We had a few minutes to collect our thoughts before being pulled into an interview on a low-budget equivalent of Hardball with Chris Matthews. I was visibly flushed as I tried to remind myself to speak slowly and sit upright in front of the camera. Luckily the interviewer didn’t drill me with hard questions, I didn’t mumble, and I didn’t excessively gesture with my hands – and luckily, this was only part of a make-believe news talk show at the Social Accountability Media Initiative (SAMI) workshop – an initiative launched by the GPSA and the Aga Khan Foundation – at the Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi, Kenya on November 28-30, 2016.
Communication is key
Haven’t we always been taught that good communication is the key to personal and professional success? More than ever before, we see that the media can drive good governance, and that communications is more than a mere add-on tool for organizations in both the public and private sectors. The media, when properly tapped into, is a powerful vehicle and it can play a pivotal role in influencing attitudes and behaviors: Both traditional media organizations and user-generated content can inform audiences by transmitting information about world events; can shape awareness and public opinion by reporting on issues; or act as watchdogs or whistleblowers to protect public interest and put pressure on entities where there may be misconduct or malpractice. However, a few unreliable sources in the industry tend to lead the public to disregard all media as unreliable or untrustworthy.
Brought together by our passion for journalism in development – from LGBT rights to social accountability – close to 20 communication experts from the region and beyond came to the SAMI workshop to discuss some of these themes, and to refresh our knowledge and practical skills. We were journalists and media trainers; mentors from GPSA projects in Malawi, Ghana, and the Kyrgyz Republic; and representatives from the Aga Khan Foundation in Bangladesh and Washington, DC. The workshop was facilitated by Thomas Lansner, SAMI project director and veteran journalist, and GSMC staff regularly joined the workshop that was created to essentially ‘train the trainers.’
Communications is much more than having a twitter account
It was an inspiring and insightful three days. We covered a range of topics from preconditions for an open media environment to thrive, to the importance of building trust with journalists and media organizations. We discussed how to frame topics to enable empowered decision-making and collective action, and how to avoid clichés and write compelling stories in a world where they are over-told. We had lively debates on issues across the board, like the effectiveness of social media or women’s roles in media. We discussed less ideal situations, like gatekeepers, those that “follow the money” or have vested special interests, or environments that don’t allow for the freedom of speech and of the press. Or perhaps the organization has no budget for communications or doesn’t have the skills to present their ideas in impactful ways. These are some of the realities on the ground for many GPSA Grantees, and that is why SAMI works with groups to help them amplify their social accountability issues and stories. Global audiences look to the media for information, whether it’s tuning into their local radio station, checking their Facebook newsfeed, or being part of a Whatsapp group. The media could highlight causes, giving social accountability a spot in the limelight.
The workshop concluded with a roundtable, “Trust but Verify,” that brought together officials from the Kenyan Office of the Ombudsman, journalists and civil society experts to debate the role of the media as an agent of social change in Kenya.
This is just the beginning of many conversations revolving around communications and the media. Look out for a series of Storytelling webinars on the GPSA Knowledge Platform! In the meantime, how are your organizations making connections, amplifying messages and creating impact?
The Social Accountability Media Initiative (SAMI) is a Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications project developed in collaboration with GPSA and support from the Aga Khan Foundation USA. SAMI is building civil society organizations’ advocacy communications capacities and local media skills in social impact journalism in countries across Africa and Asia, so they can together tell stories and build values that help build and sustain stronger communities. The SAMI program was designed as a mentoring initiative that provides ongoing support to GPSA grantees and their partners, including government counterparts, in implementing strategic media and communications activities.