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World Bank and the Enabling Environment

Por Bethany Davis Noll
Número 23

Independent media catalyze and reflect economic and political development. Over the last 15 years, policy and decision makers, humanitarian organizations, and foundations have begun to focus on the link between media and good governance, the development of open markets, and the promotion of civil society and democracy1. These institutions have made haphazard efforts to foster free and independent media in newly democratized, developing, and transitional states. Some, such as the International Center for Journalists, focus on training journalists, while others, such as the Media Development Loan Fund, focus on providing loans to worthy local media outlets. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded several programs like IREX, which provides "training, technical assistance, equipment grants and other direct aid to independent media to help them improve their performance, both against state-sponsored media and as compared with Western counterparts."2 Internews, a non-profit US organization which has blossomed across the world in the past fifteen years, "fosters independent media in emerging democracies, produces innovative television and radio programming and Internet content, and uses the media to reduce conflict within and between countries."3 The Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK is developing programs in Russia that help establish regional press councils and ombudsmen in order to increase accountability in the press. While all these organizations have been pushing hard for money and resources that will help them improve democracy in transitional societies, international economic institutions such as the World Bank are only now waking to the possibility of fostering economic development through media aid.

In September 2001, the World Bank released its annual World Development Report, "Building Institutions for Markets." The report analyzes market institutions, their role in promoting growth, and strategies for building institutions that support markets, all in order to combat poverty and protect human rights. The report's tenth chapter considers the role media and media freedoms play in promoting development, combating corruption, supplementing traditional school education, making public services more responsive to the poor, contributing to better health, and promoting institutional reform. This is a first for the World Bank, and reflects a newfound awareness of media issues in international economic circles. The two overarching contributions of media are summarized as "improving governance and supporting markets." The report continues: to accomplish these goals, media must be diverse, free of monopoly and restrictive financial obligations, and unencumbered by onerous regulations.

One specific area that the report concentrates on is ownership of content creators and media distribution outlets. World Bank Institute researchers analyzed the ownership structures of 97 countries, categorizing each of the top five newspapers, radio stations, and television enterprises, as either state-owned, individual or family-owned, employee-owned, political party-owned, or corporation-owned ("where no single owner controls more than a 20 percent interest"). Once they finished this outline the World Bank Institute researchers discovered that states with high levels of state ownership had low media freedom, and media outlets in those states provided less information to "people in economic and political markets" -though not surprising to many in the media assistance industry, this is a striking and unsettling piece of direct evidence for decreased state media control.

This correlation was drawn after controlling for lower development, autocracies, and poverty. Despite the strengths of the report, however, the broad sweeping qualities of its data contain a few weaknesses. For example, media outlets classified as "state-owned" included such outlets as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is regulated by a Royal Charter and accompanying Agreement that recognizes the BBC's editorial independence. The researchers explain that it is too hard to put the BBC in a separate category because you would then have to include media in Zimbabwe, for example, which are governed by an ostensibly free Independent Mass Media Trust that is in reality controlled by the government.
In addition, the data do not demonstrate some of the interesting nuances evident in the worldwide media arena. For example, the report states that "state ownership of media is found to be negatively correlated with economic, political, and social outcomes." If this conclusion were universally true, the lack of media freedoms and the virtual absence of competition in the media industries of China and Singapore should point to lower economic outcomes, but do not.

After describing the results gained through their ownership study, the World Bank's media chapter describes the necessary legal and social structures for the development of free and independent media and hence better governance and a freer flow of information. They identified several factors, other than state ownership, that impede media freedom. These include licensing requirements that may cause discrimination against journalists who criticize the government or write unfavorable articles. The report mentions the 1985 case of a Costa Rican journalist who was uncertified. When Costa Rica sought the advice of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court found that the licensing requirement violated the American Convention on Human Rights.

In addition, criminal rather than civil defamation and insult laws may hinder the use of media to express opinion or to criticize governments. When media are financially dependent on the state, they may be forced to represent only the state-sanctioned view of events. Finally, the report states that competition is vital to ensuring high quality media. "In countries with media monopolies, political, economic, and social outcomes are worse than in those where the media are competitive, in part because the former are less effective in improving institutional quality."

In addition to indicating structures or systems that can negatively affect media, the report outlines several positive actions that can be used for improving media freedoms. These include increasing literacy rates, training journalists, encouraging competition, setting up complementary institutions, such as self-regulatory bodies or press councils, and encouraging rule of law and adequate courts systems.

Notwithstanding the shortcomings in the data used by the report, the media chapter of the World Bank's report shows that the economic assistance world is paying much more attention to media as part of a state's economic and political development. Economists, though late, are now eager to join the debate over media and its economic and political influence in society.

The World Bank's report coincides with a recent study, sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and written by Monroe Price and Peter Krug at the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at Oxford University, entitled the "Enabling Environment for Free and Independent Media." The Enabling Environment study complements the World Bank report in several ways as it delves into much greater detail about the legal and social structures that foster and support free and independent media.

The objectives of the Enabling Environment study in describing necessary laws and institutions are stated thus,
In this Study, we discuss specific laws that are important building blocks. Still, we emphasize the surroundings of law and the creation of a culture of effective independent and pluralistic media. After all, what is it that makes one society open and tolerant and one not? What is it that produces a citizenry that not only has the sources to be informed but also, in fact, avails itself of them?

Beginning with the assumption that, "at some point in every transition [towards democracy] a free and independent media sector is vital" the authors of the study go on to describe media structures that add to the enabling environment, the importance of rule of law, the legal system and its impact on media content, and aspects that broadly affect the enabling environment like new technologies, civil society and NGOs, education, and copyright regulation and enforcement.

The legal and social structures described by the report and their importance for media freedom echo some of the points made in the World Development Report. An important question asked in this study is what balance should there be between publicly owned broadcasting and private media. "Market failure" and public interest, as justifications for public service broadcasting are analyzed in light of the Internet and the continued need for funding in media in post-soviet countries and other transitional societies. The study concludes that while public service broadcasting should be encouraged as a way to make up for lack of educational and diverse information on private media, and is acceptable as a way to sustain national identity in unstable areas of the world, the right to receive and impart information may be hindered by laws that protect restrictive public monopolies. A study of the enabling environment would examine the restrictiveness of regulation concerning public service media and determine whether the media system fulfills public values or instead denies the public its right to receive and impart information.

The study then goes on to analyze competition in media by looking at the usefulness of general anti-competition law, the need to provide access, and the need to ensure a plurality of voices. Other structural questions broached by the study are the legal issues around foreign, religious, or political ownership of media, and the legal issues surrounding the predominance of one voice or one controlling ideology in media of a country. Finally, the continued need for government subsidies or funding in many transitional societies is explored against the concern that government subsidies allow the government to indirectly or directly exert content restrictions. According to the authors of the Enabling Environment, all of these factors need to be carefully examined when assessing the likelihood that the social and legal environment will encourage or sustain free and independent media.

After giving structural issues significant attention, the Enabling Environment turns to law. Rule of law and legal institutions are the basis of many free media systems around the world. Enabling Environment lists four areas of law that have bearing on the freedom of media. These are laws that govern newsgathering, such as Freedom of Information Acts and licensing requirements; content-based regulation, such as secrecy acts, pre-publication censorship by "public authorities", and libel and defamation laws; content-neutral regulation that has the potential to influence content indirectly; and "protection of journalists in their professional activity." As was also stated by the World Bank report, licensing requirements are commonly used as a tool of repression and should be carefully examined. Measuring how restrictive or and effective these laws are is an important part of assessing the enabling environment.

However, the authors of the Enabling Environment make clear that an analysis of the legal structure is not sufficient for acquiring a clear understanding of the state of media in a country. For example, a journalist in China, writing in the regions, may publish an article critical of corruption in the government in her local newspaper or on the Internet, without the legal backing of a free speech law that prohibits censorship, a viable Freedom of Information Law, or civil defamation laws that do not exert an unreasonable penalty on journalists. Al-Jazeera, a state-funded satellite television station in Qatar, which broadcasts news throughout the Arab world, allows journalists to publish news critical of Arab governments that the journalists would not be able to publish elsewhere. Obviously there is much more to the development of free and independent media than law alone. Professional training, the development of competition and privatizing media, globalization, creating systems that ensure accountability, and ensuring a vibrant and healthy civil society that will be eager to read what is in the newspapers, all influence the amount of freedom media enjoy.

Finally, passing laws is not the most important part of a functioning enabling environment. In Mexico, there has been a protracted discussion over a Freedom of Information Law. Seen from the perspective of the enabling environment, this debate is useful for the country, not only because it will generate a Law in the end, but because the citizens of Mexico are involved in the public process of drafting and planning a law for their country. This debate has been waged throughout the country, and Mexicans have asked such questions as: Should the law apply to all three branches of government or just the executive? It is a pageant that teaches and instructs at the same time as it creates a legal structure.

New technologies, civil society and participation of NGOs, and education all come into play in a society that is moving towards developing free and independent media. New technologies may allow previously marginalized voices, or voices that were not part of the "cartel" to be heard and influence public policy. Local NGOs in the former Soviet Union, in the Balkans, and Eastern Europe have all been involved in promoting health, civil society, and the free flow of information. These are elements that must interact with the available laws and regulations in a state. Civil society, competitive ownership structures, and economic independence in media must sustain each other.

In order to achieve this goal, governments, media assistance organizations, policy-makers, and those who wish to influence policy and educate, may be involved in reinforcing the enabling environment in a developing country. Resources include technical assistance and the use of constitutions and international instruments. Technical assistance can be given in the form of indirect aid to broadcasters, business training, funding for printing presses, legal aid, and other forms of structural aid. Also, by relying on constitutions and international instruments, aid providers can promise aid if a state demonstrates adherence to international principles of human rights. Now that institutions such as the World Bank have realized the importance of free media to open markets, international economic organizations can condition their aid on evidence of efforts to privatize media, encourage competition, or decrease restrictive "chilling" penalties on media.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." Throughout the past fifty years, and frenetically in the last 10 or 15 years governments and society have sought ways to provide this basic right to citizens across the world. The findings of the World Bank, its involvement in the discussion, and the efforts of Price and Krug to explain the enabling environment are the next step in the process of understanding what makes a media system free and what makes a free media system important.

Notas y referencias bibliográficas:

1 In 1999, the USAID stated "Access to information is essential to the health of any democracy for at least two reasons. First it ensures that citizens make responsible informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves as a "checking function" by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths and carry out the wishes of those who elected them." "The Role of Media in Decmocracy : A Strategic Approach ," June 1999, Technical Publication Series, Center for Democracy and Governance, United States Agency for International Development. Online [September 2001] Available: http://www.usaid.gov/democracy/pdfs/pnace630.pdf.
2 IREX description online [September 2001] http://www.irex.org.
3 Internews description online [September 2001] Available: http://www. Internews.org

Bethany Davis Noll