How can the media drive development? What conditions are necessary for that to happen? At the Bonn Conference for Global Transformation, discussions focused on recommendations for sensible development strategies.
The internet has given a voice to people who earlier weren't heard from at all. For example, a resident of the remote Brazilian state of Roraima informed media outlets in the capital about problems in his village via Twitter. The strategy paid off. Newspapers picked up the story and even the international media, including the Spanish newspaper "El País", showed interest.
Unfortunately, this example is more the exception than the rule. "The digital divide in many countries between the rich and poor, cities and countryside, is still very wide," said Steffen Leidel, a project manager at DW Akademie. There's still a lack of access to information, which in itself serves as an obstacle to development.
But even in places where citizens do have better access to information, challenges remain. Poorly planned or unfair government policies and legal frameworks, as well as economic influence, can hamper free and independent journalism.
Therefore, what needs to happen for media to play a positive role in the lives of citizens and give them a wider understanding of their basic rights? At a workshop conducted by DW Akademie at the Bonn Conference for Global Transformation, experts from the worlds of politics, business and civil society exchanged ideas on how media can help advance development.
At the conference, colleagues from DW Akademie presented topics and projects having to do with digital innovation, transparency initiatives and successful transformation processes at former state-run broadcasters.
In Moldavia and in Serbia, the transformation of state-run broadcasters has left a palpable sense of accomplishment. "The changeover to a public broadcasting model, one which serves the interests of citizens, is an enormous challenge," said Erik Albrecht, a DW Akademie research associate. He contributed to a comparative study that analyzed 12 examples of the development and transformation of state-run broadcasters.
In Cambodia, one successful transparency initiative is setting an example for others to follow. Open Development Cambodia (ODC) is the country's first open-data platform. It makes data on the country’s social and economic development available to anyone. Publicly available information is analyzed, visualized in graphics, maps and charts, and posted on the ODC site. "It creates transparency and also spurs demand in civil society for more information," said Penhleak Chan, an ODC researcher who has repeatedly worked with DW Akademie and Deutsche Welle over the past several years. "Open data and data journalism are relevant for transformation processes," said Holger Hank, head of DW Akademie's Digital Division. "But in many newsrooms and organizations there is a lack of know-how. Media literacy is crucial!"
There are many examples in developing countries of how the innovative use of digital technology can lead first to better access to information and then to an increase in freedom of expression. But it's essential that people know how to read, identify and interpret different kinds of data and information, stressed the workshop participants. "We have to take into account, for example, where the information is coming from. Who is determining the quality of the data?" asked Hasnain Bokhari of the University of Erfurt and suggested that data-driven projects should not rely solely on numbers provided by governments.
Media literacy: a prerequisite for transformation
"We have to ask ourselves how important media is to us," said Patrick Leusch, head of DW Akademie's International Affairs Division. "We create awareness through education, and the media should be a part of that." But one shouldn't assume that the media, wherever it's available, automatically leads to further development, he added.
While big questions were discussed, there were also examples of media having an impact on a smaller scale. For example, one workshop participant from the pharmaceutical industry reported on communications work he is involved in - an educational project on contraception methods being carried out in several African countries. He told the assembled participants that a sensitive and neutral communication strategy had succeeded in getting important information out to a broader public, also with the help of a text messaging service.
At the Bonn Conference for Global Transformation (May 12-13, 2015), discussions were held on developmental strategies and approaches to solutions related to sustainability. The topic of sustainability in its various facets - environmental, social, economic - is high of the global agenda, especially given that the UN's Sustainable Development Goals are to be adopted in September 2015. The conference was organized by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the North Rhine-Westphalia state government. Deutsche Welle was the media partner.