Introduction (efficacy of MediaDev responses)
“For the whole endeavour of this growing field of disinformation, research and practice, we need more data, more evidence, more literature reviews, more diagnostics, more monitoring and evaluation frameworks.” (Donor)
“How can we better design media development programmes to keep pace with the times? Media are really in the hot seat for why there is so much information pollution. Why isn't the media more effective as a tool of countering disinformation? That's a bigger conversation that we should have.” (Academic)
Government aid agencies have to approach this issue with a certain level of humility. Collaboration, knowledge sharing and nurturing of the evidence of how and when disinformation responses are effective is essential.
“We haven't cracked the code on how to do this. [...] It's a pretty wide-open space. We don't have any Bible to turn to, there is no long track record of practice, no extensive evidence base, a lot of that evidence and work has only been generated in the last couple of years.”
“I live with a lot of uncertainty about what we do or what we're funding and whether or not it works. Because of donor implementer dynamics, it's not always possible to have spaces like this, to be frank, and honest with each other about failure or negligible impact of the different kinds of interventions that people are doing.” (Donor)
Other donor representatives expressed confidence in supporting fact-checking, investigative journalism, and media literacy as a way to support governance goals. They did, however, want more evidence about how effective it was and how such interventions could be improved.
“Are they effectively changing the norms around our consumption of disinformation? Or are they blunting the impact of disinformation?” (Donor)
There was broad consensus that media development responses to disinformation need to work with other areas of development:
“I feel that we [in media development], continue to think that we can keep doing little projects here and there and address these big divisions in our world. I really think we waste a lot of money doing that because we don't take the approach of integrating with the broader things that are going on. [...] That means funding things like dialogues at the country level on these problems, so that people hear the conversation, bringing different actors together from different sectors who actually can bring this into the public debate.” (MediaDev practitioner/researcher)
Some examples were shared where media play a convening role to bring communities together to discuss issues around trust, truth and misinformation. These will be added to the case studies section of the literature review:
Problem: Media development practitioners noted the lack of collaboration and information sharing between national and international actors.
Too often the exchanges that do occur are informal and based on personal relationships.
Building coalitions supporting media (which practitioners see as vital) are not encouraged or incentivised by the modalities and priorities of media development funding.
Challenge: “Donors are often reluctant to fund processes of deliberation and dialogue and coalition building because they don't have clear metrics [...] to demonstrate success. [...] But there is a real need in the case of disinformation [...] to bring people from different sectors together. It's very siloed. One of the reasons for that is because of funding modalities. There's a need to encourage funders to support those processes of coalition building and cooperation.” (MediaDev practitioner/researcher)
Proposal: Media development groups should work with researchers/evaluators to provide a stronger case for this support to supplement future programmes.
Proposal: Donors should make coordination and information sharing a requirement for proposals and reporting for grants and programmes and take the lead in (and/or support) coordination on a national level in countries where they are working.
A donor representative explained why they had decided to emphasize the principle of “doing no harm” rather than being "effective" with regards to countering disinformation programs.
Challenge: They were not able to find an activity that was effective even after spending three years deliberating.
Solution: They changed their indicators from 'what is effective' to 'what is less harmful' as this is more tangible and measurable. Their grants now focus on supporting data journalism, fact-checking and content curation.
The 'do no harm' principle is important in terms of strategic guidance for countering disinformation as it is an essential part of the discussion around how journalism can build trust with audiences.
Some participants made the case that focusing on disinformation can move priorities away from considering the wider information ecosystem and how quality journalism can be “scaled up” and “what can be done for journalism”, especially local journalism:
Funding local journalism is another really big solution. So that people actually have journalism in their midsts, that actually responds to their needs that they understand and see the quality of journalism that can take place in that kind of environment. (Researcher)
Media development actors and researchers were encouraged to use the connection/correlation between high levels of media capture, low levels of quality journalism and the increased impact of misinformation as a justification and argue for supporting independent public service media as an effective response to disinformation.
The emphasis (of media development) is often on the supply side, but doesn’t look at the problems in the broader enabling environments for high-quality independent journalism - the legal and policy environments, the incentives systems that drive disinformation, media consolidation and media capture. (Academic)