In quotes - What should the principles look like?


Read the full meeting report here.

On this page you will find a selection of the best quotes from the meeting.

“It's important to have a very broad-based approach to understanding of media. But what we are wanting to support and wanting to sustain [with these principles] is independent public [interest] news media, an emphasis must be placed on that.” - Zoe Titus, Director of Namibia Media Trust & chair of GFMD

Participatory programme design and ownership

“We cannot promote a cut and paste approach to media development. An important principle, therefore, is that local needs, cultures, the size and the level of development of the market are factors that need to be taken into consideration.” - Director of Namibia Media Trust & chair of GFMD Zoe Titus.

“I think one of the most important things when it comes to our region is to realise that local and regional media development organisations have now developed enough expertise, enough knowledge on the ground of the political and legal intricacies, [...] that their voice must be heard early on during the program design phase”. - Ayman Mhanna, Executive Director of Skeyes

Participatory program design can lead to local ownership and true knowledge of local needs but Mhanna warned that not taking into account the perspectives of national partners was a major problem: “Very often, programs arrive in our region ready-made with very little understanding of what is happening locally” or on the differences between countries across the region.

Not working with local organisations is sometimes seen as “an indication that donors and international partners have themselves failed after 20 years of engaging with us on a daily basis. No, you have not failed, you have worked with local organisations in Lebanon, in Tunisia, in Iraq, in Morocco that are now credible partners who can engage at the level of program design.”

“Focus on the causes not the consequences” of the struggle for independent media to be sustainable

“Only rarely do donors actually want to look into the causes of the [the struggle for independent media to be viable and sustainable], and how to fix the market. [...] we need to take into account this bigger context where media operates and to create actually some kind of enabling environment for media to be sustainable [...] I'm not really against sustainability. That's also our goal, but we also really need to be careful and realistic.” - Marija Ristic (BIRN)

Reflecting on the consequences of using a narrow frame to understand ‘sustainability’ and design support, Ristic said that “it's not enough to give money to develop the perfect business model on paper, if then, after the donor leaves, we cannot attract advertising or someone can buy that media outlet” and undo that investment through the process of media capture.

Be realistic about long term v short term goals

“Do we have long term goals? Or do we have short term goals? If we have long term goals, [...] then obviously we have to have long term strategic projects, partnerships that last for many years.” - Marija Ristic (BIRN)

“It's also okay to have a short term project. But then these short term projects need to have short term goals like do we want to create, for example, high quality journalism, or do we want to create skills training or something like that. But then we cannot say that with these trainings, we want to fix the market, because these two things cannot be necessarily connected or lead to each other.” - Marija Ristic (BIRN)

Shortcomings of short-term funding

“By the time the paperwork and all of that is done [for short-term 6-12 month grants], and you set up a project, three months are already gone. So you have barely nine months or eight months to implement. And that either pushes you into the mode of trying to tick the boxes, or trying to get the activities done and report that the activities have been done. So short term support certainly has not been helpful.” - Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of West African Media

Foundation Contextualising goals

“Impact, for example, in journalism in Albania, and Bosnia is not the same, even though we are part of the same region. Often, it's quite different contexts that we operate in. And the same project cannot be equally successful in these two countries.” - Marija Ristic (BIRN)


“A lesson that we got from COVID is flexibility. [...] We have to be flexible and be able to adapt to the situation and this fast changing environment because something we designed three years ago, unfortunately, will not lead to the same results today or will not lead to the results we hoped for three years ago. It shouldn't be complicated to change the focus and themes, if we actually have a good justification for creating a bigger and better impact.” - Marija Ristic (BIRN)

Flexibility for long term funding

“Then, of course, we've had occasions where you would have three years four year projects funded, but without flexibility. So you have predefined what the situation should be, in the next four years, defined your objectives, [...] and you are going to be stuck with that. [...] you have no room to even think through and amend structures and make sure that the prevailing context is being responded to appropriately.” - Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of West African Media Foundation

Relevance (and flexibility)

“When it comes to larger development, funders [...] just the development and consensus on the content for calls for proposals takes several years. By the time that those proposals are launched and awarded, the issues may no longer be relevant.” - Zoe Titus, Director of Namibia Media Trust & chair of GFMD Avoid the instrumentalisation of media support There has to be “an acknowledgment that the media is a sector with its own development needs, legitimate needs, that are central to the enjoyment and strengthening of democracy.” - Zoe Titus, Director of Namibia Media Trust & chair of GFMD

“The little support that already comes to the media is more about media for climate change, media for anti-malaria, media for health, rather than how do we build the media itself as an institution to be able to play the watchdog role and the development roles that they have to play? [...] Support [...] needs to be focused not on instrumentalizing the media in terms of how we use the media for a course, but focused on how we develop the media so that the media itself becomes a pillar in a driver for development and democracy.” - Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of West African Media Foundation

The webinar also recommended drawing up recommendations on the principles around accountability and transparency that are particular to different kinds of donors. An example given during the webinar was how funding from tech companies tends to favour and encourage the adoption of their services and products as well as a tool to dampen criticism from the news media that they support.

Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi, Chief of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists Section at UNESCO stressed that the media development community should make the case to donors that “international courts have underlined this double element of freedom of expression as a right in itself, but also as an enabler of other rights. [...] If we look into this forthcoming democracy summit the three key points are democracy and authoritarianism, fighting corruption. and protecting human rights. [...] freedom of expression and press freedom is relevant for every single one.”

Do no harm

“The amount of support going directly to media development, for the sake of developing the media sector remains very small, while the amount of support going to things like communication for development is enormous. And in any health or poverty alleviation project, there is likely to be increasingly some engagement with the media sector, so one way of addressing that issue is perhaps in these principles to start to formulate to draw from existing guidelines to do no harm, [...] that encourage folks investing in engagement with the media instrumentally to ensure that they're not compromising the independence of the media sector, that they're not doing damage to the sustainability of the media sector?” - Nick Benequista, Senior Director at CIMA

Distinction between independent news media and strategic communications/behavioural change

"Private and public donors should be cautioned against using media as a tool in strategic communications as opposed to media development. Sometimes the decision to fund stratcomm/behavioural change is due to lack of lack of capacity, experience leading to fund used for “suboptimal purposes” - Participants in the survey feedback form

"We also need to revise some assumptions on the free market that actually often leads to media capture, fragmentation and polarization. In this context, support to public interest media that is not market driven and still independent from the state is essential" - Participants in the survey feedback form

Opportunities to support independent media and reinvigoration of the market

“There's a lot of international aid spent on advertising, for instance, that is not necessarily directed to the benefit of independent news outlets in those countries.” - Nick Benequista, Senior Director at CIMA

Zoe Titus also emphasised how encouraging aid agencies to think twice about the media that they engage in, having a better understanding of the local media market, and using advertising spend in independent media can go a long way to stimulating the market for quality public interest media.

How development actors can help, not hurt, information ecosystems (2021) DW Akademie - PRUE CLARKE

This article argues that development actors tend to pay media to publish content that often is just their PR material in disguise and suggests how a rethink could support rather than undermine independent journalism and the aid sector’s credibility.

Incorporating good governance indicators

“The African peer review mechanism, which, in its own definition, is designed to collectively and collaboratively address socio-economic problems, improve governance practices, and strengthen laws and policies. [...] makes a very cursory reference to media freedom, and none whatsoever to governments’ responsibility to promote a free, independent and pluralistic press.” - Zoe Titus, Director of Namibia Media Trust & chair of GFMD

Trade agreements as a tool for reform

“As government's push [...] to take advantage of the trade possibilities, they will be forced, at least in [the context of the Africa Free Trade Agreement] to turn away from dilapidated media policies and laws and will be forced to harness the modernising force of the internet. And that would include traditional media, and that means policy reform.” - Zoe Titus, Director of Namibia Media Trust & chair of GFMD

Depoliticising media assistance

“A lot of donors don't want to engage in media development funding because it's a complex political issue in [some] countries. It's important for [the principles to] say that supporting media should not be a political process, we need to support media, because we need free media as a society.” - Marija Ristic (BIRN)

Alignment with other areas of foreign policy

“The issue of safety here and the issue of press freedom is so fundamental in the Middle East, that whatever principles we establish and follow in relation to media freedom, these principles cannot, you know, overlook the very dire reality.” - Ayman Mhanna, Executive Director of Skeyes

Mhanna pointed out that the Middle East remains one of the most, if not the most dangerous region in the world, for journalists. Therefore gains made through media development or the adoption of principles can easily be undermined through support to the security services of countries that crack down on the rights of journalists.

Global programming

“The market challenges are currently global challenges. And so although I subscribe to all the principles that were formulated in the previous discussion, I think there is a space for [...] unified global programming to influence the way in which markets are currently shaped. [...] The liberal economic democracy model is no longer valid in the face of the global monopolisation of information resources, that is currently privatised, and [where] cooperation is shaped by the tech platforms. [...] We cannot live by the current market principles whereby, for example, a newspaper sees a public broadcaster as its principal rival, where in fact, both of them are being marginalised by the dominance of non-ethical information that is going viral, disturbing democracies and populations. [...] Media development strategies based on a country-based strategy only go that far. And especially on the governance level, they don't cut what is needed to develop democracy anymore.” - Leon Willems, Director Policy & Programmes, Free Press Unlimited

Community media

“For democratic media environment, community media, citizen media should not be forgotten, just so that it's mentioned, and that we keep it in mind when we develop the refined frameworks around the principles.” - Birgitte Jallov, Community Media. forum Europe

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