One of the things we have charged ourselves with doing in this ambitious project called Media Map is empirically demonstrating the impact of media development on the media sector and other development sectors throughout the world. Not much work has been done yet precisely in this area. It is difficult to get at the impact of development assistance, as finding reliable figures for donor investments is challenging (and how can you determine impact if you can’t determine exactly what was done?). We will get to this as a next step.
As a first step, we are looking at what has been done to explore the relationship between the news media sector and development. A half dozen or so studies have looked at the relationship between freedom of the press and development, particularly governance. Overall they have found a positive relationship between freedom of the press and democratic governance, and indeed, between freedom of the press and other areas of development such as the economy, health, and education.
However, there is much left to be done. Most of these studies have shown correlations; but is it possible to show causality? How do these relationships between the press and other sectors differ and change across regions and over time? It may well be impossible to isolate the impact of the media on other areas, so how can we look at the combination of factors and their various influences in a meaningful way?
Most studies rely heavily on Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index. While this has been a valuable measure, it has met with criticism for having an American bias. There may be other, better measures for freedom of the press; also, there are ways to perform more sophisticated analysis using Freedom House data to further test the relationships between freedom of the press and development.
I would like to propose that 1) in examining the degree to which a developed media exists, 2) testing the media sector’s relationship to other development areas, 3) analyzing the extent to which donor investments in media development interventions had any impact in the media and other development sectors… we need to look beyond press freedom. Yes, press freedom is important, but it is only part of the story.
So beyond press freedom, what are other important areas to explore? We are interested in:
- Business strength of the media sector (also called sustainability)
- Empowerment of the audience / users to have a voice in public life and to make meaningful decisions that impact their own lives
In upcoming posts, we will explore what these terms mean for our purposes and how best to research them.
I’ll end with a starting point. How are we defining media development?
Media development is the process of improving one or more factors that impact the media’s ability to communicate with the public. External actors, such as foreign donors and media assistance implementers, can support media development.
Tara Susman-Peña is the Director of Research of The Media Map Project.