Last weekend, as many as 7 million Afghan voters are reported to have defied skeptics and cast their ballots for a second time this year in a runoff election to choose a president. Although the U.S. and other international partners are moving to reduce their military presence in the country, the next Afghan administration will still need significant military and non-military assistance. A report by USIP and the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) lays out the discussion of a joint symposium that explored how aid could be prioritized, designed, managed and monitored.

Although the Afghan government has taken steps to improve its ability to generate revenue from customs and taxation, the country remains highly dependent on donor funds for many key functions, and in recent years, revenues have stagnated. The United States will need to think carefully about how to structure its assistance to the next Afghan government.

Although the United States and its partners have made considerable progress in supporting the development of an Afghan government capable of securing its own territory against militant and transnational terrorist groups, “the task is not over, and will require long-term international support — albeit at more sustainable levels than those of the past decade,” Andrew Wilder, vice president for USIP’s Center for South and Central Asia, wrote in the report.

USIP and SIGAR organized the symposium to gather experts and practitioners from across and outside the U.S. government earlier this spring to assess the lessons and challenges for overseeing aid distributed in active conflict areas such as Afghanistan. The highlights of those discussions are now available in a conference report released today by the two organizations.

The U.S. and other donors have committed to financing the Afghan army and police through the next decade, and the administration’s 2015 fiscal year budget request includes $1.2 billion in non-security assistance for Afghanistan. While this represents a major decline from peak appropriations in 2010, Afghanistan remains one of the largest U.S. aid programs globally. Yet movement outside of guarded compounds is being increasingly restricted as the military coalition that helps provide security draws down.

Managing that aid effectively will prove a significant challenge, cautioned John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, in the report. He noted that “significant portions of Afghanistan are already inaccessible to SIGAR and other U.S. civilians,” and ” ‘oversight bubbles’ are getting smaller as U.S. military units are withdrawn and coalition bases are closed.”

Conference participants expressed concern about the Afghan government’s substantial needs and about the risks facing aid implementers in the country’s uncertain security environment. They also underlined the need to be realistic about what development assistance can accomplish and the importance of effectively managing the continuing partnership with Afghanistan.

If international donors and Afghan recipients both work to meet previous commitments to enact reforms on each side, reduced but sustained aid might help consolidate and strengthen Afghan institutions and political processes. Those ultimately will determine the government’s ability to support itself over the long term.

Some participants argued that reduced U.S. assistance, managed carefully, could even spur more strategic thinking about how to best prioritize aid and how to ensure that aid does not fall prey to waste, fraud or mismanagement.

“With external resources for Afghanistan shrinking during the coming years, there will be a need to prioritize spending — rather than spending money because it is there to spend –which in itself should improve the quality of projects being implemented,” USIP’s Wilder wrote in the report. That would require building monitoring and evaluation into project design from the beginning, and working to clearly link those project assessments to broader stabilization strategies at the macro level.

Improvements also depend on better coordination and information-sharing among and within donor organizations to ensure that the declining, but still substantial, assistance is not wasted due to duplicate efforts or a lack of institutional memory about what sorts of programs have seen successes and which have not worked in the past.

New technologies can potentially help extend oversight on some indicators in remote or otherwise inaccessible areas, where civilian aid officials may no longer have international security force protection. But these tools face clear limits for what they can reveal, particularly in gauging qualitative impact.

Engaging closely with local Afghan partners, communities and the Afghan government on project design, implementation and evaluation, and working to build local capacity to assess the effectiveness of aid, can potentially help offset a declining international presence. But this carries its own set of risks. It may be difficult to confirm the reporting of local partners or to manage security threats against Afghans who cooperate with the international community and with their own government.

Leaders at USIP and SIGAR have said they plan to continue the discussion going forward, in order to share lessons between aid managers, implementers and overseers on how to best remain engaged with Afghanistan while also mitigating risks to the overall objective of stabilizing and securing the country.

Colin Cookman is a senior program specialist in USIP’s Center for South and Central Asia.

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Media: Shubhranshu Choudhary: Giving a Voice to a Ravaged, Neglected Region | Innovators

news.nationalgeographic.com, June 30, 2014

As the South Asia producer for BBC TV and Radio during the 1990s and early 2000s, Shubhranshu Choudhary spent much of his time darting around the region covering wars and natural disasters, dropping into trouble spots—Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Kashmir, Afghanistan—interviewing local leaders, politicians, or NGO spokespersons, filing his story then moving on.

It was an exciting life, full of foreign travel, helicopters, and headline events, far removed from the rural coal-mining backwater in India’s Chhattisgarh state (part of Madhya Pradesh state until 2000) where he grew up, attending the local tribal school, or his first job reporting for a Hindi-language newspaper in Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur, and learning English by listening to BBC Radio at night. He was well respected, well connected, with a broad view of news and world events—an accomplished practitioner of what he would later come to regard as an “aristocratic” form of journalism.

Over the years, every now and then, he would get calls from people he knew back in his old neighborhood, urging him to come back to his roots and report on the issues behind the Maoist insurgency headquartered in the hills there, a conflict that had ravaged his region intermittently for decades.

“To tell you the truth, I kind of ignored them,” he recalls. “At the BBC we had a world audience and were more interested in covering bigger international wars.” Eventually, though, when the Maoists killed 76 Indian police officers in an ambush, the story became a headline event andChoudhary found himself leading a BBC TV crew into Chhattisgarh. By then what had been a simmering guerrilla war was well on the way to becoming what the Indian government would describe as the single biggest internal security threat facing the nation.

Listening to the Disenfranchised

For Choudhary, covering a war on his home turf was a transforming experience. This was no foreign conflict, but one that was unfolding in an area he knew well and understood. From having grown up in a small railroad town and attended the school there as a child, he found he had many useful contacts within the Maoist ranks. They were keen to talk. And what they told him led him to question the role journalists, journalism, and powerful media organizations played in presenting stories to the public and in deciding what was news—and what was not.

“I saw there were really two wars going on in Chhattisgarh,” Choudhary recalled. One involved a small fraction of the rebels who were fanatically committed to communism. The other involved the vast majority of their followers, mainly poor, lower-caste tribal people, who had picked up rifles and joined the Maoists because they had run out of patience. “They could think of no other way to call attention to the grievances they had and the problems they were facing—things like poverty, lack of health care, poor sanitation, crime, corruption, unpaid wages, and the fact that nobody listens to them or seems to care,” he said. “It wasn’t communism they wanted but to have a voice, to be heard and taken seriously.”

It was the raw material of life and living, the stories of the streets, that fascinated him. He studied anthropology and drifted into journalism.

Their stories caused him to reflect on his own childhood years in Chhattisgarh. Although he was in school with the other children in the town, his parents were of a Brahman caste, his father had a good job with the railways, and Choudhary had naturally enjoyed the benefits of an upper-caste rearing. Although the children all played together in the streets after school, there were social, economic, and linguistic barriers between them that were as unyielding as brick walls.

Choudhary’s parents had held high aspirations for him. They wanted him to become a professional man, a doctor or an engineer, and saw to it that he had every opportunity to do so. He, on the other hand, had no such ambition. It was the raw material of life and living, the stories of the streets, that fascinated him. He studied anthropology instead and drifted into journalism.

Intrigued by the conflict on his childhood doorstep, Choudhary left the BBC, returned to Chhattisgarh, and with the assistance of a Knight International Journalism Fellowship began to study the problem of how to give disenfranchised villagers of Chhattisgarh the voice they craved and were willing to fight for. It needed to be simple, low cost, and democratic—not run by outsiders with vested interests but by the locals themselves. He wanted it to reach even into the remotest corners of the state and deliver the news and raise issues in the locals’ own Gondi language yet still reach the ears of the outside world.

A Collective Voice From Mobile Phones

Community radio would have been an ideal solution, but radio licenses are tightly controlled in India, and the nonofficial broadcasting of news, even the discussion of news and current events on air, is strictly forbidden.High illiteracy rates among the very same villagers who needed and wanted a voice in the media ruled out newspapers or magazines, and there is no Internet to speak of in rural Chhattisgarh. Only 0.7 percent of homes in Chhattisgarh have access to the Internet.

The one piece of modern telecommunications gear that has deeply penetrated most of Chhattisgarh, however, is the ubiquitous mobile phone. Many, if not most, villagers have them, and those who do not can always get access to one in any one of Chhattisgarh’s bustling marketplaces. Choudhary began exploring the idea of using mobile phones as a media platform. And with technical expertise provided by Microsoft Research India he came up with CGNet Swara: a world-first cell-phone-based news and current affairs network.

In the four years since it went live, in February 2010, it has transformed the way news is shared among the rural poor in central India. More than 300,000 reports have been called in by the new citizen journalists of Chhattisgarh, and 4,700 fact-checked stories aired and shared, many of them translated into Hindi and English and posted on CGNet Swara’s website, where they have been picked up by mainstream media in India and abroad, bringing the voices and views of the villagers in rural Chhattisgarh to the outside world for the first time and providing a peaceful vehicle for change.

Model Citizen Journalists

Its success has spawned similar cell-phone-based news services in other far-off regions around the world, from Somalia to Borneo, and earned 45-year-old Choudhary the 2014 Google Digital Activism Award—beating out NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the distinction. “If we want to live in a peaceful society, it is not enough for our elections to be democratic,” he says. “We need for the media to be democratic as well, so that everybody, all of us, has a say in deciding what issues are going to be discussed, not just a few wealthy media proprietors and their chosen editors.”

Despite their numbers, poverty, remoteness, high illiteracy rates, and the general “otherness” of the Gondi speakers didn’t make them an attractive market.

Chhattisgarh is a heavily forested state in central India that forms a part of Gondwana, India’s rural heartland. (The “CG” in CGNet Swara stands for “Central Gondwana”; swara means “voice” in Sanskrit.) As when describing the American Midwest or Appalachia, there are no formal boundaries to Gondwana. The name derives from the Gond people, a widespread ethnic minority whose language is spoken by an estimated eight million people in the region’s crowded streets and marketplaces and distant mountain villages—but by very few journalists in any of India’s mainstream publications.

None of India’s influential newspapers or magazines are published in Gondi, nor does All India Radio—that nation’s sole radio broadcaster—provide any broadcasts in the language. Despite their numbers, poverty, remoteness, high illiteracy rates, and the general “otherness” of the Gondi speakers didn’t make them an attractive market. Indeed a recent study showed that mainstream media outlets across India devote as little as 2 percent of their coverage to India’s poor tribal minorities.

Serendipity: Choudhary Meets Thies

When Choudhary seized on the idea of a grassroots mobile-phone-based news service, using playback voicemail to “broadcast” the stories, he faced some technical stumbling blocks that he was unequipped to solve. Serendipitously, Choudhary happened to meet Bill Thies at a mobile technology conference in 2008 in Bangalore. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) doctoral student in computer science, Thies had recently taken a job as a researcher with the Technologies for Emerging Markets Group with Microsoft Research India.

Thies had been working on an MIT-sponsored project called Audio Wiki, a user-generated platform for publishing audio content to a wider audience, which proved to be an ideal starting point for building a mobile-phone-based news network. The two men hit it off. And from their collaboration CGNet Swara was born.

“It was no great technical breakthrough,” says Thies. “All we had to do was modify a voice mail message system so that messages could be edited and then listened to by anyone who called in and pushed number two on the menu. It was more of an engineering problem. What we have accomplished, though, will make it easier to set up similar systems elsewhere.”

Already a community-based news service modeled on CGNet Swara is being planned in Somalia, while in Indonesia a text-based service is up and running and proving popular in Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. “It is the sort of thing I think we are going to be seeing a great deal more of in the future,” says Elisa Tinsley of the Washington, D.C.-basedInternational Center for Journalists, who attended CGNet Swara’s inaugural workshop in 2010 in the remote village of Jashpur, where locals were introduced to the service, shown how it would work, and given instruction on filing stories.

“The big challenge is going to be how to sustain it in the long term,” she says. At present CGNet Swara is a free service, the cost of running it underwritten by grants from the UN Democracy Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Cultural activists are traveling from village to village in central India to tell people about CGNet Swara through song, dance, and drama.

Eyewitness Reporting

It is a sultry morning early in May, with the heat and humidity in Chhattisgarh ratcheting up ahead of the approaching monsoon. From a town called Dharamjaigarh, a man who identifies himself as DS Maliya phones in to report that two herds of elephants have been terrorizing villagers there who are afraid to go to sleep at night, but government officials refuse to do anything about it; another caller from a remote village in Madhya Pradesh reports that laborers who have been working on a dam project are being paid only 98 rupees a day instead of the government-mandated minimum wage of 146 rupees, and urges the broader community to put pressure on the company to pay up.

Meanwhile, that same morning, a woman from Dharampur calls in with the happier news that following an earlier broadcast on CGNet Swara, local pickers of tendu leaves—an ingredient in Indian cigarettes—are at last receiving their wages after having gone unpaid for months.

She reports that a payroll officer hastened to the village before dawn that morning, waking people up and hurriedly making the long-overdue payments ahead of a visit from a high-ranking government official who was expected to arrive later that afternoon and look into the report himself.

These calls, and others like them—about 500 per day—come in to the CGNet Swara headquarters, in Bhopal, where they are reviewed and filtered by a team of moderators, who check the reports for accuracy, relevance, and fairness, editing them for length and clarity as needed.

Spreading the News

Ideally, says Choudhary, and in the future, the moderators will be elected from the community to keep the news service true to its democratic roots. But for now the network’s staff of four moderators are trained journalists who happen to speak and understand Gondi—among them a lawyer who has some journalism training. “We have to go out of our way to be scrupulously accurate and impartial,” says Choudhary. “One mistake and we could be accused of spreading propaganda. Remember, there is a war going on here.”

Approved reports—such as this morning’s herd of rogue elephants, the plight of the underpaid dam workers, and the victory enjoyed by the tendu leaf pickers from Dharampur—are published and made available for playback by anyone who dials in and presses two on the menu. A message is sent out via Google’s SMS messaging service to notify users that a new story has been posted. Along with reports made by Chhattisgarh’s citizen journalists, relevant news items from the major newspapers are translated into Gondi and added to the list.

Selections of stories are posted as audio tracks on the CGNet Swara website, together with written translations in Hindi and English to make them accessible to the mainstream media in India and abroad. Stories are also shared on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, in addition to being published on CGNet Swara’s blog.

Radio broadcasts in Gondi and other tribal languages would still be the gold standard, says Choudhary, who is exploring ways of getting around the Indian government ban on independent radio news by setting up shortwave broadcasts from Europe and making available clockwork radios—which work by being spring-wound, like old-fashioned alarm clocks—to villages in isolated areas that do not yet have electricity.

A Growing Sense of Community

In the four years since CGNet Swara went live, the service has chalked up a number of victories, large and small, for the Gondi-speaking villagers who had been ignored until now—from unpaid wages to broken wells to publicizing a police attack on three tribal villages that left two dead, homes burned, and a woman raped. That particular story was picked up by the mainstream media, and as a result the UN Human Rights Council got involved and issued a formal report, and the Indian Supreme Court ordered an investigation.

It isn’t just news and current events that CGNet Swara is disseminating: The calls coming in are full of stories, poems, songs, recipes, and herbal remedies as well, creating a growing sense of community.

Perhaps the most potentially lifesaving result of CGNet Swara’s stories is the increasing awareness of malaria in Chhattisgarh. So ignored was the province by the mainstream press and government health statisticians that the official figure for malaria deaths in Chhattisgarh for 2007 was zero—this in a steamy tropical part of India with a population of 25 million. “It was absurd,” recalls Choudhary. “Every single village loses many people to malaria every year, thousands of deaths in all.” Since the citizen journalists of Chhattisgarh started reporting on malaria and other health care problems in the region, official figures for malaria deaths in Chhattisgarh have soared—giving rise to a joke that the new news service was the biggest cause of malaria in central India.

It isn’t just news and current events that CGNet Swara is disseminating: The calls coming in are full of stories, poems, songs, recipes, and herbal remedies as well, creating a growing sense of community. They find they have much to talk about. Choudhary recalls wondering how well his grand idea was going to work in real life at the first workshop to teach Chhattisgarh’s would-be citizen journalists how to participate in their new community-based news service. He needn’t have. On the long drive to the nearest airport and their flight home, Thies tried dialing the new CGNet Swara number, curious to see if it was working and if anyone had begun using it yet.

“He listened for a moment, and then his face lit up,” Choudhary recalls. “He passed me the phone and said, ‘You’ve got to hear this.’ It was incredible. Some young guy had filed a story about a protest rally against the opening of a new mine. He introduced the story with the sounds of the protesters yelling, then faded out like he was in a studio and went straight into his reportage. He couldn’t have done it better if he had been with the BBC.

“I wondered why I ever doubted,” Choudhary mused. “You take a people with strong oral traditions like the villagers in Chhattisgarh, and what is the one thing they are going to do very, very well? Tell a story. Now they can tell them to the world.”

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Media: Citizen journalism gets more stories out than traditional reporting in war-torn Syria

phys.org, June 29,2014

Citizen reporters are increasingly getting stories out of remote areas of Syria, which are difficult for traditional media to reach during the conflict, according to data collated for Index on Censorship magazine.

It showed more reports were coming from citizen journalists than, in all areas of the country, with the exception of Homs.

Index on Censorship magazine worked with Syria Tracker, the independent news tracker, which has scanned 160,000 news reports and updates to look at the scale of citizen journalism. Syria Tracker verifies and analyses data before publishing on its own website. Only 6 per cent of data is considered to be well enough sourced to be published.

“Syria Tracker monitors 2,000 different news sources, including pro-regime outlets. Add to this 80 million social media updates and 4,000 eyewitness reports, and you can draw some interesting conclusions,” according to Index on Censorship’s deputy editor and author of the article, Vicky Baker. “For example, female deaths at the beginning of the conflict totalled one per cent, but then sharply rose to reach 18 per cent – clearly suggesting a point where citizens became targeted and were not collateral damage. This data analysis has also shown that children make up 11 per cent of all documented killings in Syria – with reports suggesting they have been targeted while at school, at home and while waiting in bread lines.”

“These sort of projects are vital to worldwide news organisations and, when aided by data journalism, can help us gain a fuller picture of the devastation being wrought,” Baker says.

Syria Tracker has been hacked and targeted with threats; some of its citizen reporters are missing, possibly dead. If citizens had abandoned the project a few months after the 2011 launch (as was anticipated), our understanding of events between Syria’s borders would be even more limited.

Tass Kass-Hout, Syria Tracker’s founder, said the work was relentless, and like a hurricane happening every minute. Yet Syria Tracker provides another tool for those attempting to piece together the full picture of what is happening during the war. “This is not a clinical trial,” says Kass-Hout. “We are telling a story, it’s a living record.”

Few professional journalists can reach remote regions of Syria. Instead thousands of citizens are helping to get the news of the devastation out. To date, Syria Tracker has mapped over 4,000 geotagged verified eyewitness reports, and uses large-scale data mining to scan news reports and social media updates. Only verified data are published – around six percent of what Syria Tracker receives. Manual checking can take several days, and includes correlating nearby reports and sometimes involves scanning gruesome and shaky video footage. Members of the core team work two to three hours each day in addition to their day jobs.

Syria Tracker offers us a window into the future of journalism, in particular war reporting, says Baker. International press and aid organisations are unable to rely on their own personnel on the ground, and so the world is looking to citizen journalism and crowdsourcing more than ever. Data compiled for Index on Censorship showed that the majority of (June 2011 to Feb 2014) outside Homs were sourced via crowdsourcing, rather than traditional news journalism. For instance in Aleppo, 184 reports came from news articles, and 18,776 from crowd sourcing, according Syria Tracker data.

Explore further: Syria state news agency under hacker attack

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Media: Yes, media freedoms can be measured

cima.ned.orgby Mark Nelson, June 19, 2014

If you hang around the halls of United Nations and World Bank long enough, you’re sure to encounter the old saw that goes something like this: “We have nothing against setting targets, but things like governance and press freedom just can’t be measured.”

Well, the old saws are being sharpened yet again today in New York City. A large group of negotiators are trying to decide on new targets for the 15-year period after 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals will expire.  And a large group of global media development professionals want freedom of expression and access to information to among the targets. Target No. 16, known as the governance target and covers “peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law and capable institutions,” is up for discussion today.

In preparation for the negotiations in New York, CIMA hosted a meeting of media experts last week under the flag of the Global Forum for Media Development. That meeting resulted in a statement that argues for including freedom of expression and access to information among the post-2015 targets.

After all, freedom of expression and the right to disseminate and receive information are already enshrined in international law. These rights were part of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and have since been reaffirmed in numerous other international conventions.

The GFMD position paper points out that UNESCO, a UN agency with the mandate for ensuring compliance on the freedom of expression and media issues, is already producing a wide variety of indicators, and other UN agencies—from the International Telecommunication Union to the Office  of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—are also producing valuable statistics that could help track the health of media and information systems.

From the GFMD paper:

Proposed revisions to sub-goal/ targets Illustrative Indicators
  1. Implement effective regimes for public access to government information and data
  • Legal guarantees: access to information laws and/or constitutional guarantees
  • Readily, freely available public access to public information, including online
  • By 2030, ensure that all laws are publicized and accessible by all
  • Improve public access to information and government data, including on public management, public procurement and on the implementation of national development plans, extractive industries
  1. Promote freedom of expression, media, association and assembly
  • Freedom of expression is guaranteed in law and respected in practice
  • Legal and regulatory environment that ensures the rights of civil society to operate freely
  • Universal access to ICTs
  • People can use ICTs to communicate and associate freely
  • People are not subject to threats, harassment, surveillance or physical attacks as a result of gathering or disseminating information
  • Absence of criminal penalties for libel, defamation
  • The strengthening of an enabling environment for independent and pluralistic media

Of course, some of the most valuable data on the media sector is produced by non-UN agencies such as Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and IREX, which produces the Media Sustainability Index. But in the highly contested world of measuring media and other freedoms, the debate is not only about whether these things should be measured at all, but also about who gets to hold the yardstick.

The talks today are not likely to be the last word on this issue. The final list of targets won’t be finally agreed until the fall of next year. In the meantime, the media development community will need to build international alliances and convince a lot of countries, some of which will win no gold stars for their performance on media freedoms.

******

To access the full position paper, go to GFMD’s website here: http://gfmd.info/index.php/news/freedom_of_expression_and_access_to_information_post-2015_measurable_target/

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Media: The Christian Science Monitor is thinking about the best ways to turn reading into action

niemanlab.orgby Jeff Israely
Lucia Moses has a story in Digiday about a new redesign of The Christian Science Monitor’s website. Here’s a promo video for it:

But aesthetics aside, the most interesting change on the site is one still in progress. The Monitor has added a new Take Action page to its top nav and wants to feature, at the bottom of some stories, specific ways for readers to do something about the issue it’s about. Says editor Marshall Ingwerson:

At the Monitor, we’re committed to providing the most illuminating, non-partisan reporting possible. That will never change. However, we’re also interested in providing paths to action for readers who’ve been inspired by a story or something happening in the world. Below, you’ll find a few of the simple, initial ideas we’re considering. We’d love to get your feedback. Which paths to action would you welcome and use?

The desire to a path for readers to “take action” after reading a story is a common plaint in some corners. Ethan Zuckerman was just talking about that at a panel we were on last week. Elise Hu and Laura Amico both wrote about similar ideas in our year-end predictions package, and the solutions journalism movement is playing in the same yard.

But it’s sometimes proved difficult to align that instinct with traditional journalistic norms around the view from nowhere and objectivity.

Like other places, the Monitor hasn’t figured out exactly what taking action will look like yet. (There’s a screenshot of what looks like a draft version of it at 42 seconds into the video above.) But it’s considering a number of ideas and putting forward for reader feedback. It’s a nice taxonomy of some of the different ways to prompt reader action:

Conversation Starter: A set of relevant questions — with additional background information provided as necessary — on a specific news topic to help you initiate a dinner or a party conversation. For example, “Would you rather donate time or money to stop elephant poaching? Why?”

People Making a Difference: Read profiles of (and get inspired by) ordinary people who are making effective, positive changes in their communities.

Volunteer Match: Enter your location and what cause is of interest to you and this widget will provide you with a listing of volunteer opportunities so you too can take action.

Contact Your Congressperson: Not sure of your congressional district or who your representatives are? Let the Monitor assist you by matching your ZIP code to your congressional district and providing contact information so you can voice your opinion on issues that matter to you.

Connect: Information on and links to reputable and relevant organizations that will help you get involved by learning more, making a financial contribution or otherwise taking action to support a cause of interest to you.

You, dear reader, should Take Action by leaving a comment on what you think about these ideas and whether you’d like any of them (or something else entirely) on your news site.

— Joshua Benton

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Non-Profit Press: Community Supported Film Launches Haitian Perspectives in Film

Community Supported Film Launches Haitian Perspectives in Film

Training of Haitians in the production of documentary films to emphasize local experience with the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges faced since the 2010 earthquake

Boston, MA and Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Community Supported Film (CSFilm) announces the launch of its documentary training and filmmaking project – Haitian Perspectives in Film. Using CSFilm’s proven capacity building program, Haitian storytellers will be trained in the production of 10 short films. The films will focus on the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges Haitians have faced since the 2010 earthquake. This project will be a partnership between Community Supported Film, Haitian community media organizations, and Haitian and international NGOs. The Haitian-made short films will be released as a compilation in time for the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

According to award winning Haitian journalist, and CSFilm’s Haitian program coordinator, Ralph Thomassaint Joseph,

“Most of the reporting in Haiti is done by Western journalists, and often about issues pertaining to natural disasters, to poverty. They show the sad face of Haiti. It does not seem to fit their narrative to show the other side of the coin, that there are so many amazing initiatives that are undertaken by Haitians themselves. There are very interesting Haitian entrepreneurs. And of course, there are people in grassroots organizations that are trying to defend the rights of the most vulnerable here in Haiti.”

Aural and visual storytelling is dominant in Haiti where the illiteracy rate is at 47%. Thomassaint says,

“Because Haiti has a high rate of illiteracy, you can bring a lot of information to people through media, radio, and images. We can use this media to educate people so that they take responsibility for the condition of Haiti. My role as a journalist and my duty as a Haitian is to try and organize people via the media so they can be part of the decision-making process to solve our problems.”

View the full article on the NonProfit Press’ website!

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Development, Haiti: Bill, Hillary and the Haiti Debacle

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2014

The news website Tout Haiti reported last month that two prominent lawyers have petitioned Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, demanding an audit of Bill Clinton’s management of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). There are powerful interests that won’t want to see the petition succeed and it may go nowhere. But the sentiment it expresses is spreading fast. {snip}

Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), allocated to the IHRC, are gone. Hundreds of millions more to the IHRC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mishmash of low quality, poorly thought-out development experiments and half-finished projects.

Haitians are angry, frustrated and increasingly suspicious of the motives of the IHRC and of its top official, Mr. Clinton. Americans might feel the same way if they knew more about this colossal failure. One former Haitian official puts it this way: “I really cannot understand how you could raise so much money, put a former U.S. president in charge, and get this outcome.”

{snip}

The Clinton crowd has a lot of experience in Haiti. After President Clinton used the U.S. military to return Jean Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994, assorted Friends of Bill went into business to milk Haiti’s state-owned telephone monopoly. Telecom revenues were one of the few sources of hard currency for the country so the scheme hurt Haitians. (See Americas columns Oct. 27, 2008, and March 12, 2012.)

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck sheds light on Mr. Clinton’s most recent Haiti adventures in the 2013 documentary “Fatal Assistance.” Mr. Peck uses footage from an IHRC meeting in December 2010, when 12 Haitian commissioners confronted co-chairmen Mr. Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, complaining that the commissioners had been marginalized.

The full letter they read from that day includes the charge that “the staffing and consultant selection” excluded Haitian board members. “No documentation on hiring criteria or candidate selection was sent to inform board members. The same is true for selected consultants; the Haitian board members don’t even know the names of the consultants who work for the IHRC nor their respective tasks.”

Obviously the Haitians didn’t understand. That was the job of the Clinton machine, which controlled the bankroll and could award the lucrative contracts.

{snip}

The “Fatal Assistance” film features shoddy housing projects plopped down where there is poor infrastructure and few job prospects. The GAO report cites other housing snafus. USAID underestimated funding requirements. Its budget went up by 65%, and the number of houses to be built came down by 80%. “Inappropriate cost comparisons were used”; and Haitians, it turns out, prefer flush toilets.

Foreign aid is notoriously wasteful and often counterproductive. Even when the money is not going directly to Swiss bank accounts it is rarely allocated to its highest use because the process is fundamentally political. Contractors with all the wrong training and incentives but the right connections have the best chance of winning jobs. No surprise, the GAO says that USAID’s Haiti reports have been incomplete and not timely.

{snip}

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Haitian Perspectives in Film: Press Release

CSFilm Press Release

Press Release: June 2014
Contact: Michael Sheridan, Director of Community Supported Film  michael@csfilm.org  +1-617-834-7206


Community Supported Film Launches Haitian Perspectives in Film

Training of Haitians in the production of documentary films to emphasize local experience with the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges faced since the 2010 earthquake

Boston, MA and Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Community Supported Film (CSFilm) announces the launch of its documentary training and filmmaking project – Haitian Perspectives in Film. Using CSFilm’s proven capacity building program, Haitian storytellers will be trained in the production of 10 short films. The films will focus on the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges Haitians have faced since the 2010 earthquake. This project will be a partnership between Community Supported Film, Haitian community media organizations, and Haitian and international NGOs. The Haitian-made short films will be released as a compilation in time for the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

According to award winning Haitian journalist, and CSFilm’s Haitian program coordinator, Ralph Thomassaint Joseph,

“Most of the reporting in Haiti is done by Western journalists, and often about issues pertaining to natural disasters, to poverty. They show the sad face of Haiti. It does not seem to fit their narrative to show the other side of the coin, that there are so many amazing initiatives that are undertaken by Haitians themselves. There are very interesting Haitian entrepreneurs. And of course, there are people in grassroots organizations that are trying to defend the rights of the most vulnerable here in Haiti.”

Aural and visual storytelling is dominant in Haiti where the illiteracy rate is at 47%. Thomassaint says,

“Because Haiti has a high rate of illiteracy, you can bring a lot of information to people through media, radio, and images. We can use this media to educate people so that they take responsibility for the condition of Haiti. My role as a journalist and my duty as a Haitian is to try and organize people via the media so they can be part of the decision-making process to solve our problems.”

Michael Sheridan, director of Community Supported Film, who returned this week from a 10-day project development trip to Haiti found that:

“There is a growing media sector in Haiti and many Haitians, young people especially, are motivated to use media as a tool for holding their government and the international community accountable to good governance and effective aid. I think most would agree, however, that a lot of critical work remains to strengthen the video-journalism sector.”

Sheridan witnessed during his visit that the media and television industry is booming in Haiti but little programming time is given to documentary filmmaking and the public issue reporting that is essential for a healthy democracy and economy. The reporting that Haitians do experience about Haiti is mostly produced by international media and typically focuses on foreign aid and foreign interests.

Haitian Perspectives in Film will be distributed through local and international broadcasters and NGOs to engage people in dialogue and action. Broadcasts, press coverage, and the outreach capacity of the NGO collaborators will be used to expand the public’s knowledge of effective aid and disaster response.
The screening and dialogue strategy will expand on the model piloted during CSFilm’s Afghan project. The Afghan-made films were the centerpiece of congressional briefings in collaboration with organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee and were shown to legislators, congressional committees, and government departments. The films were used to stimulate dialogue at venues including the US Institute of Peace, the World Bank and the Asia Society and at 148 community and university screening across the United States and in Afghanistan.

Community Supported Film launches a fundraising campaign on May 29th to raise funds for Haitian Perspectives in Film. Go to csfilm.org/support to learn more about this project and the fundraising campaign. The funding will support both the documentary and video-journalism capacity building program and the distribution of the Haitian made films.

About Community Supported Film
CSFilm’s mission is to amplify local perspectives through documentary filmmaking. We believe that those affected by poverty and conflicts are the ones best positioned to report on their community’s issues. The high quality documentary films that our in-situ trainees and collaborators produce provide essential insights into equitable development and effective governance for concerned citizens locally and internationally.

CSFilm was founded in 2010 when it completed an intensive 5-week training program with 10 Afghans in documentary production. Out of the training came 10 character-driven, lived-reality short films collected in an award winning compilation called The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film. These stories bring to life Afghan’s efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions and provide a fresh perspective on the needs and issues of Afghans beyond the relentless battlefront coverage of western media. The films can be viewed at csfilm.org/films.

CSFilm’s work in Afghanistan was awarded the $10,000USD Promotions Prize at the International Short Film Festival, Winterthur, Switzerland and was an official selection at Hot Docs, Toronto, Canada, and at dozens of other film festivals. Learn more about CSFilm at csfilm.org.

Haitian Perspectives in Film is the second of CSFilm’s local-perspectives filmmaking projects, a model they are developing into a Local Voices Network, a go to source for local storytelling on human development. Read more here.

Haitian Perspectives in Film Fundraising Campaign
CSFilm is asking for a minimum of $27,750, to contribute to the development and implementation of the Haitian filmmaking training and the initial distribution of the films.
To read more about the project, and learn about the different ways to donate visit our website at www.csfilm.org/support.

Michael Sheridan, Founder and Director of Community Supported Film
Michael Sheridan is a filmmaker and educator whose documentary films address issues of social and economic development and the tipping point between order and chaos. For nearly 20 years Michael has engaged the public in stories from Asia, Africa, and the Americas about people in vulnerable and developing communities challenging the status quo and struggling to improve their lives.

Michael co-founded Oxfam America’s documentary production unit in the mid 90s and has sought to break new ground in the effective use of media to educate and impact poverty-reduction policy. Subsequently he started his own production and public engagement company, SheridanWorks, which worked on media campaigns for Save the Children-UK, Bread the World, Pact, and many other national and international organizations.

Michael’s documentaries have aired on PBS, ABC, TLC, and Discovery. The National Education Media Network, the Columbia International Film and Video Festival, the United Nations Association Film Festival, and EarthVision have all screened and awarded his films.

Michael has taught documentary and experimental filmmaking for 15 years at the community and university level including at Northeastern, MassArt, and the former Boston Film and Video Foundation. He teaches seminars on using video for education and advocacy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Michael has an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art. During the 2007-08 academic year he was as Senior Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia.

Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, Haitian Program Coordinator for Community Supported Film
Ralph Thomassaint Joseph is a multimedia journalist based in Haiti. Prior to the Haitian earthquake in January of 2010, Ralph worked for Enfòmasyon Nou Dwe Konnen (ENDK), a daily radio program launched by Internews, a non-profit that provides a platform for local news to be distributed globally. After the earthquake in Haiti, Joseph’s work was distributed to nearly 40 radio stations to keep locals up to date on the conditions in Haiti. In addition, he was part of nearly 600 news shows, which ended up serving as training tools for young and aspiring Haitian journalists. Joseph is the winner of the 2014 Prix Philippe Chaffanjon award for multimedia reporting in Paris, France.

Materials: Pictures and video are available from Michael Sheridan’s recent trip to Haiti as well as from the films and training from CSFilm’s first project in Afghanistan.

Interviews: Michael Sheridan, Director and Founder of Community Supported Film, and Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, Haiti Program Coordinator, are available for interviews.

 

CSFilm Press Release

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Media, Haiti, Development: Sean Penn Accuses the Media of Ignoring Haiti’s Progress. But He’s Ignoring a Few Uncomfortable Facts, Too.

New Republic, June 19, 2014, By Jonathan M. Katz

These days, when U.S. media outlets are looking for an update on the state of things in Haiti, one of the top experts they turn to is Sean Penn. That isn’t meant as a joke. The star of Mystic River and Milk has long since established himself as a serious player in the Caribbean republic, founder of an influential nongovernmental organization, credentialed as an ambassador, and a reputedly close friend of the nation’s president and prime minister. After four years working on, and in, the country at the highest levels of international power, Penn has as much or more claim to the slippery mantle of expertise as plenty of other foreigners who took more traditional paths.

Still, the relationship remains a bit awkward between the media and policy worlds on the one hand and the square-jawed actor on the other. Case in point: Penn’s op-ed on Haiti’s “tremendous progress” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

The outlines of his argument seem straightforward at first blush. Penn primarily wants to highlight the work his aid group and allies in the Haitian government have done since the catastrophic earthquake of January 2010, which left an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people dead and the country’s political and economic center in ruins. “The people of Haiti have come a long way,” he writes, which is fine as far as it goes, if perhaps conflating his organization and political allies with the national body politic.

But as you keep reading, the basis of Penn’s argument becomes decidedly less clear. Penn seems to see the enemy of this clear progress as his old bête noire, the media: “Headlines continue to spin Haiti as a dark, poverty-entrenched no-man’s-land. … Such cynicism sells papers and entices people to click, but at the cost of Haitian lives.” This kind of coverage is destructive, he argues, because it scares away the one group of people whom Penn seems to believe are the last great hope for the salvation of the Haitian people: foreign investors.

The mechanics of this are a bit hard to fathom. Does Penn suppose that investors, whose primary missions are to make money and beat the competition, depend solely on mass-media accounts of political and social problems? Is he alleging that the problems described in those unnamed reports are untrue; or just that, had journalists a bit more loyalty and tact, foreign businessmen simply wouldn’t know about them?

And what media are he talking about? Though Penn doesn’t name her, his op-ed must in some part be a response to WSJ editorialist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who last month penned another entry in her ongoing narrative of Haiti and the world, which boils down to the personal malfeasance of Bill and Hillary Clinton. (This has been O’Grady’s take on all things Haiti for more than a decade.) O’Grady’s recent characterization of a post-quake recovery “debacle” is likely to have rubbed Penn the wrong way, or at least prompted someone to ask for his rebuttal. But it seems strange that Penn would complain about the airing of Haiti’s troubles in papers like the Wall Street Journal, since he goes on to spend the next six paragraphs airing Haiti’s troubles in the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, the problems Penn expounds on—a continuing post-quake housing crisis and an ongoing cholera epidemic—are real, but the way he chooses to describe them do them, if anything, a disservice. Penn focuses his housing critique on the persistence of a few remaining post-quake encampments, settlements that, in a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the people who built them, have since early on tended to be indistinguishable from other shantytown neighborhoods across Haiti, except for the fact that someone—usually the state or a powerful landowner—wanted them gone. The problem, which Penn hints at but never specifies, is that the vast majority of Haitians who have returned to pre-quake housing are living in houses as vulnerable as the ones that collapsed on January 12, 2010.

He also neglects to mention that the preponderance of evidence shows that the cholera epidemic was started by the negligent sanitation of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers, who dumped their waste in Haiti’s primary river system. Or that the U.N. and member nations including the United States steadfastly continue to refuse to pay for a cleanup, presumably because they don’t want to and nobody can make them, not because a columnist somewhere told them to beg off.

And this is where the contradictions really hit home. Penn is not, as the Journal identifies him, simply “an actor, director and the founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization.” If he were just an outside observer, he’d likely have mentioned that one of the biggest crises in the country—and one of the ones most likely continuing to scare off investment, for what that’s worth—has been the failure of his friend, President Michel Martelly, to hold municipal and legislative elections since taking office in 2011.

Nor is he strictly a journalist. (A fact-checker would have noticed that, contrary to his claim, the cholera epidemic that erupted in Haiti in October 2010 has already spread to Mexico; and an editor would have prompted him to note that Haiti is flailing along with the rest of the hemisphere in the face of another epidemic, of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, and that his boasting of Doctors Without Borders’ ongoing work in Haiti is especially misguided given that the organization only works in emergency areas with little infrastructure, a particularly concerning fact for Haiti since they have been there since 1991.) But at the same time, no one hosting all-star fundraisers featuring the U.S. ambassador to Haiti and Anderson Cooper, or publishing critical op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, can fairly claim to be outside the media himself.

None of that is disqualifying. Who is without contradictions, after all? It just reaffirms the question anyone should ask when encountering such an opinion piece: Who is writing this? What do they want? Who, right now, is Sean Penn?

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

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Afghanistan: Beyond Elections — What Is Required For Real Democracy In Afghanistan?

Despite a substantial level of anticipation in the first round of Afghanistan's presidential election, the authors argue that much more needs to be done before democracy is firmly established in the country.

Despite a substantial level of anticipation in the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election, the authors argue that much more needs to be done before democracy is firmly established in the country.

Radio Free Europe, By Karim Lahidji and Guissou Jahangiri, June 13, 2014
Much noise was made about the unprecedented voter turnout for the first-round elections in Afghanistan on April 5, with almost 7 million people (60 percent of all eligible voters) making their voices heard despite serious insecurity.Yet just two months after they filled the streets of Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, and Kandahar, the people of Afghanistan have all but disappeared from the discussion, and media attention has turned to the big power players and who between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani will be the country’s next leader. But regardless of the results of the second-round elections to be held on June 14, the question of whether Afghanistan can now be considered democratic will depend on whether its citizens continue to participate in their own governance.For the next leader of Afghanistan to be a true beacon of democracy, he will need to ensure that the extraordinary willingness of Afghanistan’s citizens to participate in their governance continues beyond the ballot box, by guaranteeing them access to education, information, and justice.

An educated citizenry is at the heart of any well-functioning democracy: people must be informed and encouraged to think critically if they are to meaningfully participate in a political society. Education is particularly important in a young country like Afghanistan, where two-thirds of the population is under 25 years of age. Equal access to quality education should be a key priority for the incoming government and seen as an investment in the development of generations of politically active and informed citizens.

An improved educational landscape has been one of the major achievements of the post-Taliban era. Many schools closed under Taliban rule have been reopened, and girls have again been offered access to education. But just as important as the government’s reopening of schools has been the enormous public response to it. With the same enthusiasm that they brought to the ballot boxes in April, Afghan citizens have shown a desire to invest in the future of their country by sending their children — boys and girls — to school. Since the fall of the Taliban, school enrollment skyrocketed by 700 percent, with almost 3 million more girls attending school despite continued threats and attacks against them.

Low Literacy Rates

To build on these gains, Afghanistan’s next leader must ensure equal access to quality education and give protection to those regions where Taliban groups continue to burn school buildings and threaten those who wish to educate their children.

Further resources need to be dedicated to improving literacy rates, which remain among the lowest in the world. In rural areas, where three-quarters of the population resides, around 90 percent of women and 63 percent of men still cannot read or write. In addition to the proven role of education in economic development and advancing women’s rights, ensuring access to education for all of Afghanistan’s children will be the main determinant for genuine democracy in years to come.

But even an informed and educated citizenry cannot engage in politics unless they are given the space to voice their thoughts and opinions. A democracy that represents the will of the people is not guaranteed only through the counting of ballots every few years; citizens must have the opportunity and freedom to share their views and concerns on an everyday basis.

Ensuring that civil society is given space and resources to thrive in Afghanistan will therefore be an essential element to lasting democracy in the country.

Freedom of expression, association, and assembly must be protected, and the media must be allowed to operate without censorship.

Media and civil society are the channels through which citizens learn about and engage with their government, and Afghanistan’s new president must therefore enact legislation to protect journalists and facilitate the creation and operation of diverse civil society organizations. The international community and donors must also recognize the importance of bolstering local civil society, and support Afghan organizations representing and mobilizing their fellow citizens.

Violence With Impunity

Challenges to the capacity of Afghans to engage freely in governance come not only from illiteracy or a weak civil society. Violent actors who deny the rights of women continue to dominate local politics and rule by force, particularly in rural areas. Current approaches to “peace talks” have resulted in impunity and have allowed warlords to continue terrorizing the population.

The passing of an amnesty law by the parliament in 2007, ironically titled the “National Stability And Reconciliation Law,” precludes prosecution of all people engaged in large-scale human rights abuses prior to 2001. This immunity for violent actors, combined with a lack of vetting for political leaders, has allowed local warlords to hold on to power and prevent genuinely representative candidates from running for office.

Moreover, without accountability for past and present abuses, Afghans will not feel safe to criticize the government and defend their rights. The fallacy that peace and justice are incompatible continues to pervade the peace talks in Afghanistan, and allows violence to continue with no consequence.

In this climate of impunity, Afghanistan’s citizens have no guarantees that they can safely speak out against those who violate their rights. Unless Afghanistan’s new government guarantees the rule of law and invests in justice mechanisms, he will be but a figurehead, and violent actors will continue to prevent genuine democracy from taking hold.

For far too long, the voice of the Afghan people has been silenced by poverty, exclusion, and violence. Nevertheless, they are being asked to have hope and courage and again face great risks to vote in the second-round elections on June 14.

Let us not ignore this call for change by the Afghan people by succumbing to the temptation of declaring democracy in Afghanistan based simply on the completion of the elections. Afghanistan’s people deserve to be able to continue to participate in their own governance, and it’s up to the country’s next leader to ensure that they are able to do so.

Karim Lahidji is president of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Guissou Jahangiri is director of Armanshar Open-Asia, FIDH’s Afghanistan-based partner organization. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of RFE/RL
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