In a World Bank consultation on the role of the media in development, Bank officials were told to stay away from media training and other direct influence over journalists. The criticism came from Frank Vogl, former World Bank Director of Information and Public Affairs. He suggested the Bank instead support NGOs and independent foundations to carry out education for journalists.
“The World Bank needs to understand it lacks broad credibility in this field, and its engagement is inconsistent with its own research that finds state media so wanting,” Vogl said at the Washington meeting held in April. A recent Bank report on media ownership, prepared as background for the World Development Report 2001/2, found that state-owned media is “generally associated with less press freedom and fewer political and economic rights.”
The money spent by the Bank on media training held in Washington could be used instead to develop country-based independent support mechanisms for journalists. Currently, the World Bank Institute runs media training sessions in Washington that hundreds of journalists pass through each year. Even their programme on investigative journalism, targeting journalists in Africa, Asia and Latin America, is partly run from headquarters as distance learning.
Yet many key documents that investigative journalists may need to understand their countries’ economic direction remain hidden from public scrutiny, including many of the Bank’s own documents. “The World Bank neglects the role of national media in development,” said Zimbabwean journalist Eunice Mafundikwa in a debate on the Bank’s information disclosure policy during the Spring Meetings in Washington DC. She spoke of her frustrations and “countless efforts to access vital information from the Bank to feed into public debate”.
Rather than addressing the Bank’s own two-faced approach to the media, the Bank’s recent consultation meeting focussed on how the media can support markets by helping to keep corporations and governments accountable. The media has been identified as one of the key “institutions” that can make markets work better in the Bank’s World Development Report 2001/2 which will be launched in September.
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World Bank information disclosure policy briefing
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