What is “media development”, exactly? While press freedoms are clearly an important part of media development, there’s a variety of other factors that we consider equally important to media development: Are there several media sources, or only a state owned television station? Are journalists professional? Do they receive fair wages for their work? Is there infrastructure in place to support television or radio stations? Are citizens able to freely access information? Are journalists independent from the state? Although these factors aren’t exhaustive, we can see that there’s a lot to consider in regards to media development.
Like democracy indicators, there’s a variety of different indices available that deal with media. A few of the more widely known indices are Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press, IREX’s Media Sustainability Index and Reporter’s Without Borders Press Freedom Index. This list is not exhaustive; there are plenty of other organizations (such as World Bank or the UN) out there that also try to provide quantifiable measures.
And although these indices are wonderful, providing detailed information about a variety of countries, not all of them address the issues we are concerned with when we talk about “media development.” For instance, Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press focuses on the treatment of journalists, examining legal, financial and political environments. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite get at the full picture of “media development,” because it ignores the key issues of professional standards of journalism, infrastructure, and citizens’ access to media. This is really regrettable, given Freedom House’s index is extensive, covering 196 countries, starting in 1980. Because of it is so extensive in terms of time and countries covered, Freedom House has been the go-to index for many researchers, but freedom of the press isn’t the whole story of media development. This post isn’t meant to critique Freedom House; rather, it is to highlight some of the difficulties the Media Map team encounters when it tries to find measures of “media development.”
Even when an index does seem to measure our idea of media development, other issues arise. For example, IREX’s Media Sustainability Index (MSI) covers five major objectives:
1. Legal and social norms protect and promote free speech and access to public information.
2. Journalism meets professional standards of quality.
3. Multiple news sources provide citizens with reliable, objective news.
4. Independent media are well-managed businesses, allowing editorial independence.
5. Supporting institutions function in the professional interests of independent media.
The objectives seem to get a the heart of “media development,” right? They aren’t focused solely on press freedoms, but look at broader institutional supports, and address issues of professionalism. Unfortunately, this index doesn’t cover as many countries as the Freedom House index, and the project started in 2005, making statistical analysis more difficult.
As a research assistant for the Media Map project, I tried to think of a way to get around these issues. So far our main issues are that most indices don’t exactly measure media development, and the one that seems to doesn’t have enough data. Looking at the MSI objectives, I wondered if we could use data from other organizations as proxies for the MSI objectives. Surely there exists data on supporting institutions in more countries than the ones that the MSI provides; likewise, information about legal and social norms.
The others on the Media Map team thought this sounded like a good idea, so I was given the task of combing through a variety of indices, as well as data provided by World Bank and the UN to see if I could find this information available. So far, I’ve found some indicators that may serve well as proxies from the Global Competitive Survey, the Global Integrity Survey, and others. The biggest challenge has been finding data for objective 2, the professional standards. There hasn’t been much work done on professional standards, and we may have to get creative with filling that gap in the future. But hopefully, once we’ve compiled the indicators, we’ll have a more comprehensive dataset that focuses more specifically on media development, spanning a much larger number of countries and years than the current MSI index.
Kim Johnson is a Master’s Student at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.