Cox Center Director Discusses Role of Media in Democratization

The role the media play in the process of democratization may be more complex than many involved in media training abroad presume, Dr. Lee B. Becker, director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia, observed in late January.

Dr. Becker made his comments as part of a seminar at the Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR) at the University of Amsterdam. The University of Georgia professor joined researchers in a two-hour seminar attended by University of Amsterdam faculty and graduate students.

Also discussing their research at the seminar were Dr. Patti M. Valkenburg, a faculty member at the University of Amsterdam, and Dr. Keith Roe, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.

Dr. Becker said there is good reason to challenge the common assumption that the media play only a positive role in the democratization process, as many have assumed. While there is evidence that independent media can assist in development of democratic institutions, there also is evidence the media under some circumstances can cause instability in democratic institutions.

Two recent examples of negative consequences of media behavior as countries emerged from authoritarian control are offered by the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Dr. Becker said.

The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia and engages in journalism training around the world. Dr. Becker stopped over in Amsterdam on his return from a project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the Center is assisting in development of a journalism program at Unity University College and where Dr. Becker taught a short-course from Ethiopian journalists.

During the Amsterdam presentation Dr. Becker outlined two research projects underway in the Cox Center focusing on the role of the media in democratization. The first will attempt to determine the chronology of reform in the media and public institutions in eastern and central Europe. The other, supported by a grant to the Center by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, is attempting to develop an inventory of investments in media training in a select number of countries and to link those investments to tangible outcomes.

Dr. Valkenburg outlined a research project she is fielding on the Internet and social life at the seminar, while Dr. Roe presented an overview of a variety of research project he and his colleagues in Leuven have carried out in recent years.