The world of traditional journalism is in the process of radical dislocation. Some old communication organizations are innovating and responding successfully by transforming themselves to the new challenges in news and technology; others are going under.
To consider how best to respond to these challenges and opportunities, the Salzburg Global Seminar has been meeting from 7-10th October 2009 in the Schloss Leopoldkron, Salzburg to bring together some of the major donor organizations – multilateral agencies including the World Bank, European Commission, and UNDP, bilateral donors such as USAid and the Swedish International Development Agency, and a range of non-profit foundations such as the BBC World Service Trust, the Open Society Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Knight Foundation.
One of the central debates at the meeting concerns the issue of the role of the media in governance and development. Many speakers emphasized the impact of the news media and new ICTs on government transparency and accountability. Speakers highlighted the way that journalists, NGOs, and citizens can throw new light on the public sector delivery of goods and services, or decision-making processes, to strengthen the accountability of elected and appointed public officials. This issue is of particular concern in the attempt to stamp out corruption, and to monitor the effectiveness of development investments. Many organizations are investing in innovative projects which seek to generate more open government, such as the Sunlight Foundation,
One of the sessions at the meeting presented the conclusions of a new book, Public Sentinel, which I edited and which is forthcoming with the CommGAP program of The World Bank. The study argues that strengthening government transparency is an important function, especially in democratic states. But the news media and civic organizations can play other vital roles as well, including agenda-setting, through highlighting social needs and priorities, including news about natural disasters, international conflict, and humanitarian crisis, as well as providing a balanced public platform for deliberation about public affairs among diverse interests, groups, and sectors.
Numerous examples of relevant initiatives seeking to achieve these objectives were presented at the seminar. One comes from the Media Development Load Fund which has been investing in independent news outlets in countries with a history of media oppression. In Indonesia, for example, until 1998 radio journalism was strictly controlled and obliged to broadcast government news. After liberalization, a new radio news agency KBR68H successfully developed to provides a wide range of independent news, including investigative journalism, strengthening professional journalism ethics. Another example comes from the Open Society Foundation which has sought to provide resources for organizations seeking to protect press freedom and funds to strengthen the legal defense of independent journalism, to promote civic engagement, and to support minority media, such as communication initiatives among the Roma community. Other initiatives were presented by the Knight Foundation which provides funds for digital innovations, new media programs, and open source software which can strengthen news.
The meeting will seek to expand collaboration among donors and to encourage further innovation and debate.