Free Media is Essential to …

The State Department’s DipNote blog posted Secretary Clinton’s recent statement on World Press Day:

We live in a world where the free flow of information and ideas is a powerful force for progress. Independent print, broadcast, and online media outlets are more than sources of news and opinion. They also expose abuses of power, fight corruption, challenge assumptions, and provide constructive outlets for new ideas and dissent.

Freedom of the press is protected by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a hallmark of every free society. Wherever media freedom is in jeopardy, all other human rights are also under threat. A free media is essential to democracy and it fosters transparency and accountability, both of which are prerequisites for sustained economic development.

The emphasis at the end is mine. A vibrant media is a requirement but of course when speaking to the press in celebration of the press it is not really appropriate to “consumer generated media”, otherwise improperly known as “new media”. Likewise, it muddles the statement also mention building pathways to information that include dead-tree publishing, broadcasting, and more.

A capable media that forces transparency and accountability must be a trusted and local – defined in terms that do not necessarily include geography – voice that, at the receiving end of a properly formed foreign policy, can act as a proxy for public diplomacy and strategic communication. The media recognizes this and has made it part of Army doctrine. The US Army’s Stability Operations Manual (FM 3-07) notes the requirement to develop local media as does the new (30 April 2009) Instruction 8220.02 titled “Information and Communications Technology (ICT)Capabilities for Support of Stabilization and Reconstruction, Disaster Relief, and Humanitarian and Civic Assistance Operations.” USAID recognizes this as well. But there is more to it than just empowering traditional journalists.

Focus on broadcasting and publishing is too often putting (and perhaps overemphasizing) the cart before the horse. Communication infrastructure is necessary. Create that and organic development of media, formal or not, will facilitate increased access to information, whether it is market prices or the realities of the Taliban.

Journalists are definitely required, but so to are “citizen journalists” who may, especially in less developed areas, become “real” journalists.

The US and others should increase support, direct or indirect, of Information & Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) that create access to information, both locally and globally. Access to information and the ability to hold leaders accountable is essential not just for development but its prerequisite: security.

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