Tag Archives: media

World Press Freedom Day and the Importance of Access to Information

From Reporters Without Borders via The Guardian.

From Reporters Without Borders via The Guardian.

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. 

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Burma’s road to democracy

(Photo: Reuters)

(Photo: Reuters)

Is this the beginning of a new Burma? The current government, which was sworn-in earlier this year after the military disbanded its power for the first since 1962, is showing signs of making gradual democratic changes.

On September 30th, President Thein Sein announced to halt construction of the much-anticipated US$3.6 billion Chinese hydropower dam on the Irrawaddy River because it was “against the will of the people.”

This decision was surprising not only because Burma turned down a huge economic opportunity with China – the country’s largest foreign investor and a regional superpower – but also because for the first time in years, the government is actually listening to the people. Community activists had been advocating against this project, pointing out that the construction would devastate the ecosystem, displace over 10,000 people, and submerge important cultural heritage sites along Burma’s most important river.

Another indication of reform is the new government’s call for greater media freedom. The head of Burma’s press censorship department remarked in an interview with Radio Free Asia that censorship is incompatible with democratic practices and “should be abolished in the near future.”

Some websites that were previously restricted, including certain Burmese news sites and YouTube, are now accessible. Newspapers are also now allowed to publish reports and photos of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (something that was unthinkable even a year ago).

Of course, a lot more progress must be made in Burma. The junta still heavily influences the government – most of the current cabinet members are former military officers – and it may take years before democratic reforms implemented by the new “civilian administration” will actually crystallize. Yet, Thein Sein’s efforts show that the country is taking steps to reform and move beyond the days of oppression – and the international community should not overlook this.

Found in translation: CIPE’s inaugural Leading Practices Contest winners

Students in Instituto Invertir's EmprendeAhora program, discussing and learning about the links between democracy and market economics. (Photo: CIPE)

Some would argue there is no one size fits all approach to development, no cookie cutter solution applicable to every problem. That does not mean translatable ideas are nonexistent.

CIPE draws on an extensive partner network from over 25 years of experience,  gathering and sharing leading practices in the field of democratic and market reform to promote benchmarking and the translation of effective program ideas across time and borders. Intent on facilitating transfers of knowledge among its international network of reform leaders, CIPE launched the Leading Practices Contest in 2011 to recognize innovation and good practice.

Instituto Invertir (Invertir) took first place with its entrepreneurship education program for university students called EmprendeAhora.

Invertir believes the best way to overcome poverty in Peru is by promoting entrepreneurship and a market economy, and views education as the primary method to achieve these objectives. It targeted university students because the youth in Peru often face limited job opportunities and harbor feelings of rejection or dissatisfaction with market economy.

Since its inception, EmprendeAhora has trained over 500 university students who went on to create over 40 new businesses so far. In the near future, CIPE will bring a representative from Instituto Invertir to Washington, DC to share their story and experiences, as well as meet with donors, policy institutes and other experts.

The 2010 presidential election in Colombia presented second place winner Fedesarrollo with the unique opportunity to enhance economic policy in the country.

In an effort to raise the quality of debate on economic issues, Fedesarrollo organized presidential debates and wrote policy papers for the incoming administration. The debates required candidates to make public statements about their specific policy agendas.

Fedesarollo also distributed approximately 800 copies of the policy papers and debate materials to government officials, members of congress, business associations and the academic community immediately following the debates, and an e-book containing all of the documents was made available to the public through the Fedesarrollo website.

As a result of Fedesarrollo’s efforts, numerous debate topics became priorities in President Santo’s administration and several recommendations from policy papers have been passed into law.

Economic information is not clearly understood or reported by much of the media in the Kyrgyz Republic. Many journalists lack a basic knowledge of economic concepts necessary to interpret economic information, and they do not know how to accurately convey information to the public. Misinformation and published mistakes occur often.

To address these issues, third place winner, the Kyrgyz Stock Exchange Press Club, adopted an innovative approach to journalist education. KSEPC recognized that many journalists do not attend training during working hours because it cuts into their ability to do their job, so they infused trainings sessions with press conferences to allow journalists to gain both economic education and access to information they can use to write stories.

The leading practices submitted by Instituto Invertir, Fedesarrollo, and KSEPC embody innovative approaches to common problems facing developing countries. While many regions have vastly different operating environments, key components of these approaches can be tailored to fit the local context when necessary.

The contest also yielded several other quality entries with practical and creative approaches to democratic and market oriented reform.  CIPE is currently building a platform to share a collection of these practices and stimulate a discussion about what really works.  Currently, all three winning entries can be read here. Congratulations to the winners!

The Voices of Democracy

What does democracy mean to you? Extraordinary answers have arisen from the six young winners of the 2010 Democracy Video Challenge (DVC), a competition to celebrate the experience of democracy around the world. Yared Shumete from Ethiopia sees democracy as a game of fair play, where the rules are clear and everyone gets a turn. Iranian winner Farbosh Khoshtinat speaks powerfully about the true meaning of democracy — and chides those rulers who would twist and distort the democratic process in their favor. Colombian winner Juan Pablo Patiño Arévalo tells the moving story of a child’s life torn apart by war.  

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Argentina’s Shaky Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press is an essential component of a genuine democracy. That is why Thomas Jefferson expressed that, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Indeed, one of the most powerful development messages is written in the U.S. constitution: “Congress shall make no law (…) prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Freedom of the press’ key contribution to democracy is its unique ability to restrain government power by increasing transparency, advancing accountability, and circulating diverse opinions. Autocratic governments understand this very well and try to constantly control the press. Where there are no unambiguous laws protecting freedom of the press, politicians of all stripes utilize ingenious schemes to control the media.

Argentina is a case in point, where freedom of the press is under constant threat by the state as a result of flimsy legal protections. In fact, the current government recently passed a new law that gives government the power to decide when a media company is too big and makes newspapers more dependent on government advertising.

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Do you exercise?

Launching CIPE's Corporate Governance Guide for Family-owned Companies in Pakistan.Like all that exercise you planned to do but failed to implement, neglecting corporate governance will come back to haunt you. Poor corporate governance can take down a firm, and poor corporate governance practices can take down an entire economy.

Corporate governance is also like exercise in that it’s not something you should stop worrying about once your economy is in shape. Effective corporate governance is based on external and internal relationships that change over time. If corporate governance practices don’t change with them, they can no longer enforce the principles they’re meant to enforce.

In the early 1950s, individual investors held 92 percent of all U.S. stocks; while today individuals hold 25 percent and institutional investors (such as mutual funds or pension funds) hold 75 percent. That change is merely one example of how the relationships between investors and company managers has altered over time. Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing but failure to account for it is, and the consequences can be hard to swallow. Perhaps next time, public and private sector leaders won’t need a global financial crisis and recession to force such a re-examination.

Corporate governance is like exercise in yet another way. As public and private sector leaders are more vigilant about maintaining good corporate governance practices, economies improve their future prospects for growth and resiliency in the face of uncertainty. In terms of physical health, regular exercise helps the body prevent and recover from injury and sickness. Just as the highest caliber athletes can get sick or injured, no matter how well an economy performs it remains subject to a degree of uncertainty. Instead of healthier bodies, good corporate governance practices build resilient economic institutions to better cope with unforeseen problems causing slowdowns or recessions.

In the end, corporate governance as a topic for discussion has about as much appeal as discussing the benefits of medicine ball exercises for kids; but just the same, constant vigilance brings constant reward.

Coverage of The Financial Crisis

Russia and Ukraine have many things in common in the current financial crisis and economic downturn.  As Russia is watching the capital run out of the country ($50 billion last month alone), politicians in Ukraine are bickering about that check from the IMF.  These days, whether its Russia or Ukraine, everyone wants and needs every last million.

But there is one thing that sets apart Russia and Ukraine – its not the financial crisis itself but the coverage of it.  Simply put, the state-dominated Russian media presents a much more limited view of the ongoing economies woes than media in Ukraine.  How so and what are the implications? – Marc Schleifer and I talk about it in more detail in our recent op-ed in the Moscow Times.

There is just one comment there, but it is quite groundbreaking – apparently there is more media freedom in Russia than anywhere else.  Media Freedom Index authors would probably disagree.