Hitchhiker’s (Rough) Guide to the Media: Who wants a free ride?

If you got a message, hitch a ride...

If you got a message, hitch a ride...

How can research institutes and advocacy groups use the mainstream media effectively to communicate their findings and analyses?

What is the secret of some researchers receiving more media attention and coverage than others? Why are some ‘media darlings’?

Are there ways to secure quality coverage for public interest content without having to pay high rates for media space or air time?

TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) addresses these important questions in a new framework to engage the mass media for communicating for influence and social change. We call it a Hitchhiker’s (Rough) Guide to the Media.

The framework, building on a dozen years of TVEAP experience in working with television broadcasters and other media outlets across the Asia Pacific region, guides individuals and institutions to get the best out of the media. One key to success is building sustained relationships with media professionals and their gatekeepers (the bosses at media organisations who decide what content to publish or broadcast).

We introduced the framework to a group of ICT researchers drawn from across Asia who came together for a two-day workshop in Hyderabad, India, on 1 – 2 December 2008. The workshop aimed to build their capacity to use different communication frameworks and tools to engage policy makers, various other stake-holders and the wider public.

Workshop participants were all drawn from various action research projects on ICT or ICT for development supported by the Pan Asia Networking programme of the International Development Research Institute (IDRC) of Canada.

Our friends at IDRC have recently edited highlights of our presentation into a short video, which mixes excerpts from an interview they filmed with me. It can be watched here:

More about the workshop is found on a dedicated blog.

Read more about our framework on TVEAP website.

“Development” is seen as a hard sell in the increasingly commercialised media in the Asia Pacific. Researchers, activists and educators engaged in development work often complain that they are blocked out of the print and broadcast media. Yet they fail to understand a basic truth about the media: there is no quota of print space or air time set aside for development. Information and opinions on development topics must compete with other areas of human endeavour for the limited space and time available.

It is unrealistic to expect any legally or otherwise guaranteed space or time for development content. Even if there were, that can only apply on the media owners and media professionals. There can be no guarantee that media audiences will accept such content.

I get rather weary when well-meaning development players complain about the airwaves being full of entertainment, as if that airtime is something they have been deprived of. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with entertainment. The world will be a very dull place if the broadcasters listened to development people and packed every minute of air time with ‘information and education’.

Hitch a hike, but don't expect to get in the driver's seat...

Hitch a hike, but don't expect to get in the driver's seat...

This is the big challenge to the development community — how to get that delicate balance right, and learn to co-exist with other forms of media products catering to the wide and varied human interests. Hitch-hiking with the media avoids confrontation, looks for the common ground and tries to nurture collaboration for mutual benefit.

As my colleague Manori Wijesekera (presenting in the photo above) told the Hyderabad workshop: “Researchers and activists are a good source of information and opinions for the media, who need a constant supply of these. This can be a win-win situation for both parties, but we have to remember that we are hitching a ride with the media. So we can’t get into the driving seat or demand too much at once!”

So here’s our commercial: TVEAP conducts short, customised training sessions and workshops for researchers and civil society groups to enhance their media skills. These offer guidance on how to build and sustain ‘bridges’ with the media, and receive quality coverage that go well beyond publicity and public relations. If interested, get in touch with us!

Photos courtesy TVEAP Image Archive

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