If knowledge is power, then ensuring access to information is a vital step in empowering civil society to participate in the policy making process. Creating an environment where information, both political and economic, is widely available is also the key to fostering a citizenry that will hold elected officials and economic agents accountable to the public. Without mechanisms that allow for the diffusion of information, individuals cannot effectively participate in democratic processes or be successful actors in any market economy.
A new toolkit from CIPE discusses important elements surrounding access to information and provides a number of examples of how partners have worked to build institutions that allow for greater sharing of knowledge. In addition, the publication identifies core objectives in the field of access to information in an effort to guide the design of information programs. Covering topics such as legal structures like freedom of information laws and alternative sources of information, the toolkit seeks to share key practices and lessons to improve the performance of such programs.
As the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day, it is important to remember that access to information and free and unbiased reporting are vital elements for developing a democracy. According to the 2013 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, Syria is ranked 176th out of 179 countries. Since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011, Syrian authorities have restricted coverage of the unrest and continue to misreport the civil war on state-run TV stations.
My colleague Stephen Rosenlund wrote in his blog post A Bright Light on Syria’s Horizon about CIPE’s work with the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF), a think tank dedicated to building a free, pluralistic, and independent Syrian homeland that rests on a strong economy and ensures a life of freedom and dignity for all citizens. Despite the ongoing civil war and inability to establish a home office inside Syria, SEF has established a robust online presence through its website and social media pages allowing for the exchange of ideas and knowledge.
According to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2013 report, Kyrgyzstan’s media environment remains ‘not free’ with little improvement in press freedom over the last ten years.
Though the situation is not as bleak as in the rest of Central Asia, when reporting on politically-sensitive issues in Kyrgyzstan, media outlets practice self-censorship to avoid threats or harassment. When reporting on economic topics, however, journalists often simply lack the skills or background to provide comprehensive analysis. As a result, the Kyrgyz public lacks information about important economic trends, events, and issues. As access to information is a crucial component of free societies, the poor information flow in Kyrgyzstan hinders the country’s democratic and market-economic transition.
In Latin America, many citizens lack a clear understanding of democratic and free-market principles, and strong, charismatic leaders have exploited that knowledge gap. In several countries, notably Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador, the government exerts significant influence over traditional media outlets through direct ownership, intimidation, or even censorship.
The trend is not a positive one for freedom of the press in the region as governments become more creative in finding ways to muzzle the media. And although some have tried to censor the internet, technological and social progress mean that information consumption in Latin America is increasingly linked to the internet and less to traditional media. The importance of cross-border journalism making use of digital platforms to communicate freely is becoming more and more important in this scenario.
Today is World Press Freedom Day — a day for celebrating the vital role that a free media plays in democracy.
With journalists and media institutions increasingly under attack — both in conflict zones like Syria and in places like Hungary that were once considered consolidated democracies — in 2013 it is more important than ever to focus on the role that the media plays in a free society. While almost 40 percent of the world’s population now lives in a “free” democracy, just one in six live in societies with a fully free media, according to Freedom House’s most recent Freedom of the Press rankings. Freedom cannot be sustained without a strong, independent, inquisitive, and open media environment.
Language is essential. Words in one’s native language convey depths of meaning that translations obscure. Experience is priceless. Knowledge gained through practical experience provides lessons needed to overcome the next challenge.
Guided by these principles, CIPE’s “MENA Info” program has become the foremost Arabic-language internet resource on topics of democratic and market-oriented reform. Throughout the Middle East, when practitioners and scholars search Google for materials on جمعيات الأعمال (Business Associations), ريادية الأعمال (Entrepreneurship), حوكمة الشركات (Corporate Governance), and حشد التأييد(Policy Advocacy), CIPE’s dedicated Arabic-language website, CIPE-Arabia.org, is the first result returned.
Watch a welcome video recorded for the contest winners by CIPE Deputy Director Jean Rogers. Also available on Dailymotion.
In Pakistan, the contemporary image of women in the media is one that is filtered through a number of prisms. Women are rarely portrayed as strong political or economic actors, and mainstream media tends to promote negative stereotypes of women. But some Pakistani women are emerging to challenge the way they are covered in the media, believing that this directly impacts how they are treated in society.
Uks Research Centre, an organization dedicated to gender equality and women’s development in the country, recently marked the occasion of International Women’s Day by partnering with APNS to host the first annual “Women in Media” awards. These awards recognize women journalists in Pakistan whose work has generated better awareness and understanding of the fact that positive media content can and does bring about positive social change, especially in the realm of women’s development and gender equality.
In addition to the “Women in Media” awards, Uks also used the occasion of International Women’s Day to launch their new guidebook, Powerful Women – Powerful Nation, which will serve as a training tool and guide for journalists to conduct gender-sensitive reporting and journalism in Pakistan.
The CIPE Development Blog provides coverage of the Center for International Private Enterprise and its partner network at work -- highlighting successes, drawing out lessons from failure, and exploring the broader issues of political and economic development. For more information visit CIPE.org.