MIAMI – U.S. support for independent local media around the world is needed more urgently than ever, according to a new study by media analyst Ellen Hume for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The global survey, “The Media Missionaries: American Support for International Journalism,” found that a new wave of repression against journalists in developing democracies threatened to unravel many of the accomplishments of $600 million in global media aid provided by American foundations and the U.S. government during the past decade. The report is posted at www.ellenhume.com.
The Hume report says continued journalism development aid is vital now to avoid “information vacuums that spawn terrorist cultures.”
She cites the government takeover of independent media in much of the former Soviet Union as well as continued suppression throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds; in African countries like Zimbabwe, where journalists are routinely imprisoned; and in Latin American countries like Colombia, where they are murdered with impunity.
“The stakes are rising,” the report says, “since media are so important to acquiring and maintaining political power, and since economic health is linked, in part, to information access and digital technologies.”
The report concludes that democracy will struggle worldwide as long as people are cut off from basic information about their own governments and the rest of the world.
Hume calls for increased efforts to build local journalism capacity through media training, equipment and fellowships, as well as legal support for open media laws and campaigns for journalists’ safety.
Most of the U.S.-sponsored media development aid to date has been underwritten by George Soros and the U.S. government, focusing on journalism capacity in former Communist countries after the Iron Curtain fell. Since 1990, “thousands of journalists have been trained and empowered; television and radio networks have been established; newspapers have been recreated” and in some cases, newly established media have toppled corrupt officials, the report says.
However, in many countries the results have been disappointing. In much of the former U.S.S.R., for example, “the millions of dollars spent have not yet produced a viable independent media sector,” because the advertising industry is too small to sustain the explosion of broadcast and print media. As a result, “politicians or oligarchs have taken over much of what was developed, diverting the media’s mission from public to private ends.”
An example of successful U.S. media aid comes from Latin America, where Mexico has just passed a landmark freedom of information law, and professional training programs for journalists are taking root. Hume recommends strengthening efforts there.
This year’s hot spots for increased U.S. and foreign media aid are in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East. Without a strong development effort, media may foment new factionalism, rather than serving as a source of real information there, the report cautions. Elsewhere, Africa still needs the most help, and China’s official interest in the Internet may provide an unprecedented opportunity for developing more open media, the study concludes.
Hume, who researched and authored the report, is a veteran journalist and teacher who has participated in international media training since 1993. She previously served as executive director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, director of PBS’s Democracy Project, and as a White House correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Assisting with the project were Joan Mower of the International Broadcasting Board of Governors, Whayne Dillehay of the International Center for
Journalists, David Hoffman of Internews, the staff of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Monroe Price of New York University, and others engaged around the world in giving or receiving U.S. media assistance.
Knight Foundation commissioned the Hume report in keeping with its mission of promoting press freedom.
“The report shows the smartest ways to invest in free press worldwide, but, more importantly, it shows what must be avoided,” said Eric Newton, Knight’s director of Journalism Initiatives. “These are important lessons for all of us to learn as we focus our efforts to extend human liberty in a world that is only partly free.”
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities.