School of Journalism and Media Studies

Center Researchers Find Press Freedom Evaluations by African, European, and U.S. Organizations Similar

Evaluators from Africa reach similar conclusions to those from the U.S. and Europe about the status of press freedom in selected countries on the continent, a new study released at the second World Journalism Education Conference in Grahamstown, South Africa, found.

The similarity in evaluations of the media from the African countries by the African and non-African evaluators, despite the determination of the African evaluators to focus on criteria specific to the continent, suggests some universality in standards and outcomes, the research team concluded.

Drs. Lee B. Becker and Tudor Vlad from the University of Georgia presented their findings at the three-day conference held at the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, which hosted the conference of journalism educators from around the world.

More than 400 delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and both North and South America were in attendance. The first such conference had been held in Singapore in 2007.

The University of Georgia researchers compared the findings from the African Media Barometer, produced by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Windhoek, Namibia, and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's African Media Project with those of Freedom House, based in New York, IREX, based in Washington, and Reporters Without Borders, based in Paris.

Beginning in 2005, the leaders of the African Media Barometer decided to develop an assessment system for the continent's media that would use African criteria and be undertaken by Africans. The criteria used were drawn from the African Commission for Human and People's Rights Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which was adopted in 2002.

A panel of experts made up of an equal number of representatives of the media and of civil society at large was formed in each country to be evaluated. This is similar to the methodologies used by the U.S. and European evaluators, who rely on international standards for assessing the media in countries around the world.

The Georgia researchers used data from 15 countries included in the African Media Barometer measure of press freedom and performance for 2006 and 2007 and compared the findings for those same countries by the U.S. and European evaluators and found them to be largely comparable.

In a separate part of the study, the researchers compared findings from public opinion surveys that included questions designed to measure citizen assessment of press freedom with the evaluations by Freedom House in New York.

For one of the surveys, conducted in 20 different countries, the findings suggested that elite evaluators reach similar conclusions to the general public about levels of press freedom.

For the other survey, conducted in 14 different countries, the data did not support this conclusion.

The researchers attributed the discrepancies to differences in measures used in the two surveys.

Dr. Becker is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia, where Dr. Vlad is associate director.

The Cox Center is an international outreach unit in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

The researchers have been conducting research on various measures used around the world to assess pres freedom since 2004.

The WJEC conference was held in collaboration with another conference of journalists from around Africa called Highway Africa. The journalists and journalism educators met in both joint and parallel sessions during the three days.

Guy Berger, head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, was the organizer of both meetings.

Twenty-nine different organizations now are part of a World Journalism Education Council, with Joe Foote of the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in the United States serving as president. The Council is entertaining proposals for a third conference in 2013.

"Journalism education is stronger today than it was four days ago," Foote said at the closing session of the conference. He thanked Berger and his team for organizing the meeting and said he looked forward to building on the energy of this meeting in three years.