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Capacity vs Incentives

By Adam Bradbury

Many traditional media development projects center around building the
capacity of local journalists to perform their job. We train them,
provide workshops, have in-house mentoring etc. Often, the same
journalists are trained repeatedly by differing media development
INGOs. Talking to some local journalists, they say they have been
trained on the importance of covering gender, human rights, corruption
and a myriad of other topics close to donors’ hearts. However, many
only attend these trainings for the per diems paid or lunches
provided; they often don’t feel consulted on the training topics to
determine which ones may best suit their needs, and find that the
outfits offering the trainings don’t coordinate, so the content can be
extremely repetitive.

So if journalists receiving training may not find the sessions
particularly useful, why do training providers and funders insist on
continuing? Clearly, we see gaps in developing media sectors as
flagging a lack of capacity. If a radio station is blatantly partisan,
or neglects women’s issues, it must be because they don’t know, or
don’t understand, the importance of balance, both in the political and
social sphere.

Rather than lacking capacity, however, perhaps it is the incentives to
produce these stories that we don’t understand. A journalist may
understand very well that his/her station lacks content on women, or
actively supports one political party over another. However, perhaps
the journalist isn’t paid, and so is encouraged to find stories that
will be sponsored; stories on women or minorities are unlikely to fall
into this category, unless specifically subsidized by I/NGOs. Perhaps
a media career is a stepping stone into a political career, and being
able to produce positive stories on the party of choice is a way of
raising a future candidate’s profile with party members. Perhaps
producing stories on corruption is dangerous.

Often, journalists in developing contexts have a good grasp of what
“quality” journalism should look like. Often, they want to produce
this, but are constrained by their environments, or by the incentives
on offer. A political economy analysis of the media sector (which may
differ greatly between cities or between urban and rural contexts) may
be invaluable to understanding why journalists, editors and media
owners make the choices they do – what constrains them, and what
motivates them. This can make a world of difference in ensuring that
media development programs – including well targeted, appropriate
training – more accurately identify the support needs of the sector
they are working with.