So you want to help develop the media? Read this first!

Some weeks ago, I wrote a post about How to become a global publisher or broadcaster in just 100 minutes! That was compiled by my British media activist friend David Brewer , who showed how it could be done using free tools that can be downloaded and activated in minutes.

This week, David has brought out another handy guide — this time aimed at those involved in media development. UNESCO defines it in lofty, technocratic terms, but it basically means strengthening the media institutions, media people (practitioners and managers) and media consumers so that the media can best serve the public interest.

Everyone seems to have their own recipe for media development, and that’s part of the media’s huge diversity. Media Helping Media asked a number of people who have benefited from media development projects what they felt needs to change in the year ahead. The replies have so far come from The Russian Federation, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Macedonia, Ukraine, Bhutan and Nepal. They make up a challenging list of tips for those who try to help media in need.

Its introduction says: “You have as much to learn as you have to give. That’s the message to those offering media assistance in transition and post-conflict countries from some of those on the receiving end.”

Here’s my own contribution to this interestingly crowd-sourced distillation. David had asked for three key points, but you can see below why I was never very good in arithmetic…

Media operate as a business, not charity: All media have a social responsibility, but that must be balanced with commercial viability. This is so with state, corporate or community owned media. Bankrupt media can’t serve any public interest.

‘Media’ is a plural: Media is a basket term for entities with enormous diversity and variability. One size does not fit all, no matter how well intended. It’s crucial to understand before engaging any media.

Follow the eyeballs: If you want the biggest bang for your limited buck, start with the mass market end of media such as FM radio, tabloid newspapers and music TV channels. Leave your broadsheet/classical prejudices out of investment decisions.

Take it easy: Audiences need entertainment as much as information and education. Supporting quality entertainment in the media is just as important for the public good as nurturing investigative journalism or advocating media freedom.

Sparks of hope: Real world is not an all-or-nothing game. Find oases of innovation and resilience, and nurture them to survive and grow in turbulent times. Back media underdogs of today who can become fierce watchdogs of tomorrow.

In responding to David’s request last month, I’d added this covering sentence which sums up my thinking: “All this is common sense that is often uncommon. I really wish media development organisations would listen and reflect more, and also step beyond their comfort zones and romanticised little bubbles.”

The entire collection is well worth reading, for it distills decades of ground level experience and insight. This guide will help many well-meaning organisations (UN agencies, philanthropic foundations, CSR arms of media companies and others) to be more focused, sensitive and ultimately more effective in developing the media.

Read the related 12 tips for international media trainers

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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