How can donors improve their support to communications in conflict-affected and fragile environments? This report draws lessons from the experience of donors, and in particular USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), in supporting media and communication in conflict-affected environments. It calls for donors to make media and communication a technical priority in post-conflict and fragile states, and to view media and communication as a public good in itself, rather than as an instrument towards another end.
In conflict-affected states, communication plays a crucial role in managing expectations, building trust in and oversight of state institutions, aiding the formation of an inclusive national identity and fostering an engaged and participatory citizenry. The media and communication sector is part of both the how of post-conflict reconstruction (in that nearly every activity must pass through the communication space in some form), and the what of post-conflict reconstruction (in that it is an important structural issue in itself). Nevertheless, communication and media sector activities are often funnelled towards public affairs or public information divisions, rather than being treated as a fundamental component of peacebuilding and governance. This mischaracterisation of the role of communication can lead to lost opportunities and negative outcomes.
Donors have focused on short-term messaging to achieve immediate goals and failed to view the communication sector holistically. Specifically, they have failed to understand the connections between strategic communication, behavior change communication, and independent media development. These activities are linked in several ways, including the following:
- Government strategic communication and independent media development: Training journalists typically includes modules on interacting with government officials, but corresponding programmes are needed to help the government both understand and deal with media professionals.
- Independent media development and communication for humanitarian relief: In post-disaster or post-conflict environments, activities designed to convey needed information could also seed the longer-term development of an independent media sector (e.g. emergency radio could transition into a longer-term media outlet).
- Independent media development and communication for good governance: Activities to raise awareness and encourage public dialogue around a reform programme could simultaneously aim to build journalistic capacity.
Donors should divide their support into two areas: communication as a technical component of peacebuilding and governance, and communication as a tool of donor outreach and public affairs. Other practical recommendations include the following:
- Think long-term and act short-term: Media regulation and legislation should be incorporated into planning from the beginning. Early focus on equipment distribution should be matched with longer-term local capacity building.
- Ensure that activities are locally appropriate and locally owned wherever possible: Local consultation and input into the design of strategies enhances their legitimacy and the credibility of messages conveyed.
- Work with credible, appropriate implementing partners: Development communication and media development programmes should be separated from military-focused communication activities such as public diplomacy.
- Carefully consider contextual factors: Sensitivity to local conditions, timing, and perceptions of conflict is key. Branding requires a nuanced approach – any perception that a media outlet or activity is a donor public relations exercise will immediately undermine the credibility of the endeavor.
- Balance short-term opportunities with long-term sustainability concerns: Donors should try to ensure early broadcasting initiatives build capacity, are sustainable over the longer term where appropriate, and avoid creating dependency.
- Do not confuse distinct activities within the media sector: Independent media development should be seen to be objective, and separate from strategic communication and communication for development activities.
- Consider new tools for familiar situations: Donors should make use of emerging information and communication technologies.