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How agricultural journalists can assess the media in their societies

A recent UNESCO report identifies
five key indicators of media development

 By
Jim Evans

How well developed are the media in your country? 

This is a good question for agricultural journalists in any nation - and vital for IFAJ members.  IFAJ supports and encourages the practice of agricultural journalism in the environment of media freedom. In fact, a free press is one of the criteria IFAJ uses for membership. The Federation uses criteria of the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Freedom House to see if a country has freedom of press so that an organization of agricultural journalists can be accepted as a full member of IFAJ. 

The bottom line is that an environment of free, independent and pluralistic media is widely recognized as essential for fostering social wellbeing. 

What is involved in creating and maintaining that kind of environment? It probably is safe to say that the struggle for free expression never ends - in any society, regardless of its government's democratic position. We find ourselves continually asking questions about the ebb and flow of media where we live and work.  

And how can we measure that ebb and flow?  

A helpful tool  

A helpful tool for analyzing media development is available in the form of a framework created recently by an international expert group for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The framework was endorsed by the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) in March 2008. 

That framework consists of five categories, including specific indicators within each.  You can use them as a checklist for assessing the status of media development in your country. 

Category 1.
A system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of the media 

  • A legal and policy framework that includes free expression, right to information, editorial independence and journalists' right to protect their sources.
                           
  • Guaranteed independence of the regulatory system for broadcasting.
     
  • No unwarranted legal restrictions on the media, and defamation laws that impose the narrowest restrictions necessary to protect the reputation of individuals.
     
  • Media not subject to prior censorship. Also, the state does not seek to block or filter Internet content deemed sensitive or detrimental. 

Category 2.
Plurality and diversity of media, a level economic playing field and transparency of ownership 

  • State takes positive measures to promote pluralist media and restrict undue concentration of ownership.
     
  • A diverse mix includes public, private and community media.
     
  • The state plan for licensing and spectrum allocation ensures optimal use for the public interest and promotes diversity of ownership and content.
     
  • The state uses taxation and business regulation to encourage media development in a nondiscriminatory manner. 
     
  • Effective regulation governs advertising in the media and the state does not discriminate through advertising policy 

Category 3.
Media as a platform for democratic discourse 

  • The media - public, private and community-based - serve the needs of all groups in society.
     
  • The goals of public service broadcasting are clearly defined and guaranteed.
     
  • Media have effective mechanisms of self-regulation and display a culture of self-regulation.
     
  • An effective broadcast code sets out requirements for fairness and impartiality.
     
  • The public displays a high level of trust and confidence in the media and media organizations are responsive to public perceptions of their work.
     
  • Journalists, associated media personnel and media organizations can practice their profession in safety. Media practice is not harmed by a climate of insecurity.

Category 4.
Professional capacity building and supporting institutions that underpin freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity 

  • Media professionals and managers can access training appropriate to their needs, including an understanding of democracy and development.
     
  • Academic courses are available to a wide range of students regarding media practice, as well as skills and knowledge related to democratic development
     
  • Media workers have the right to join independent trade unions and exercise this right. Trade unions and professional associations provide advocacy on behalf of the profession.
     
  • Civil society organizations monitor the media systematically, provide advocacy on issues of freedom of expression and help communities gain access to information and get their voices heard.           

Category 5.
Infrastructural capacity is sufficient to support independent and pluralistic media 

  • Media organizations have access to modern technical facilities for news gathering, production and distribution.
     
  • Marginalized groups have access to forms of communication they can use.
     
  • The country has a coherent information and communication technology (ICT) policy to meet the needs of marginalized communities.
     

Rural dimensions highlighted 

Several parts of the report call special attention to rural issues and needs related to the media development.   

How the rural poor gather information they need

"Much attention needs to be focused on how the poor access information, especially in rural areas where communication systems may be inoperative…" 

Suitable media for those who cannot read

"For example, the availability of newspapers and other print media may be of little relevance to democratic development in a rural area with widespread illiteracy." 

Special role of public and community media

"Regulation is especially important in societies where commercial broadcasters are overwhelmingly concerned to target urban audiences of interest to advertisers.  In these cases, it is crucial that public and community media meet the information needs of the poor or those living in remote or rural areas." 

Addressing the digital divide

"The development of a national ICT policy which encompasses the needs of marginalised groups is crucial.  There is no single blueprint for success in overcoming the digital divide between and within urban and rural communities.  However, the experiences of media development organisations and other international agencies offer some general principles."
 

You can read the 72-page report here:

http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0016/001631/163102e.pdf 

Share your examples, thoughts and suggestions.

Please send them to Jim Evans at evansj(at)illinois.edu 

(This professional development feature is provided through the partnership between IFAJ and the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, University of Illinois.) 

October 2010