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Media can help improve accountability

Will Taylor|

Transparency is only a small part of achieving accountability. Information becomes powerful once it is accessed, discussed and used to influence leaders.

Amid the fevered discussion of the influence of online media in recent months you might be tempted to write off the power of broadcast media to shape public discussion. But radio and television remain the dominant sources of news for most people in every region of the world. Even as online access grows, the broadcast media remains vital not only to providing information but also in shaping how people see each other, their government and what they think they can influence.

Since 2011, BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity, has collaborated with over 100 media organisations and supported more than 30 TV and radio programmes in 12 countries. Through our work around the world, we’ve seen time and again how balanced discussion and independent media platforms can help improve accountability.

Our programmes vary significantly in shape and tone, and are broadcast in a vast range of political and media climates. But they all – whether debate programmes, dramas, call-in chat shows or social media pages –  aim to reach people that other media outlets tend to ignore, getting them talking about politics and supporting them to influence decisions on the big issues that affect their lives. In total, they reached over 190 million people globally.  

To assess what our programmes have achieved on the ground, our researchers talked to 23,000 people across seven countries. We found out that BBC Media Action’s audiences know more about politics, discuss politics more and participate more in politics than people who don’t listen to and/or watch the programmes, even when accounting for other relevant factors – such as age, income and interest in politics.

Programmes give a voice to groups under-represented in public debate, including women, youth and people from rural areas. Giving these people a platform, in turn, influences others’ attitudes towards who should be able to make their views heard on what topic.

People also saw the programmes as having an important role in getting answers from decision-makers on the issues that mattered to them. 89% of our audiences agreed that our programmes play a role in holding government to account (32% strongly agreed).

In summary, a free media that analyses the facts and moderates public debate remains crucial to translating information into action. We need to ensure that the media is supported to play its role in delivering open government and societies.

For more on the links between media, participation and social inclusion, read this piece on the BBC Media Action Insight blog.


This post has been edited since its original publication.


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