Friday, June 20, 2008

‘More than Just Numbers: Using the Media Sustainability Index to Fuel Development’

After years of analyzing the freedom of media systems in Europe and Eurasia, the International Researches and Exchanges Board has extended its Media Sustainability Index (MSI) to Sub-Saharan Africa. Since 1999 the MSI has become an important benchmark for measuring the changes of media systems over time and across borders. The media plays an important role in the development of impoverished nations, as it is a telling assessor of governmental control, business management, the availability of jobs and the free flow of information. The study of media systems provides much broader social implications, particularly regarding good governance and censorship. Assessments like the MSI allow countries to see their development over time and in relation to other nations.

The 2006-2007 MSI for Africa examines the media systems of 37 sub-Saharan African nations. It identifies five main objectives judged to be the most pertinent in shaping a free and prosperous media system:
1. Legal and social norms protect and promote free speech and access to
public information.
2. Journalism meets professional standards of quality.
3. Multiple news sources provide citizens with reliable and objective news.
4. Independent media are well-managed businesses, allowing editorial
5. Supporting institutions function in the professional interests of
independent media.

Within each nation a panel of experts was formed to evaluate these criterion. While the makeup of each body slightly varied by countries, representatives included NGO leaders, members of professional associations, media-development implementers, international donors and local journalists. They qualitatively and quantitatively assessed these benchmarks.

Members of the panel individually evaluated each objective. They used a scale of 0-4 to numerically judge these criterion. The high score of 4 was assigned when media systems completely met these standards. These five independent scores for each country were then averaged together, creating a composite result. This index noted both the highest score to date (South Africa with 3.1) as well as the lowest (0.27 in Eritrea). Sudan, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea recorded similarly low scores. Objectives 2 and 4, professionalism and sovereignty of media sources, consistently received lower marks than the other indicators.

But why all the numbers? Collecting and measuring data over a course of time is instrumental to understanding measuring development. The first collection serves as a starting point to determine priorities and set benchmarks to usher a more fruitful future. By intermittently analyzing data sets, the true effectiveness of new legislative initiatives can be gauged. The publishing of data allows people to become more critically aware of the institutions representing them. Data holds institutions accountable for their actions and is particularly essential in developing nations to assure the integrity of new-founded governments. Statistics encourage people to react intelligently to their surroundings and make them less vulnerable to manipulation. In developing countries which have been overpowered by exploitative governments, the ability to understand, compare and analyze data is a catalyst for positive change. The 2006-2007 MSI for Africa laid the foundation for offering a more critical, holistic and comparative examination of democratic governance and will surely prove constructive in African development, one nation at a time.

Image Source

Sponsor: The National Endowment for Democracy
Date: June 12, 2008
Time: 12-2 pm
Representative Attending: Elizabeth Caniano

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