Aligning Civil Society Organizations: A Media Engagement Perspective
Purity Mumo – East Africa Philanthropy Network
When media practitioners and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) join forces, investigations deepen and the impact on the society has a multiplier effect. To boot, media and Civil Society Organizations habitually experience similar challenges, especially in the milieus of shriveling the civic space and thence, synergy between the two can cogently foster accountability among those deemed power holders.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) help to counterbalance the power of the states, oppose authoritarianism and ensure that the state is not controlled by vested interests. The media in turn acts as a watchdog by exposing corruption and often helps to promote good governance and accountability by providing accurate, balanced and timely information that is of interest and relevance to the public (Davis, 2010). Therefore, civil society organizations and media outlets vary to a marked extent. CSO’s are further inclined to assume missions informed by their audiences’ needs; ergo media outlets accentuate the objectivity and independence of CSOs from special interests. Similarly, the business aspect of media outlets has rendered them gumptious in ways that civil society organizations ordinarily are not.
Patently, CSOs advocate for issues deemed critical to the public good in spite of their popularity yet media outlets will proceed to report on stories that concern their audiences notwithstanding the impact on the public good. In many countries, the media ordinarily refrains from controversial stories owing to the fact that reporting on them can prompt their closure, albeit ignoring such may also be disastrous to the society from a civil society standpoint.
So how can these two parties co-exist harmoniously? The inaugural stride towards initiating a meaningful and perhaps a two-way street relationship should be pinpointing and ironing out the misconceptions that have existed for the long haul between the two.
Experiences by civil society organizations indicate that media outlets have become money-driven and mainly focus on generating revenue. It is also noteworthy that the majority of media outlets warp information, assume insensitive language, are bereft of cognizance with the missions CSOs, as well as tearing victims through insensitive reporting about issues like assault.
On the flip side, the media holds CSOs liable for being low on the knowledge of what different journalists cover and what is newsworthy hence the allegation that they utilize journalists to advance their organizations. CSOs are also accused of unpreparedness to issue explicit, concise information when they reach out to journalists, not setting smart goals predominantly on matters advocacy, not honoring media deadlines as well as lacking a contact person in their organizations as a link to the media and inter-alia.
Moving forward, it is high time for CSOs to discard the notion that since they work for the better of society, the media should cover them. In lieu, they should remain prepared to tell their stories to the media or to provide settings, insight and pundit narration of their issues. In return, CSOs would enjoy an all-embracing channel for community outreach that would aid in revamping secluded advocacy efforts into desired wings that would engross players from all walks of life. They should dispense opportunities to media outlets to make hypothetical issues indisputable and topical. CSO personnel should also strive to provide expert judgements on pivotal policy matters.
To realize a peaceful marriage between media outlets and CSOs, however, calls for heedful groundwork should be informed by a mastery of the settings in which both media and CSOs operate. Chiefly, CSOs and media outlets should appreciate the per capita roles in the society and the impediments that each encounters in fulfilling them. Building partnerships and enhancing cooperation with CSOs is critical for the exchange of knowledge, data and best practices to enable comprehensive discussions for the advancement of the nonprofit sector.
CSOs should comprehend the fact that many media outlets in the developing world are under strained financial pressure, hence unfit to grant time or space for public interest messages just because a CSO exists for a good cause. It is a two-way traffic – for a media outlet to cover a CSO’s event, it must see the organization as a trustworthy spring of valuable information that would intrigue its audience. CSOs customarily operate on limited budgets project grants are never guaranteed. Therefore, media outlets should recognize that CSOs are not solely sources of grant money to shell out for programs, community oriented messages or articles. These parties should initiate collaborative projects that would reward both in the same manner and aid a strengthened working relationship between CSOs and the media workforce.
To achieve the sought-after synergy, donors are no exception as well. They should be committed in fostering a steady sum with CSO stand-ins accountable for ensuring dependable technical information about matters they know best about on one-side and media practitioners behind the presentation of information on the other side.
The media terrain has significantly changed in the last few years informed by the growth of digital avenues and modernist approaches to journalism. Thus, collaborations between CSOs and media outlets remain imperative. The advancements in technology are deconstructing the typical methods of collecting and circulating news and information, which poses fresh opportunities and challenges to both donors, funders and CSO’s. So how do they also stay abreast with inexorable advancements?