2.3.11 The media

“Media” refers to the printed press, radio, and television. The term now also includes the Internet, as well as short messaging services for mobile devices. The media play two key roles: informing and educating the public about the process (see part 2.2.2 for examples) and playing a traditional “watchdog” function, whereby they investigate and assess whether the process is being properly conducted. (For tips on how the media can do this effectively, see part 4.1.) These two functions can cause tensions between the constitution-makers and the media.

On the one hand, media outlets cannot always be relied upon to report the news in a neutral fashion. In many countries they are owned by one of the major political forces, such as the state, a political party, even politically active individuals, or a major economic interest. These media outlets often report stories that promote their own concerns and interests, which could be biased, or at least decline to publish or heavily edit “unfavorable” matter. Even where media diversity exists, journalists may lack experience and fail to report on important matters, or may misinform the public about constitutional issues or the constitutional process. In some countries, because journalists are poorly paid they may want to be paid for printing stories. Even when journalists are well trained and experienced they may still fail to report on issues of substance because they are looking for stories that are sensational.

On the other hand, the media can become frustrated by the failure of constitution-makers to provide them with access and information about the process and the constitutional issues at hand. In some cases, media outlets have complained that the process was being conducted in secret. Constitution-makers have failed to provide the media with regular press releases or briefings, clear and accurate information, or guidelines about access to proceedings or information. These and other tensions have lead to negative reporting in the media and the lowering of the credibility of the process.

The media strategy

Developing a media strategy (i.e., a strategy to communicate with the people as widely as possible by using radio, television, newspapers, the Internet, or social media technologies) can reduce the tensions between constitution-makers and media actors, and ideally ensure that the media is used to inform and educate the public and encourage its engagement in the process. Components of a media strategy may include:

  • identifying key media outlets, bloggers, methods such as Twitter and Facebook, or newly emerging media innovations that can be used to reach the people (see box 22 on how Iceland is using the media to reach the people);
  • organizing regular briefings for the media or bloggers, etc.;
  • distributing regular press releases that are clear and accurate;
  • organizing training for the media about key aspects of the process;
  • recommending a suitable spokesperson for the process, and training him or her;
  • hiring a dedicated staff to coordinate with the media and communicating important information about upcoming events or new developments;
  • having the leaders of the process be as accessible as possible to the media, and attending public events as often as possible;
  • issuing regular press releases that highlight newsworthy stories and summarize essential facts;
  • providing sample interview questions to journalists in advance of interviews with members of the media, particularly in countries where media development is in its infancy;
  • inviting journalists to attend internal meetings (in South Africa, journalists were welcome to attend nearly all of the administration and management meetings, which promoted transparency);
  • developing alternatives to state controlled media outlets (e.g., distributing shortwave radios); and
  • developing rules regarding media access.

Developing rules regarding media access

Ensuring media access at appropriate stages of the process can promote accountability, transparency, the public’s right to information, and the people’s right to political participation. At the same time, media access needs to be managed. There should be a presumption of access unless there is a good reason to exclude the media. The extent of access at any particular time will depend on a range of issues, including the stage of the process and the nature of the work being carried out.

It would be expected that the media will have access to the public deliberations and debates of a constitution-making body. However, some deliberations are best held in closed sessions. For example, it may be helpful to ban television coverage at certain stages where such coverage might encourage the “grandstanding” of members for political gain and discourage consensus building and compromise.

The rules concerning media access should adhere to international standards and to any local legislation that defines the types of information to which the public has a right of access from their public institutions.

It may be useful to meet with key media professionals to get feedback on the rules, explain them, and answer questions. To promote openness, a small handbook for the media could be developed to inform them about:

  • the constitution-making body and the process;
  • times of press conferences and briefings;
  • where relevant information can be found (e.g., the official website for the process);
  • what access the media will have, and at which stage of the process;
  • how, when, and where members of the media will be accredited and be given security clearances if required; and
  • whom to turn to with questions, complaints, or requests for assistance about access or accreditation.