Digital technologies are not a silver bullet for social inclusiveness. Hence, media development organizations need to address different fields of action: partner selection, media usage, technical expertise and funding.
The study “Advancing Freedom of Expression: Using digital innovation to Foster Article 19 in the Global South” gives insight into how digital technologies are being used by diverse initiatives and how media development organizations need to adapt their methods of project selection to respond to the changing environment.
The analysis of 16 initiatives shows that their innovations are able to help advance access to information and freedom of opinion and expression.
Fostering freedom of expression
According to DW Akademie’s findings, digital innovations have a positive impact for three of the four functions of strengthening Article 19: providing access to information, creating a public sphere and holding to account. The implementation of the latter aspect can vary from publishing information to exert public pressure to actually engaging in advocacy work.
The fourth function, strengthening participation and inclusion in society, is the most challenging and least successful. On the one hand, in many cases social groups can now raise their voices that were not able to do so before. On the other, it often proved difficult to reach disadvantaged sections of society. Thus, digital technologies can improve inclusiveness and participation but they can also deepen existing divisions or create new dividing lines between social groups.
Many new potential partners and opportunities for joint efforts to advance Article 19 have emerged in recent years. The study distinguishes three different groups:
For all three cases, media development organizations need to build up new competences in digital project selection.
Taking into account the media practices of users is important for the success or failure of digital projects. That is why questions of media and information literacy, costs of services, and access, especially for disadvantaged groups in a broadened sense, need to be kept in mind and worked on. Potential first approaches are: digital audience research, analyzing best practices, bringing innovators together and teaching digital media literacy.
Digital technologies have changed the relationship between content producers and technologists. In the digital age, managers, journalists and technologists work together on ideas and products. The formerly distinct areas of content and technology merge into one. This means media development organizations need to develop technical expertise to be able to communicate with technologists, to mediate between managers without technical knowledge and technologists, or to engage with technical communities. Another aspect is that current project cycles may need to be adjusted in this fast-moving market.
All projects in this study were dependent on donor funding or grants to some extent. To ensure project sustainability, it is vital to have diverse revenue streams including longer-term commitments that allow financial and strategic planning.
Digital technologies have created new ways to implement freedom of opinion and expression even if they still aren’t able to solve all of our problems. These new technologies, and the new initiatives that use them, are opening up new possibilities, raising new questions, bringing about new approaches and creating new careers. Media development organizations need to adjust to this new working environment and take account of these changes. This study offers insight into some of the open questions concerning digital innovation in relation to advancing freedom of expression and Article 19.