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Free speech can do more harm than good in crisis states

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An independent and free media may undermine rather than support the rebuilding of states in crisis and post-war situations, finds a new report from academics at LSE published this week (Wednesday 12 July).

Why Templates for Media Development do not work in Crisis States: Defining and understanding media development strategies in post-war and crisis states by Dr James Putzel and Joost van der Zwan of LSE's Crisis States Research Centre (CSRC) explores the development of media in developing countries affected by crises and war. According to the authors, rather than support the democratisation of a country, the liberalisation of the media could potentially undermine the state building project.

The authors' work is based on a workshop, jointly organised by the LSE, Annenberg School for Communication and the Stanhope Centre, which brought together academics, journalists and policymakers from Europe, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and North and South America.

Key recommendations:

  • Recognise that the development of an open and free media environment, like other liberal projects, requires the presence of a strong state which includes, among other features, a well functioning legal and judicial environment that is able to apply checks and balances;
  • Where appropriate, allow and encourage judicious state regulation of the media during the initial phases of state building in order to minimise the potential for divisive violent conflict and maximise the potential for building national cohesion;
  • Encourage national and local media initiatives not simply as a check on the state, but rather with the aim of contributing to the establishment of effective state organisations where they have collapsed.

Dr James Putzel, reader in development studies and director of the CSRC, said: 'Traditional theory states that the creation of an independent media needs to be at the heart of efforts to consolidate security, effective government and development in the wake of crises and war. But our findings indicate that where the state is fragile, and where the political process is unstable and de-legitimated, the primary objective of donor assistance should be supporting the formation of a functioning state.'

Joost van der Zwan, policy and communications officer, CSRC, said: 'The creation and sustaining of independent media is central to theories of democratisation. However, in the case of fragile states, it may also be misguided and potentially dangerous to assume that encouraging the creation of free and independent media will automatically strengthen civil society, or help establish a democratic system that will hold governments accountable. This approach underestimates the complexity of the contexts of fragile states.'



Press cuttings

Guardian Unlimited
Roy Greenslade blog (21 July 06)
A fascinating academic report argues that press freedom needs to be balanced with a healthy dose of pragmatism in countries affected by internal crises and war. Why Templates for Media Development Do Not Work in Crisis States, issued by the Crisis States Research Centre based at the London School of Economics. 'I've only read the summary and dipped into the introduction, but I can see that it poses a serious challenge to traditional views. It's worth every journalist's attention.'

International Journalists Network, USA
Report calls on media projects to consider effects of conflict (20 July 06)
A new report argues that media development projects should adapt to countries affected by crises and war. Its findings and argument are based on a workshop for journalists and experts that took place last year in London. The full title of the study is 'Why Templates for Media Development do not work in Crisis States: Defining and understanding media development strategies in post-war and crisis states.' The Crisis States Research Centre at the LSE conducted the study.

12 July 2006