One of the themes of this year’s observance of World Press Freedom Day is the media’s importance in development. In a recent report on the post-2015 Development Agenda, the United Nations says a free and independent news media are important for facilitating good governance and transparency. Mark Nelson, with the Center for International Media Assistance, says the media are a critical element in development.
“As economies get more and more sophisticated and as they work more effectively, they need information to propel the decisions and the choices that people make every day. Information is absolutely critical and if that information is good info, you have a much better chance of making the right decision,” said Nelson.
Nelson says there are tangible ways to show that a free media can contribute to eradicating poverty. He remembers a radio show while working in Niger about the importance of washing hands.
“These radio programs were credited with really helping reduce the transmission rate of some of these diseases. And when people are not sick, when they are able to go to work and they contribute to an economy, then they are able to escape poverty,” he said.
Every day this week, the U.S. State Department has highlighted the plight of journalists around the world, especially those who are imprisoned or not allowed to broadcast freely. Marie Harf, state’s deputy spokeswoman, says that being able to express yourself and dialogue about what government you want can lead to a better government.
“If you have an ability for your citizens to stand up and say you are not governing me the way I should be, you are not giving the economic opportunities that our people deserve, you are not taking responsibility as a leader, that leads to accountability,” said Harf.
The World Bank Institute spends millions of dollars on programs to help reform certain areas of the media in the developing world. Jeff Thindwa, its social accountability manager, talks about a program named Open Data Boot Camp for Journalists.
“This is a program that takes journalists and civic leaders through training in how to access budget data, public spending data, how to interpret and interrogate that data, how to clean it up and use it to effectively ask the questions that need to be asked.” There is a direct link between an open government and a capable media and development outcomes,” said Thindwa.,
Thindwa says media have a real stake in how government performs.
“They can be given the capacity to monitor for accountability, to reduce corruption and to report back to citizens and help build and engaged citizenry,” he said.
It’s often through media outlets that complicated information is deciphered (explained) and delivered to the public.