Monday, July 6, 2009

Does the media ignore civil society or is it the other way around?

The Daily Star posted an article yesterday about how NGOs are asking journalists why the media ignores their work. The French-based Medecins du monde held a roundtable discussion on this exact topic. Many reasons were given, including:

  • Western NGOs are seen as complicit in their governments' pro-Israel stance
  • Challenges resulting from having to protect humanitarian workers' safety
  • Information overload

There are additional reasons for the lack of NGO coverage in the media that have nothing to do with the West. The fact is, much of Lebanese civil society sprung up in the nineties in the post-Taif environment when Lebanon was trying to get back on its feet. Two decades have not yet passed for many NGOs, and two decades is not enough time to institutionalize anything, especially when another conflict breaks out in the meantime. With so many new organizations in the country, many of them simply haven't built the capacity for public relations.

NGOs might be ignoring media, rather than the other way around. Because they have not been around that long, many don't understand how to develop media relations or the importance of publicizing their work through the press. Often, the NGOs themselves are politicized, which can hurt their ability to get mainstream media coverage and narrows the range of their coverage to those news sources that are inline with their own view, even if the NGO is doing work that helps more than just one confessional group.

Good media relations are imperative to the success of an NGO's mission. Not only does it serve to raise awareness about an organization's activities, but it can help connect donors with fundraisers and connect experts to the organizations that need them.

NGOs can look beyond traditional media, too. Blogs and social networking sites are effective ways to spread awareness about an organization and its activities. However, they do not replace traditional media. Newspapers, whether in physical or virtual form, are the most widely read news sources, and television news enters far more homes than any blog or Facebook site do.

So what do you think? Does the media ignore civil society, or is it the other way around?

I suspect it's a little bit of both.

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