Media Sustainability Index [Archives:2007/1019/Viewpoint]

January 25 2007

The creation of indicators and standards has continously proved as a good way to measure development and progress. It is also used as means for comparision and motivation to improve. For example, the United Nations Human Development Index is a tool used to measure development through life expencancy, literacy and education and standard of living.

The International Research and Exchange Borad, known as IREX, developed a similar indicator to measure media development called the Media Sustainbility Index. The MSI was first conceived in 2000, in cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development, in order to provide in-depth analyses of the conditions for independent media in 38 countries across Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and North Africa.

MSI is used to assess how media systems change over time and across borders. Since 2006, IREX has also produced an MSI for the Middle East and North Africa, with support from USAID, the U.S. Department of State's Middle East Policy Initiative and UNESCO. An MSI for Africa will be produced in 2007.

It is easy to understand why there should be such an indicator. To start with, the role of strong, indepednant media in promoting human rights and the development of societies is very important. Moreso, the status of media reflects the level of democracy and progress of a country. Media also initiates change and cross communication between the public and decision makers. The MSI assesses five “objectives” in shaping a successful media system: Legal and social norms protect and promote free speech and access to public information, journalism meets professional standards of quality, multiple news sources provide citizens with reliable and objective news, independent media are well-managed businesses, allowing editorial independence, and supporting institutions function in the professional interests of independent.

A score is attained for each objective by rating seven to nine indicators, which determine how well a country meets that objective.

In the MSI conference held last week to introduce MSI for the Middle East and North Africa, there was a heated debate regarding the methodology on which the measurement of media sustainability factors were determined. The question was, now that we have good indicators, how do we measure them effectively. Although IREX has already created research and came up with MSI figures for the Middle East and North Africa, countries, the participants in the conference felt they are not very accurate and need to be recalculated.

However, it is important for us working in media to always keep in mind a performance indicator. Because without it progress can be very difficult to measure. It was a very good first step and the next thing to do is our own calculations to find out for ourseleves how we rate as independant media and what can be done to become better.