How can communication enhance good governance, participation and transparency? Is a free media essential for development? This book chapter reports on some of the findings of the World Congress on Communication for Development. It argues that free flows of information and communication lie at the heart of good governance, transparency and accountability. Communication for development has evolved beyond traditional propaganda and marketing to a greater emphasis on two-way communication flows, dialogue, and articipation.
Information and communication processes and the media of communication are fundamental to governance systems and to the agenda of pro-poor social and political change. Workshops focused on communication in relation to six areas of governance:
- Securing political will for public sector reform: Communication (with constituents, for example) underpins assessments and risk analyses in reform decisions, and must engage decision-makers.
- Strengthening voice and accountability: Content is as important as process. CSOs can help poor people define and articulate their agendas.
- Building media systems: Donors who support media systems should work with grassroots organisations rather than international media institutions. Coordination among donors is very important.
- Fighting corruption: Efforts to support free flows of information will only be successful if a demand for information exists, plus an enabling legal environment.
- Making public institutions transparent: Governments need to believe that it is in their interest to implement access to information legislation, and the public need to know how accessing information can benefit them.
- Infrastructure Projects: Communication can promote sustainable infrastructure by, for example, enabling more inclusive and informed decision making. It can also build consensus on governance reforms through raising awareness of corruption possibilities.
Free media are necessary but not sufficient for addressing good governance, and must themselves be held accountable. There are limits to the role media can play:
- Partnerships and coalitions across different sections of society (media, civil society, and government) need to promote appropriate policies and ensure transparency and accountability.
- If people do not trust politicians and political institutions, even free media can increase the sense of impunity if they expose corruption but no action is taken as a result.
- Media may not be ‘free’ when many media houses are controlled by the rich or by those pursuing political interests, or when news agendas are dictated by profit. The interests of the state, the market and the public may differ.
- Legal mechanisms are important to complement the role of free media but it is how they are upheld that makes the difference.
Recommendations to help improve the role of communications in good governance include:
- Fit communications strategies to a particular context. This applies to politicians, donors, and communication specialists.
- Research the interests of different readers, listeners, and viewers. Are assumptions made about people’s information needs?
- Show success stories about the impact of responsible media organisations on democracy.
- Improve the rule of law in general, so that media freedom laws and freedom of information acts cannot be easily overridden.
- Establish a legal framework that allows for, and protects, free media and civil society organisations. Open up policy processes to scrutiny at the national level.
- Build the capacity of civil society, the media and public institutions; many officials are not aware of their responsibilities.