As press freedom advocates in the Middle East and North Africa join with media outlets to seek increased independence and greater journalistic professionalism, IREX Europe is responding by contributing expertise in designing programming for independent media development.
A discussion paper, “A Strategic Approach to Developing Media Assistance Projects in the Middle East and North Africa,” outlined how media underpins all democratic and economic development and therefore must be addressed as part of any effort to build civil society and promote responsive governance. Effective media assistance, however, must approach the media as a system and address inter-related needs, among them to improve and enforce laws on press freedom, modernize the regulatory environment, expand the professional skills of managers and journalists, enhance the financial viability of media outlets, upgrade the infrastructure and strengthen media support institutions.
There are unquestionably a multitude of regional, national and local characteristics that need to be considered in any media development strategy, but prior experience can and should be built on when forging a strategy for supporting the development of independent media in the Middle East and North Africa. The IREX Europe strategy embraces key lessons from media development programmes in Eastern Europe and Eurasia – the focus of the most consistent and comprehensive media support ever undertaken by international donors — as well issues raised by advocates for independent media in the region to construct an approach composed of tested interventions refined for the Middle East.
The strategy was prepared for a workshop organized in the United Arab Emirates by IREX Europe’s partner, the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX). The event brought together media professionals and donor representatives from Algeria, Denmark, Egypt, France, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, West Bank, and Yemen. Attendees included publishers, broadcast executives, editors, journalists, directors from media development NGOs, and media and civil society advisors from donor agencies. It was supported by the US State Department Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Agency for International Development.
IREX Europe Development Director Drusilla Menaker wrote the paper as part of a broader response to the needs of the region’s media outlets as they move toward greater editorial and financial independence. Menaker’s professional experience includes four years as an international correspondent covering the Middle East and Africa from a base in Cairo. During that period, she also taught journalism at the American University of Cairo. In 2004, Menaker participated in a multi-country assessment of conditions for the media in the MENA region and met with numerous media professionals, educators and advocates from the region.