In November, 2016, the Arts and Humanities Research Council announced the funding of the “Development Assistance and independent journalism in Africa and Latin America: A cross-national and multidisciplinary research network”, a proposal developed by Dr. Chris Paterson and Dr. Jairo Lugo-Ocando of the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds. This highlight notice encouraged research networking proposals which explore the contribution that arts and humanities research can make to challenges, policy and/or practice relating to international development. The project will run to November 2018.
The funding is part of the £1.5 billion Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) initiative of the UK government to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.
Initial partner countries include Ghana (University of Ghana), South Africa (University of Capetown), Brazil (Universidade Católica de Brasília), and Argentina (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba).
Given massive contemporary change in the global news media landscape, especially in regard to journalistic practice and the limited potential for genuinely independent ‘watchdog’ journalism, researchers and practitioners need to critically reassess the relationship between external influences on journalism and local cultures and practices of journalism. This contribution to a deliberative assessment of the nature of public discourse in developing regions has the potential to open the public sphere to a greater variety of voices and aid the project of democratization. In this context, the critical scholarly approaches more commonly associated with arts and humanities research than with the more typically social scientific approaches to the analysis of journalism are particularly valuable. We propose to bring together a network of researchers who can provide critique grounded in critical political economy and postcolonial studies approaches to the historical and present contribution to the local journalism sector of international development aid in Latin America and Africa. The network addresses the following key research question: What has been the role of international development assistance in shaping journalistic approaches and practices in Africa and Latin America and what are the consequences?
We hope for this network to allow a re-evaluation of the fundamental basis upon which current models of journalism in developing countries have been articulated. It will do this by examining the impact of development assistance and foreign aid directed towards supporting journalism practice and education. This will provide a basis from which we can reconceptualise journalism practice in developing countries while re-visiting, from a critical perspective, journalism teaching in these regions. We anticipate that the project will also improve public accountability by allowing citizens from donor countries, particularly the US and Western Europe, to understand better how public money has been used and continues to be used to articulate a particular model of journalism that has not always served the best interests of the beneficiary nations. This dialogue and the outputs resulting from the project will permit a more informed civic engagement that can feed into present and future legislative debates and scrutiny around development assistance in this sector, and increase space for more independent journalistic practice and democratic participation in assistance receiving developing countries.
We intend for the body of research that will emerge from the network to provide empirical evidence and analysis from which public officials, journalism educators, journalism related civil society organisations and media practitioners can draw conclusions to plan and develop different ways of performing journalism.