Work in favour of public service journalism has won further support from UNESCO’s IPDC – a specialised UN committee for media development, which recently marked its fourth decade of operation.

By Shihao Feng, UNESCO

In January, the IPDC – the International Programme for the Development of Communication – gave grants to two new projects proposed by the Public Media Alliance as the world’s largest and longest established association of public service broadcasters.

The projects are located in the Caribbean region and south-eastern Asia.

First is an initiative in Haiti aimed at producing a Code of Conduct and Crisis Management Plan to strengthen the environment for press freedom and journalistic safety, and credible journalism during a pandemic. The IPDC funds will help empower local media professionals with tools and skills to conduct fact-checking and fight disinformation and misinformation on COVID-19.

The project will enable media in Haiti to cover the pandemic with the highest professional standards and provide reliable information to the public for making informed decisions. It will use the Spanish edition of UNESCO’s publication Fighting infodemia in Latin America and the Caribbean: disinformation and fact-checking during the pandemic to train participants.

Other resources are a UNESCO policy brief about the “disinfodemic”, which has been put into an interactive quiz format for engagement on mobile phones, and IPDC’s Journalism, ‘Fake News’ and Disinformation: A Handbook for Journalism Education and Training, now available in 20 languages.

The other new PMA project that won IPDC support will develop a regional roadmap to track the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on media freedom, media viability and journalists’ safety in Southeast Asia.

Media development stakeholders, including journalists, policymakers, and representatives of NGOs from ten south eastern countries will be involved in a consultation process that explores solutions to existing problems in their media environment.

In this consultation, UNESCO’s Draft Media Viability Indicators will be used to assess and analyse the impact of COVID-19. The project aims to raise awareness about the new challenges impacting newsrooms and media organisations. A common regional roadmap will be developed to defend media freedom, viability and journalists’ safety in Southeast Asia to respond to post COVID-19 crisis.

Prior to these new grants, UNESCO’s IPDC had supported other successful PMA projects in the past few years, including:

  • In March 2017, 24 journalists representing 11 Caribbean countries were trained in Kingston, Jamaica, in advanced investigative journalism. The training covered digital methods to assist the journalists in cultivating online sources and new methods for message delivery on social media networks.
  • In October 2017, with a specific focus on Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, UNESCO, in collaboration with the PMA implemented a project that consultatively developed guidelines to counter hate speech and terror in South Asia news. The key outcomes were a glossary of neutral terms that are acceptable to every community when discussing attacks.
Celebrating 40 years of IPDC

The IPDC was founded in 1980 and is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilise the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries.

The programme that marked its 40th anniversary in November last year put a particular focus on media viability. A workshop called “debating the future of media” was held to discuss challenges facing media viability, which have been intensified by the COVID-induced economic crisis worldwide.

“Over the years, IPDC has understood ‘media development’ to be much more than the changes in the power of media technology”

In an interview assessing IPDC’s contribution during its four decades, IPDC Secretary Guy Berger stated: “Over the years, IPDC has understood ‘media development’ to be much more than the changes in the power of media technology”.

He noted that debates between governments at IPDC meetings have helped shape the meaning of “media development”, expanding it to cover core issues such as media pluralism (including public and community broadcasting), editorial independence, the safety of journalists, and Internet development.

From the start, IPDC has been based upon common ground established by the diverse Member States who have continued to recognise a joint multilateral interest in advancing media development over 40 years, which has become even more relevant as disinformation has grown.

As Deputy Secretary Rosa Gonzalez explained in the same interview, “what distinguishes IPDC is how it supports particular grassroots media projects as a result of its multilateral character. This means there is 100% transparency about all funding criteria and project proposals that win grants as decided by the IPDC Bureau of eight elected Member States.”

IPDC has also played a significant normative role over the years, through decisions of the Member States that govern the programme. This has made IPDC the cradle of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, plus the source of authoritative and internationally validated indicators for assessing media and gender, as well as journalists’ safety, amongst other topics.

Header Image: 2017: Attendees developing social media guidelines at the UNESCO supported PMA workshop in the Caribbean. Image: Shobha Myers