The trials and tribulations of finding reliable proxies for media development continues! As I discussed in my last post, I’ve been searching for some way to quantify media development, by combing through data that other, larger organizations have already collected. I’ve been using the Media Sustainability Index’s 5 criteria as a template. The unfortunate problem with the MSI is that it only covers a limited number of countries, and for a limited number of years. I discussed in my previous post, this makes conducting statistical analysis difficult.

I thought it would be interesting to share some of the information that I’ve been gathering. I’m very receptive to your comments or ideas, and it might be useful for you to know exactly how hard we are working to get good data! I drew from a variety of datasets, most notably the World Bank Development Indicators, the Global Competitive Survey, the Global Integrity Report, and the Institutional Profiles Database. So, without further ado, I present some tentative proxies that may get at media development.

MSI Criteria 1: Legal and social norms protect and promote free speech and access to public information.

This may be one of the easier criteria to satisfy, as several organizations are interested in measuring legal and social norms. Reliable measurement is always an issue when trying measure something as amorphous as ‘norms’; however, survey data and expert opinion is really the only feasible way to get at some of these issues. Most notably, the Freedom House Freedom of the Press index covers most countries for several years, which clearly gets right to the heart of free speech. Additionally, their Freedom in the World data analyzes civil and political liberties, which are tied to social norms promoting freedom of speech.

The Global Competitiveness Report measures indicators that may serve as a proxy: intellectual property rights, antimonopoly policy, burden of regulation, and auditing and reporting standards. Some of these may also fit into MSI Criteria 4 and 5, but having variables overlap doesn’t it lend itself to rigorous analysis, so I keep them here.

The Institutional Profiles Database also covers some of the MSI 1. They have measures for freedom of association, freedom of movement and peoples, and emulation of neighboring countries.

The Global Integrity Report quantifies Rule of Law.

MSI Criteria 2: Journalism meets professional standards of quality.

Unfortunately, I have yet to come across anything that I think even begins to address this criteria. Journalist salaries may be one way of looking at this issue, though this data can be difficult to obtain as well. I have some leads on websites relevant to this area, so stay tuned. Ultimately this area may be the most difficult of the 5 to approximate using other sources.

MSI Criteria 3: Multiple news sources provide citizens with reliable, objective news.

Global Integrity Report has some interesting data here. They ask about ‘credible media sources’ and ‘public access to information.’

The World Bank Development Indicators look at how many newspapers there are per 1000 people, which at least gives us an idea that there are newspapers. It also looks at internet, radio and television use. It sadly does not tell us about the quality, nor even the number of news sources.

MSI Criteria 4: Independent media are well-managed businesses, allowing editorial independence.

There’s a lot of information about businesses in general, but less about media as a business. So most of the proxies I found deal with business as a whole, and so by extension, good business environment may also mean good media business environment, although that may be stretching a little bit. Perhaps a good way to put fears to rest is to see if there is a correlation between business environment and freedom of speech.

The Global Competitiveness Report asks about ethical behavior of firms, and the procedure to start a business. Additionally, Institutional Profiles Database also asks about the ease of starting a business, and the World Bank Development Indicators has data on the number of new businesses registered and the ease of starting a business. The Global Integrity Report also examines business and regulation.

MSI Criteria 5: Supporting institutions function in the professional interests of independent media

This last criteria can be taken extremely broadly. I included the Global Competitiveness Report’s ‘Electricity supply’ and the World Bank’s ‘Energy Use’ into this category, because I felt that stable electricity is an important asset for media development. As most communication is done using radio waves or televisions (and the internet!), a steady source of electricity may be an important variable. What may be interesting to look at is how electricity supplies actually affect media development, because there may be no causal relation at all.

The Global Competitiveness Report also includes a ‘Technological readiness’ measure, and the World Bank has a measure for Science and Tech Research and Development spending. Again, this may be stretching the idea a bit too far, but there will be time to refine the variables as the project moves along.

Another important institution that supports media development is education. The World Bank has data on literacy rates per country, which may be a useful proxy for the quality of education. Likewise, the Global Competitiveness Survey measures a ‘Quality of Education.’ One would hope that high levels of education help lead to professional standards, quality media reporting AND an interested audience.

More work should be done on finding other supporting institutions. Rule of Law and fair judiciaries may also be proxies to include in this section. As the project develops, some indicators may switch around, and we may throw some out altogether. It’s about the process, right?

Each of these datasets have their own unique benefits and drawbacks. Like the MSI, most of them do not span each country, and the country-years are generally low, meaning that the datasets only cover a few years. However, by compiling this list, we’re getting a little bit closer to having a wide range of data that help us to better measure media development. Unfortuantely, large scale, reliable datasets spanning 30 years are hard to find (and if they exist, they may not even cover the necessary areas!), so trying to piece together something useful is a challenging endeavor.

Kim Johnson is a Master’s Student at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

What is “media development”, exactly? While press freedoms are clearly an important part of media development, there’s a variety of other factors that we consider equally important to media development: Are there several media sources, or only a state owned television station? Are journalists professional? Do they receive fair wages for their work? Is there infrastructure in place to support television or radio stations? Are citizens able to freely access information? Are journalists independent from the state? Although these factors aren’t exhaustive, we can see that there’s a lot to consider in regards to media development.

Like democracy indicators, there’s a variety of different indices available that deal with media. A few of the more widely known indices are Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press, IREX’s Media Sustainability Index and Reporter’s Without Borders Press Freedom Index. This list is not exhaustive; there are plenty of other organizations (such as World Bank or the UN) out there that also try to provide quantifiable measures.

And although these indices are wonderful, providing detailed information about a variety of countries, not all of them address the issues we are concerned with when we talk about “media development.” For instance, Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press focuses on the treatment of journalists, examining legal, financial and political environments. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite get at the full picture of “media development,” because it ignores the key issues of professional standards of journalism, infrastructure, and citizens’ access to media. This is really regrettable, given Freedom House’s index is extensive, covering 196 countries, starting in 1980. Because of it is so extensive in terms of time and countries covered, Freedom House has been the go-to index for many researchers, but freedom of the press isn’t the whole story of media development.  This post isn’t meant to critique Freedom House; rather, it is to highlight some of the difficulties the Media Map team encounters when it tries to find measures of “media development.”

Even when an index does seem to measure our idea of media development, other issues arise. For example, IREX’s Media Sustainability Index (MSI) covers five major objectives:

1. Legal and social norms protect and promote free speech and access to public information.
2. Journalism meets professional standards of quality.
3. Multiple news sources provide citizens with reliable, objective news.
4. Independent media are well-managed businesses, allowing editorial independence.
5. Supporting institutions function in the professional interests of independent media.

The objectives seem to get a the heart of “media development,” right? They aren’t focused solely on press freedoms, but look at broader institutional supports, and address issues of professionalism. Unfortunately, this index doesn’t cover as many countries as the Freedom House index, and the project started in 2005, making statistical analysis more difficult.

As a research assistant for the Media Map project, I tried to think of a way to get around these issues. So far our main issues are that most indices don’t exactly measure media development, and the one that seems to doesn’t have enough data. Looking at the MSI objectives, I wondered if we could use data from other organizations as proxies for the MSI objectives. Surely there exists data on supporting institutions in more countries than the ones that the MSI provides; likewise, information about legal and social norms.

The others on the Media Map team thought this sounded like a good idea, so I was given the task of combing through a variety of indices, as well as data provided by World Bank and the UN to see if I could find this information available. So far, I’ve found some indicators that may serve well as proxies from the Global Competitive Survey, the Global Integrity Survey, and others. The biggest challenge has been finding data for objective 2, the professional standards. There hasn’t been much work done on professional standards, and we may have to get creative with filling that gap in the future. But hopefully, once we’ve compiled the indicators, we’ll have a more comprehensive dataset that focuses more specifically on media development, spanning a much larger number of countries and years than the current MSI index.

Kim Johnson is a Master’s Student at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

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