Empowering independent media: US efforts to foster free and independent news around the world

International relations News media Information technology North America

In the last two decades, independent media assistance has become a significant aspect of the development field, helping countries to make democratic transitions, spur economic growth, conduct public health campaigns, and improve government accountability. Efforts to spread a free press have resulted in the professional development of tens of thousands of journalists and the founding of hundreds of new media enterprises. Following the Cold War, as international aid increasingly focused on democracy building and good governance, nurturing independent media outlets was widely embraced as a key component in democratic development. Media assistance in the 1990s concentrated on the former Soviet Union and on Eastern Europe, particularly the Balkan states. While the 9/11 attacks resulted in a shift in focus to the Muslim world, media development programs have also made inroads in other regions, ranging from community radio projects in Africa to investigative journalism training in Latin America. Scholars and other experts have increasingly recognized the role of independent media in fostering democracy and development. A free media has the ability to impact a number of critical areas in a given society—education, government accountability, health practices, empowerment of women and minorities, the economy, and more. Independent media projects, however, face numerous obstacles. Among the challenges: insufficient funding, unstable legal environments, lack of donor coordination, and problems in sustainability and evaluation.

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