Interview with Emrys Schoemaker - Transcript

"Emrys Schoe­maker is Dir­ector and co-founder of iMedia Asso­ci­ates, formerly an inde­pendent con­sultant and dir­ector of iMe­diate. He is a com­mu­nic­a­tions and con­flict spe­cialist with extensive exper­i­ence designing com­mu­nic­a­tions and media based ini­ti­at­ives for devel­op­ment and peace-building pur­poses."


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Interviewer: How do you became an expert in communication, media and peacebuilding?

Emrys: The path that I took, the story that led me to were I am now is: I did media and communications and politics in university as undergraduate. Then I did a masters in peacebuilding, conflict resolutioan at bradford university and then I became very involved in community work in Bradford between Muslim and Non-Muslim communities, looking at how people could share their perspective on what challenges communities are facing. So how Muslim kids could tell their stories to Non-Muslim kids and vice versa . And doing that through helping them to make their own films and videos. It’s really a way of getting them to tell their own story. And from there I went to Pakistan. I was there for a number of years doing initially health and communication research and media project. And then started work with different donors around media strategies for civil society empowerment, for advocacy, for stabilization as well as work in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and South Asia.
I guess what I find interesting, I think that any process of change is about somebody or groups of people deciding to do thinks differently. And they decide to do something differently, because what’s happening right now – the status quo isn’t satisfactory, it’s either causing conflict or people are suffering. And they want things do be differently. Wanting something to be differently requires to recognize that what’s happening right now isn’t satisfactory and that’s a communication issue. We understand the world through the knowledge and information that we consume. Wanting to do something differently requires, having access to a different idea. And deciding to do something differently requires understanding that there’s an alternative. So any process of change is some kind of communicative act. It’s that conversation between that takes place people that decide to do something different. Particular in the context of social change in a societal or group level, it’s a political process. That political process is based on people with power listening to people who don’t necessarily have power and try to broker and agree how to allocate recourses, how to include people. And that’s a communicative process.    

I: If we talk about independent media. Should there be some kind of ethic codex or law that forbids “hate media”? Or what would be your approach to counter hate media?

E: That’s a very general question. I’m not sure I have a sort of prescription, wether there should be a particular regulatory framework for or against. But this paper really does strongly argue, that in fragile societies, that in countries emerging from conflict or suffering from conflict, that there’s a need to have a regulatory environment which recognizes what’s driving conflicts. For example in Rwanda you do have Radio Mille Collines which is a platform for hate speech. Radio Mille Collines was a UN founded radio and it exited in a context where free allowed free, independent, plural media. Which begs the question: If that’s a driver of conflict, how can you address the driver of conflict? One of the responses is a framework that can limit the extend to which hate media can actually have a platform. But for me the question is: Is free and independent media a value in itself or good in itself? Well, it might be in a context where you have a stable democracy and you understand that democracy functions because  one of the pillars of accountability – the fourth estate, is a free and independent media. But that only works if you have a whole raft of other supporting institutions, legal institutions, a state that can then respond to infraction of what the regulatory environment says. In a fragile environment or in a conflict/postconflict environment usually the rest of those institutions which can takt the media or can limit the media or can limit the media aren’t present. So free and independent media for a peacebuilding perspective has to start from: What is the environment like and what are the issues that are driving conflict? In my experience, most of the media for peacebuilding efforts don’t ask the question: What are the problems? Which of those problems are amenable to being addressed by media? And what is the process of change that a media is supposed to contribute to? What are the steps that are supposed to follow through and how do you measure the impact of that? There’s a whole strand of work with peace journalism which is very laudable in itself and it has huge merits to it. Actually the principles of peace journalism are the principles of quality journalism: Balanced, differentiated, all sides of the story, telling the whole context and not just a soundbite or media line that simplifies a very complex situation. I think, the lack of planning and intellectual understanding of process of change that a media intervention is designed to, contribute to, is very often missing from a lot of these peacebuiling projects and that also means it can’t be evaluated very well. I don’t think I’ve come across any very compelling evidence to show that a media intervention contributed to peacebuilding.

I: I talked to Francis Rolt yesterday and he said the most difficult part is to evaluate the impact of median on peacebuilding?

E: He’s quite right. It obviously starts from the whole question of media effects. Which has its routs in the advertising world. No advertiser can tell you, if you spent x amount of money on ten billboards you’ll have an x percent increase in product sales. And similar there’s a whole debate around whether media causes violence. If a child watches a violent cartoon, there’s no definitive evidence to show, that watching a violent cartoon leads you to behave violent. The point being that the question of effect, media impact is very difficult is very difficult to determine. Which is why I think, the most interesting line of inquiry and the most and the most interesting area of research is looking at how to try and make that a little bit more possible. The most interesting work around the impact of media on attitudes and behaviour, which obviously underlines a lot of the conflict work, is from the area of attitude and behaviour change in the health field, particular HIV. Simply because there is more money, there’s been more investments to investigate what kind of media programs actually lead to a measurable change. I think, applying some of the lessons from the health field from the social change field into peacebuilding offers a lot of opportunities to actually put in place more possibilities to measure to what can be done.

I: What is the significance of radio in South- or Central Asia, compared to other media like print media or televison?

E: I think it’s interesting, because there’s this interesting tension between radio and televison particularly. Radio has by far the largest audience. More people have radios than they have televisions. But television tends to have a bigger impact on peoples perception and attitudes, generally speaking. Particular in South Asia you had this explosion of satellite media, a deregularised, liberalized mass media environment  in which private TV stations could emerge and I think that was huge. It really challenged the monopoly of the state on the story on what a country is about. But increasing radio becomes more and more important. It becomes easier to set up a radio station. In India and Bangladesh they’ve just established a legal environment, which will allow community radio. I think, that space for the voice of ordinary people to express themselves has huge potential and significance. It’s massive! And radio tends to be more local, because it’s cheaper. You can have a local radiostation. So I guess it’s the same anywhere, radio tends to have bigger audiences but TV tends to have bigger impact.

I: What are the steps you have to take, when you want to implement a radio station on the ground from a donors perspective? How do you decide what to do, if you want to do some positive for peacebuilding?

E: In my experience, most donors don’t have media experts within their staff. So the starting point for a media program for peacebuilding is that somebody, let’s say the governance advisor or conflict advisor, says: “We need to have a communications program.” But they don’t necessarily fully have an expertise in what that means, what it looks like. And what often happenes is, that the UN conflict advisor for UNDP or conflict advisor in DFID (UK Department of International Development) or whoever, then says: “Let’s get a consultant or an organisation to come up with a plan of how to use media for peacebuilding.”
As an example, if they go to Internews or to BBC World Service Trust, who have a particular service of expertise; Let’s say just for arguments sake, BBC World Service Trust has a particular expertise in TV soap operas, Internews has a particular expertise in setting up radio stations. You ask Internews what to do? Internews will come up and say: “Let’s have a radio station!” Because that’s what they know.
So if your expertise is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Whereas your expertise is a screwdriver, every problem is a screw. That is one of the challenges, that donors have when deciding to support a media project, is not necessarily having access to a broader perspective on what’s possible with different kinds of media interventions. Link to that, if it’s a peacebuilding project, there needs to be a conflict analysis. There needs to be a need analysis to define what the problem is and from the identification of what the problem is, you can start looking what the possibilities of different kind of media interventions are. If in country x conflict is driven by a sense of exclusion form a minority group, the Tamils in Sri Lanke for example, then one of the approaches might be to say: “We need to have a broader public debate in which different perspectives are discussed and debated, and people have the opportunity to choose which of the propositions and narratives put forward by a particular stake-holder they would support.” Which might mean having TV debate programs.
If the driver of conflict is a state that is very corrupt and people are frustrated with the lack of delivery of basic services, then you might have an intervention that is actually more focused on holding the state to account. This is a very different response. It all depends on the first analysis of what the problem is. In my experience most media interventions are not designed  on the basis of a rigorous conflict and needs assessment.

I: What is, in your view, the importance of the entertainment or music program for a radio station for peacebuilding?

E: Again, it totally depends on what the context is and what the issue is. I think the value of entertainment programs is that they can allow quite contentious, difficult issues to be put on a table in a fairly save way. Because it’s fictional, it’s entertainment, it’s not factual, it’s not documentary, it’s not strait journalism. The flipside to that is again, that it’s very difficult to measure the impact that has on peoples attitudes. To know if it is being exposed to some kind of entertainment that really has made a difference. There isn’t a great deal of rigour, and this goes back to Francisis point that it’s really hard to measure. So a  lot of people say: “Well let’s have a soap opera or let’s have a comedy program. Because it looks nice.” But there’s very little evidence to show, that that’s necessarily the best thing. I heard, anecdotally, that there was a very big media program in India looking at HIV. The flagship was a big soap opera but I also had a range of other products, like spots and adverts. They did an evaluation, they found that what people remembered most, the massage, came from the spots - short 15 second spots and not from that very expensive TV soap opera. Which is a bit of a pain, if you’re an organization who just had loads of money from a donor for a very expensive entertainment program. I guess the point is, there’s many projects are founded, based on that sort of compelling argument or strong relationship with your organization putting forward the proposal, unless any substantive evidence to show that it works.

But how do you gain the audience? An audience that is sceptical towards a peacebuilding process?

E: You’ll have to do your audience analysis. What are people listening to? Let’s say the Lord Resistance Army in Uganda. They are very mobile. They are nomadic. They are moving around a lot. There are a number of radio stations in that area. There isn’t many TV. They probably don’t have access to TV very much. They are crossing borders, so cell phone networks are a bit complicated. You have to start like any media intervention, understanding who your audience is. But before you understand who your audience is, you’ll have to have selected your audience. And you maid the very important point for a peacebuilding initiative. You have to identify what the problem is. Who needs to change? Who needs to do what differently? And then understand that the particular group, once you identified them, what are their media consumption habits. What are their preferences? What are they like?

I: Let’s get back to the start. How difficult is it for a media intervention, when you have at the same time a hate program? How hard is it to work against hate media as a peace media program?

E: You have to understand why that media is so effective. For example the Talibans communication in Afghanistan and Pakistan is incredibly effective. It’s very cheap. They have huge amounts of resources. Everybody would agree that they are winning the information war. There’s a lot of research which suggest that the reason it’s effective, because it speaks to peoples interests. What they hear on the radio, matches there personal experience. When Taliban talk about sanctions against people who send their girls to school, people will know form experience that Taliban have retaliated against families who send their girls to schools. What they hear on the radio matches their experience. Whereas so often, peacebuilding media says: “We should all love each other and we should all get along. Because if you get along, your country will be better.” But there’s no evidence to show that. So people hear it, but they can’t say this matches my reality. I think that’s a very big issue.
But to answer your question: How do you counter hate media?
You just have to do your audience analysis to understand what it is that appeals about it. What those specific messages are? And there is no one answer. It’s all about understanding the context. It could be about discrediting the religious leaders who are putting out hate media. Or it could be about discrediting the militia leaders, who are maybe driving around and having expensive bank accounts and showing that they are not the voice of the people or the protector of the people, that they might claim to be.

Last Updated (Monday, 15 November 2010 19:50)