Media and Civil Society Dialogue at CIVICUS

This year at CIVICUS, IPS (Inter Press Service) and Oxfam-Novib organized a one-day, invitation-only dialogue for a group of global media and civil society representatives. We were about 15 people who met for a roundtable talk on how the media report on civil society, and how that coverages compares in terms of volume and depth to the reporting about governments and the private sector. We discussed how civil society could be more effective in its messaging, and there was a very genuine and frank exchange of recommendations and ideas for a better communication between the media and civil society. It was really encouraging and wonderful to see the true interest from the media representatives in building better communications channels for civil society and to explore some of the key direct and indirect actions towards media that civil society leaders have tried to carry out in the last years including, for example, the World Social Forum and the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP). Participants from the media were high-level executives, including Directors, Editors in Chief, and Directors General of organizations such as BBC (UK), Al Jazeera (Qatar), NDTV (India), TeleSur (Venezuela), Deutche Welle (Germany) among others. Representatives from civil society included GCAP, World Vision, Oxfam Novib, CIVICUS, and ECI.


After introductions by Kumi Naidoo, the Secretary General of CIVICUS, and by Aruna Rao, Chairperson of CIVICUS, and ourselves (my presentation of the Earth Charter raised interest), the dialogue focused on issues such as the dominant role of media in civil society debate, coupled with the growing gap in the relationship between media and civil society. Many felt that the current state of media-civil society relationships could certainly be improved in many parts of the world. Civil society representatives can be heard complaining that “media do not cover what we do!” And the media’s response is that “civil society does not provide us any new stories, and thus no news to report.” A case in point was the World Social Forum, which was held in Nairobi in January this year and which received very little space in the media. But the real challenges of course is a stronger engagement with media in general, not only around events coverage, and the fostering a permanent flow of contextualized news and analysis.


A discussion paper titled “Media Accountability: Civil Society and the News Agenda. Why isn’t the message getting through?”, which was presented prior to this dialogue by Ricardo Grassi, IPS Rapporteur, gave an excellent analysis of the current situation. Mr. Grassi’s conclusions recommend that “striving for excellence and impact within both sectors demands a stronger engagement between the two, recognizing that media needs civil society and civil society needs media,” which was agreed upon by everyone present.


In the dialogue, proposals that were put forward included training for journalists and people working in the NGO sector to discuss experiences and work to improve the relations and engagement. The media is looking for good stories — this is essential for the media — and civil society initiatives are, as we know, full of them. We can facilitate in the media finding them and present cases that can change attitudes and work for a more just, sustainable, and peaceful global society!


The dialogue continues. This was just a beginning, and a follow-up meeting in the US in the fall 2007 is proposed. ECI will again be invited to participate to represent a voice in the engaged civil society.