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PRIMED - Protecting Independent Media for Effective Development
The second case study looked at how a consortium of partners and multiple country teams can effectively develop learning questions and knowledge sharing mechanisms and how this has been incentivised by the programme's structure and metrics for success.
“One of the principal rationales and objectives of the programme - is to really work collaboratively, work in-country, and with this very broad group of collaborators internationally, to work out what media strategies that really work and work worth continuing to invest in. And what are the ones that are not worth investing in?”
The PRIMED programme came out of a 2019 review of FCDO’s (previously DFID) media support, which found that most programmes were using media mostly as a means to an end - for example, to achieve the development goals around education and health.
Thus the PRIMED programme is seeking to address some of the challenges of media development head-on - media viability, the political and economic challenges facing media outlets across the world, as well as the enabling environment in these countries.
The members of the consortium and the donor for PRIMED -- the UK FCDO -- were conscious that many development collaboratives despite investing in research, struggle to articulate clear, actionable insights capable of guiding future media development spending and strategy.
For that reason, one of the first activities of the PRIMED consortium was to develop 14 learning questions in consultation with organisations in the target countries Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone (plus two “learning countries” Zambia and Iraq).
A summary of each question -- why it has been identified as a priority, what kinds of learning are designed to be generated and how that will be crystallised and communicated -- can be found here: PRIMED learning questions.
Throughout the project, participants will be asked for feedback on the learning questions to share similar learning experiences and ideas about how PRIMED could be connected and learn from and feed into other initiatives.
Participants will also be asked what learning outputs they expect or hope for from PRIMED, as well as how the PRIMED learning agenda can connect with other learning agendas.
Out of the 14 principal questions which the PRIMED project expects to answer over its lifetime two were presented briefly in this section of the meeting:
Some case studies from media in PRIMED's target countries shows that understanding and serving an audience (even a large audience) does not always translate into revenue.
An example was given of a project "which has built a huge online audience, mainly by doing satirical skits as a form of revenue generation, which now got more than a billion views on YouTube, but which bring in about thirty-six thousand dollars a year."
Question five addresses this question.
"First of all, will they be useful to policymakers or practitioners both within but also especially beyond the programme and to really inform future media development practise? And if it’s not relevant on the ground, then is it relevant at all? And that’s a key second principle."
Members of the PRIMED consortium considered:
- How they would build on and contribute to the evidence-base for the sector
- The feasibility of answering them clearly
The PRIMED breakout group was attended by
- 1 media development donor
- 7 representatives of media development/journalism support organisations involved in policy and learning
- 3 academics/researchers
Gender ratio: 6 Male / 5 Female
(Participants selected which breakout group they wanted to attend.)
The breakout group discussion:
- Heard feedback and ideas on the PRIMED learnings questions from academic and media development practitioners from outside the consortium.
- Identified clear areas for collaboration and knowledge sharing beyond the consortium.
The significance placed on whether journalism and media support organisations in the five countries wanted to help answer and needed to know for their own viability -- as opposed to just being useful to international media development organisations and donors -- was welcomed:
"Love the idea that these learning questions must be relevant and are important only if they're relevant to the stakeholders in-country, to audiences, to the media outlets that you're supporting, to the community there.
That seems really, really both vital and more unusual than it should be."
The fact that PRIMED’s learning questions will be answered in a range of formats (not only reports or briefings), including more iterative forms of learning (such as podcasts and conversations), was widely welcomed.
"I really like the idea of iterative learning. I think there is a massive risk of freezing learning in aspic. The best way of doing this is in conversations so I really welcome this session."
Not only are iterative forms of learning well-suited to consortia where the stakeholders are unlikely to agree on everything but they also make it easier for those outside the consortium to engage.
Regarding the question of how best to serve audiences and to generate revenue, an African academic suggested that media assistance and the PRIMED learning objectives should focus on small and medium-sized media houses that operate in a context where they are more likely to address the needs of their audiences than national or larger news organisations are.
It was also suggested that PRIMED should interrogate why so many journalists quit the profession mid-career and the consequences this has for capacity building and wider media development programming.
It was noted that this brain drain can be mitigated by engaging and strengthening professional organisations. However, the wider trend needs to be looked at in more detail so strategies to combat this can be addressed.
Members of the consortium were keen to emphasise that PRIMED’s learning questions might generate insights and data that:
- make for uncomfortable reading
- will not necessarily make for easy policymaking
“We have to acknowledge that in many cases, the interventions, perhaps they achieve some progress, but they don't necessarily solve the problem.”
In addition to the discussion of the learning questions, one of the academic participants warned that media support was limiting itself by aligning itself too closely to advances in democracy and good governance.
In other words, the generally accepted theory of change from the mid-90s -- that greater media freedom and greater democracy was a linear process -- has not been born out with evidence.
Media development practitioners in the group questioned the wisdom of this approach considering the global “crisis of democracy alongside the crisis of infodemics” and responded by
The assertion that media development should be uncoupled from governance and democracy outcomes was countered by reference to two recent studies:
The new V-Dem Democracy Report 2021 “Autocratization Turns Viral” outlines how the first step in the autocratic playbook is to fundamentally undermine media freedom of the media and the financial viability of the media.
A new United Nation University report “Effects of Swedish and international democracy aid” found that “aid aimed at supporting civil society, media freedom, and human rights seems to be the most effective in terms of its impact on democracy.”
The author’s three-point plan for supporting democracies recommends that donors should “direct aid toward the core elements of democracy: human rights, democratic participation and civil society, and a free media. [...] Assistance to other areas can support democracy as well, but this is where the best democratic returns on investment can be made.”
The public's right to information has been articulated in Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, meaning that it is legitimate for media support to be designed around meeting this aim. Individual media development projects and programmes should not need to prove a causal effect on other development goals.
The PRIMED breakout group highlighted the following topics that could be addressed at future GFMD IMPACT meetings:
How international media support can effectively foster sustainability and viability.
A deeper conversation about the evidence for media development’s effect on democracy and good governance.
This would include a discussion on whether taking a rights-based approach based on SDG 16 negates the need to attach such macro governance outcomes to individual media development programmes and initiatives.
Internews offered collaboration with PRIMED in regard to:
Sharing learnings from other countries that are relevant to the PRIMED learning questions, especially in regard to attempts to link digital analytics data with revenue flows and financial sustainability and viability.
The methodology, in principle, helps understand information consumption from the user's point of view to understand the dynamic of users’ relationship with information from both media institutions and other sources, such as their family and peer group.