February 19, 2021

Ubuntu Journalism and Decolonising News Media: What are the Implications for Media Development?

On February 19, 2021, Prof Colin Chasi (University of the Free State in Bloemfontein) and Prof Ylva Rodny-Gumede (University of Johannesburg) joined our monthly MEDAS21 meeting to discuss the concept of Ubuntu and how it could contribute to decolonizing news media and media development. The historical roots of Ubuntu, as Prof Chasi explained, stems from an African moral philosophy that raises the central question what it means to be human. Later, Ubuntu was interpreted more in a literal sense through the notion of “community” which had harmful consequences during colonial times and poses risks in today’s polarized societies. Therefore, Prof Chasi calls for a return to the early understanding what Ubuntu means, notably a concept that aims at uniting people and bringing the best out of each and everyone.


How can Ubuntu feed now into new forms of journalism or media development?
Prof Rodny-Gumede illustrated how Ubuntu can turn journalism away from confrontational and sensationalist practices, towards a more solution-oriented journalism based on mutual understanding and cooperation. When looking at journalism with Ubuntu in mind, several considerations emerge:

  • Journalism for the “public good”, but who is part of the “public” and who is excluded?
  • Truthfulness and honesty, two key African virtues, regaining importance in times of social media and fake news.
  • Listening, in the sense of empathic hearing what the other says and of showing sincere interest in the audiences and communities that the journalist is covering, researchers are investigating on and media development organizations are working with.
  • Ubuntu as a relational ethic, including the question of how we - journalists, researchers, media practitioners - relate to the people we are working with or reporting on.

The question of practical application is much more complex and depends not only on our own individual norms and values, but also on the structures and practices in our field that affect our behavior and thinking. Nonetheless, Ubuntu as a philosophical ground, can contribute to the decolonizing of news media, communication research and media development, particularly, when understanding Ubuntu in its earliest meaning, as a quest to become more human.


February 2, 2021

“Developing the Media Sector in Peacebuilding Contexts”: Blog post by MEDAS 21 fellow Fabíola Ortiz for the Centre for Freedom of the Media

How could journalists be better equipped to report in a way that enhances the prospects of peacebuilding? MEDAS 21 fellow Fabíola Ortiz tackles this question in a blog post recently published on the website of University of Sheffield’s Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM). Her answer (inter alia): Fostering the media sector as a safe, inclusive and respectful discursive space could be crucial!

Fabíola is a member of the CFOM’s hub for the study of hybrid communication in peacebuilding. The hub brings together researchers who aim to understand the communicative architecture and infrastructure of sustainable peace and the ways in which representational and non-representational communication can contribute to sustainable peacebuilding.


December 17, 2020

How can we enter a field despite barriers?

MEDAS 21 fellow Mira Keßler has been awarded with funding from the RUB Research School for conducting a workshop on “Disrupted Ethnography: Practical Perspectives & Access to the Field”.

Due to the ongoing pandemic and the resulting difficulties for traveling, ethnographic researchers are facing a special challenge: How can they get in contact with the people whose living environment and everyday lives they are investigating without being directly on site? Even apart from the current pandemic it can be tricky to conduct fieldwork due to closed borders, travel bans, and other obstacles in the research fields. So, how can researchers encounter a disrupted ethnography in general? How can they enter a field despite barriers - be it those of entries, cultures, languages, or ethics?


MEDAS 21 fellow Mira Keßler has just been granted financial support of nearly 10,000€ to address these very questions in a dedicated workshop. She successfully applied to Ruhr University Bochum Research School’s funding scheme “PR.INT Event” which is supported by Germany’s Excellence Initiative [DFG GSC 98/3]. Together with co-organizers Sarah Rüller and Konstantin Aal (University of Siegen), Mira Keßler plans to conduct the workshop “Disrupted Ethnography: Practical Perspectives & Access to the Field” in summer 2021.


According to the motto "thinking out of the box", the workshop organizers suggest starting a dialogue with practitioners who have comparable ways of working in a field, such as journalists and activists, and who are confronted with similar challenges, such as travel necessities, getting involved in new life settings, researching sources and informants with the requirement of gaining access to them, conducting interviews and gaining confidence in the interviewees, as well as questions of representation of them and their life worlds. The guiding question for this dialogue will be: What can practitioners and academics learn from each other? What new approaches can junior researchers develop that cannot be found in methodological manuals?


If you are interested in the workshop, please contact Mira Keßler.


November 19, 2020

Workshop with practice partners: Momentum for synergy

On November 19, 2020, MEDAS 21 ran an online workshop with its partners from media development organizations. The gathering was a good opportunity to revitalize our ties and work towards synergy.

Updating the partners on the MEDAS 21 fellows’ research projects was the aim of the workshop’s first part. For this purpose, partners and fellows met up in one-on-one sessions during which the research projects were presented on posters. The sessions’ “speed dating” character led to energetic first exchanges which will be continued beyond the actual workshop.


Please find the workshop posters below (click to enlarge):

The posters are available for download under resources.


The second part of the workshop was dedicated to one main question: How we can make the most of our cooperation? Three mixed working groups consisting of practitioners, professors and fellows tackled this question from various perspectives. The discussions made clear that the gap between academics and practitioners is actually not that big, but that each group could offer their specific expertise in a way that is more accessible to the other. Researchers could, for instance, provide smaller packages of information along the research process (not only final results) and support media development experts with input on possible theoretical frameworks for media development. Practitioners, in turn, could help academics by making their internal data collections accessible which, however, requires trustful relationships and openess to learn from mistakes.


Practical relevance versus academic relevance

The workshop participants moreover scrutinized a mere academic understanding of “relevance”: In the academic realm it is sufficient to look for gaps in peer-reviewed and published research in order to demonstrate the relevance of a certain topic. Yet, consultations with practitioners who are actually involved in the phenomena to be studied could help increase practical relevance tremendously – if only by minor tweaks into the right direction.

Full of ideas and suggestions from the workshop, MEDAS 21 will now make concrete plans on how to put them into practice.


September 23, 2020

Discussion about the evaluation of media development assistance with Nadine Jurrat from Deutsche Welle Akademie

Monitoring and evaluation are indispensable to manage and implement media support in a way that focusses on the desired results and to make outcomes and impacts of activities visible. Therefore Nadine Jurrat, research manager at Deutsche Welle Akademie, presented her organization’s approaches on evaluation during the MEDAS 21 Online-Lab-Meeting on September 23.

How can evaluation be defined, what are the key concepts, what are the main challenges? Deutsche Welle Akademie has developed an evaluation process to monitor the outputs and outcomes of its media development projects all over the world. To really focus on the project’s objectives and to not lose direction, indicators, sources of verification and possible risks are predefined. After a project cycle of normally three years, the first results are evaluated. This evaluation is based on the principles of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Evaluation (DeGEval), such as accuracy, credibility or usefulness. Furthermore, there are evaluation criteria, focusing on the project and its objectives themselves: Is the intervention doing the right thing? How well does the intervention fit? How well are the resources being used?

In a kick-off workshop, the project team, the consultants, and the external evaluators decide on focus areas of the evaluation or on the persons who will be interviewed. The results of these interviews and the additional desk research are presented in a change workshop to assure that everything is correct and to agree on the recommendations. To foster an evaluation culture in an organization or a project, several steps should be taken into account, e.g. communicating the clear aims of the evaluation (at Deutsche Welle Akademie, the main aim would be "Learning"), making the process transparent, using evaluation scales to standardize the results or integrating the evaluation directly in the strategic planning process.

After the input of Nadine Jurrat, she and the MEDAS 21 fellows engaged in lively discussions about evaluation and impact and thought about ways to consider evaluation in their PhD projects.

September 21, 2020

Three questions to MEDAS 21 fellow Michel Leroy about his research trip to Uganda

Due to the coronavirus crisis, MEDAS 21 fellow Michel Leroy had to interrupt his field trip to Uganda in March. He could at least stay for two weeks to conduct interviews with people working for different radio stations and with the local representatives from his practice partner, MICT. More interviews were supposed to be done, but Michel had to cancel all his appointments abruptly to go back to Europe be-fore the lockdown started.

Michel, what could you still do and find out in Uganda?
I started my field trip in the beginning of March with a tour up-country, to the Northern provinces. Afterwards, I came back to the capital for two days and spent the second week in the Western part of the country. Most of the radios in the provinces face a totally different reality than the ones in Kampala. In the North for example, at the border with South Sudan, there are a lot of refugees and international organizations working with them. The radios are impacted by their presence and try to make programs focusing on their realities and languages. At the border with Congo, hot topics are completely different. When I was there, radio programs dealt with the outbreak of the Ebola virus and gave advice on how to handle the disease. For me, that underlines why the term “proximity radios” is appropriate: The programs take the communities into account, they try to build and design projects and programs that are directly connected to the people.
The equipment is another proof of the radios’ diversity. Some of them only have a table, some garden chairs, and a single mic to do their work. Others – especially the religious ones – have more resources and can work in a fully equipped studio.
Also, people from diverse backgrounds can create radios stations: political leaders, people from the traditional kingdoms or from the main religious affiliations, individuals and so on.
Government officials are aware that most of the radio stations are not that professional but rather amateur. When I was in Uganda, I was given the figure of 312 stations throughout the country and it still increases. Sustainability is really a key issue for the national and local authorities, for the stations themselves and for the whole media development community. As they are considering all the issues that I am working on in my PhD, this was quite interesting for me. On the one hand, there is accountability: the regulators try to find a way to better organise the radio landscape. On the other hand, there is viability: the radio makers themselves want to generate more revenue. Sustainability is a tension be-tween both to better serve the radios’ public service towards the communities.

What are your greatest “lessons learned” during that trip?
Certainly, the most important one is that you need to cross-check everything while on the field. I spent a lot of time trying to find the original sources and the exact figures when I was told anything. The second one is directly connected to that: you need to be humble when doing a study like mine. People spend time with you, they lose some of their time in a way and they provide you with all the information you need. People in Uganda are really open, and after two weeks there, I was aware that I would really like to give them something back. The idea was to organise a feedback-conference during my planned second visit where I could present some of my provisional results on sustainability and revenue generation that could be of some use for them.
And the last one is for sure that you always need to be flexible and creative if your plans crash. Originally, I wanted to do a study on the sustainability of radio stations on a two-years-basis. I wanted to look at revenue generation from one year to another, to see which effects an additional number of commercials could have on professionalization. Now, with the pandemic, it is quite impossible to assess anything in the matter and I have to find an alternative methodology. I will deal with the same topic but in a different and hopefully resilient way!

How did you deal with the interruption of your field trip?
After my trip to the Western provinces, I came back to Kampala and discovered how dramatic the Covid19-situation was in Europe. I was supposed to stay two more weeks, but I decided to change my plans suddenly, as the rumours of a lockdown in France were about to be confirmed. I talked to my family and to my supervisor, rushed to the airplane office. Most of the planes were cancelled. I was obliged to take the last seat of the last plane to Europe before Uganda closed its airspace and I finally arrived exactly five minutes before the lockdown in France started.
And then I was locked down – not only at home, but also in my PhD. I spent time to finalise my literature review and related studies. To be honest, I was for a long time unable to come back to the notes that I had taken in Uganda. There was such a frustration on being forced to leave everybody so fast and to cancel the appointments with the academics, the project managers, the partners... It was only recently that I looked back at my notes and interviews, tried to rearrange everything and accepted the fact that it was the best option to interrupt my field trip. I am still connected to the people I met, and they actually face the same threat. It’s a good way to stay tuned with the evolution of the situation to better plan my coming back.

Michel still plans to go back to Uganda to continue his field research. So far, nobody knows when this will be possible again. The pandemic is still going on in Uganda as it started a bit later than in Europe. In the meantime, Michel works on different options to move forward and meet the deadline for his PhD in two years. 


September 1, 2020

Online collection of university courses on media and development initiated by MEDAS 21 – please contribute!

One of MEDAS 21’s aim is to advance research on international media development as an academic field. A crucial aspect of this endeavor is university teaching. Students of media and communication are the upcoming generation of journalists, communication researchers or media policy advisors who will shape discussions on media development efforts and their implementation all over the world – be it in media outlets, NGOs, ministries, law offices, research centers, or think tanks. Therefore, it is hugely important to spark students’ interest in questions of media and development and to qualify them to be able to conduct sound analyses thereof.

The importance of teaching is clearly recognized by the members of the "media sector development" working group of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) in which MEDAS 21 engages. The group, and particularly its co-chairs Susan Abbott and Nicholas Benequista, is currently planning to make teaching a key topic of its pre-conference in the run-up to next year’s IAMCR conference. The goal is to encourage and improve teaching on media and development by enabling an exchange on key literature, syllabi and best practices.    

While quite some teaching activity is already underway at universities worldwide, there is not yet a comprehensive overview of who is teaching media and development where, focusing on what. To inform related discussions (such as those to be held at the "media sector development" working group’s pre-conference), MEDAS 21 has initiated an online collection of courses taught at institutions of higher education.


Contributions welcome!
The collection is open and can be extended by anyone who would like to contribute to a better overview of existing teaching courses. You can access it without having to log in or register.

We encourage you to take a look and add any higher education course you are aware of here.


July 31, 2020

MEDAS 21 Fellows at the IAMCR 2020

Michel Leroy and Roja Zaitoonie have actively participated in the annual conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), which was organized by Tampere University, Finland, and took place online. The topic of this year was "Reimagining the Digital Future: Building inclusiveness, respect and reciprocity".


Roja Zaitoonie presented a paper on "The Achievements and Challenges of the United Nations’ Security Council in the Field of Media and Public Information" at the virtual paper session of the Global Media Policy Working Group chaired by Arne Hintz from Cardiff University. The paper is available for IAMCR members until 12 September and open for comments.


In the Media Sector Development Working Group, Michel Leroy was a respondent for the paper "Proximity Radio Stations: Sustainability or Pragmatic Viability?", presented by Nicola Harford (iMedia Associates), Mary Myers and Martin Scott (University of East Anglia). The paper is available for IAMCR members until 12 September as well and an extented version has been released by the Center for International Media Assistance.


IAMCR is one of the prominent worldwide professional organisations in the field of media and communication research with more than 2,500 active members.


July 14, 2020

MEDAS 21 joins Global Forum for Media Development

MEDAS 21 is pleased to announce that the program recently became a member of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD). The GFMD is a worldwide network of around 200 organizations active in journalism support and media assistance. "Joining the GFMD seemed like the most obvious thing to do considering our mission to bridge the gap between academic theory and practical application in media development", says Program Director Dr Ines Drefs. "The membership is a great opportunity to get in touch with practitioners from all around the world and learn from them. Of course, we also hope to contribute with insights from our research." Knowledge sharing among its members is facilitated by the many communication channels that the GFMD offers and not least by its dedicated secretariat. So far, the MEDAS fellows have joined various GFMD working groups (e.g. "Women in Media", "Local and Community Media" or "Research, Impact, and Learning") and look forward to presenting their research projects in member-only webinars later this year.   


June 25, 2020

Media development in times of COVID-19: MEDAS 21 fellow Michel Leroy sheds light on the situation in the Central African Republic

While it is still early to take stock of the crisis engendered by the coronavirus, the outbreak phase of the epidemic is already showing the need to re-examine the sustainability of the media in all its dimensions, as Michel Leroy explains in an article on the Central African Republic, the second last country in the human development index. 


His article was published in FrenchEnglish and German by the European Journalism Observatory, a network of 11 media research centres in 11 countries, in which the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism participates.



                                                                                                                                                                                              A journalist from the pool                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         organised by Internews                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             reports from the town of Sibut. 


June 24, 2020

When traveling and field research are not possible - Guest speaker Jignesh Patel from "Alt News India" on creative research methods

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the impossibility to travel for field research purposes the MEDAS 21 fellows were wondering about creative methods to conduct further research. True to the motto "thinking out of the box“ Mira Keßler suggested to start a dialogue with a practitioner who is dealing with similar challenges.


Hence, on June 24th we had an exchange with fact-checker Jignesh Patel from Alt News India, an independent journalistic fact-checking platform. We talked about creative methods how to get in touch with people on the ground without being directly on site. As a journalist and fact-checker Jignesh Patel shared his approach on how to reach out to people and his altnews' collaboration experiences with stringers, locals, activists, researchers and research assistants. He answered our questions regarding (1) how to reach out, (2) how and whom to trust, and (3) the verification of the person and information we can get.


May 14, 2020

Discussion about the impact of media development assistance with Dr Brice Rambaud

Internews is an international non-profit organisation that aims to build healthy media and information environments in countries where they are most needed. During a MEDAS 21 Web-Meeting on May 14, Dr Brice Rambaud, the Internews Regional Director for Africa, and the MEDAS 21 fellows engaged in lively discussions about the impact of media development assistance: How can it be measured, how evaluated?


Following Internews, there are five elements of healthy information environments: good information, business models that work, critical assessment, accountability and safe access. Starting with a so-called "information ecosystem analysis", Internews aims to examine a status-quo regarding these aspects (e. g. which information are needed, how does the information landscape look like, who are influencers). Afterwards, the organisation comes up with a performance monitoring plan comprising several performance indicators like the number of journalists trained to produce high-quality, local coverage or the number of youth and women trained in community radio development and programming. Methods like focus group discussion, content analysis or audience surveys can help to evaluate the impact of these measures. 


In the follow-up of Dr Rambaud’s presentation, the MEDAS 21 fellows concentrated on different topics like the difference between the two expressions impact and effect, the possibilities for small media development organisations to evaluate their journalism trainings or Internews’ projects in health journalism. As there are still many aspects to discuss, Dr Brice Rambaud will attend another MEDAS 21 meeting in a few months. 


May 11, 2020

Three questions to MEDAS 21 fellow Roja Zaitoonie about her research stay at Deutsche Welle Akademie

During the past six months, MEDAS 21 fellow Roja Zaitoonie conducted a research stay at Deutsche Welle Akademie in Berlin. She joined the Department of Policies and Concepts, headed by Dr. Jan Lublinski, and mainly worked in the section of Studies and Evaluation, headed by Dr. Laura Moore. 


What exactly did you do during your research stay?

I supported the daily work of Deutsche Welle Akademie in various areas. For example, I conducted a follow-up on the FoME Symposium 2019, for which I interviewed a number of participants on relevant topics, strategies and actors in the field of media development. I was furthermore involved in several studies, such as the MIL-Index Studies, which examine the media and information literacy (MIL) skills of young people in low-income countries. I also co-edited the German version of "'Big changes start small' – Stories of people making a difference", a publication that portrays different projects of Deutsche Welle Akademie with a narrative approach on impact assessment. My assignments covered not only scientific but also other tasks.


What was the most interesting experience for you?

It was a great opportunity to work in so many different fields of media development. I was able to see how media development projects work in practice: from conceptualization and funding application to implementation and evaluation. I was also able to gain insights into editing and advocacy work which was very interesting for me. One of the most valuable experiences was to talk to implementors of media development projects on the ground and get to know their perspectives. One person for example said: "Media development has to be owned by us. We need to lead it." That made me think about how bottom-up approaches can be further strengthened.


What are the greatest "lessons learned"?

Academics and practitioners in the field of media development have different priorities in their work: Academics focus on creating precise knowledge on media development issues and practitioners focus on conducting successful media development projects – not saying that one is not supposed to do the other. However, academics need to know the actual reality of media development in order to conduct relevant studies and practitioners can benefit from that. Therefore, academics and practitioners should work more closely together to create synergies. It is also important to develop scientific formats that are more attractive to a non-scientific community – and probably also for the scientific community itself.


Now, as she has concluded her research stay, Roja will concentrate on her dissertation again. She planned to start her field research in May, but she has to postpone it due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At least, she has some extra time to advance her Ph.D. project. The research stay at Deutsche Welle Akademie has deepened her understanding of media development in practice. This will definitely help her to implement a more practical approach on media development research. She is very glad that she had this great opportunity.


March 16, 2020

Three questions to MEDAS 21 fellow Mira Keßler about her trip to Kathmandu - Delhi - Chennai

MEDAS 21 fellow Mira Keßler has just returned to Kathmandu after her two-week stay in India. So far, she has visited media houses and met former employees of Panos South Asia to learn more about their cooperation with donors from Canada, but also about their projects in South Asia. She was able to visit the Kantipur Media Group (KMG) in Kathmandu and went to the photo award ceremony "Nepal Photo Contest 2020". In Delhi she had the opportunity to spend some time at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which is known for its progressive students. Furthermore, she met and interviewed journalists who had received scholarships to complete international journalism training in Germany and England. In Chennai, she visited the Asian College for Journalism (ACJ) and talked to the colleagues about their programs. She attended a class, which is run by a BBC correspondent, and did participant observation. Moreover, she gained an insight into The Hindu in Chennai, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers. She learned something about the political tensions and progressive opposition to the Hindu nationalist movement. 


Mira, what is your current mood?

After four weeks in here with my practice partner and with so much new to learn, experience and understand, I have to admit that I am somewhat exhausted. In addition, there are the challenges of living and working in a different environment, everyday life and context. But I am very happy about what I experience and learn during this time and I am sure that these experiences will have an effect for a long time and will leave a lasting impression on me. And I am very grateful for the opportunity to explore the work of my practice partner and their network so openly. But this openness also suits the flexibility and the fluctuations of their work.


What was the most difficult experience so far?

For me, it is also this openness. So, when I arrived, I had no fixed plan, be it in terms of time, what to expect or with whom I would speak. All of this happened from day to day and to endure it is the biggest challenge for me. This requires a certain amount of trust and serenity. I also have the feeling that the political climate here is very tense and that there will be little or no opportunities for media development in the future. But I am sure that my stay will give me a unique opportunity to get to know and to better understand the perspective and moods of my colleagues here on site, whether through discussions, publications or the news. And that is precisely my approach.


What are your greatest "lessons learned"?

That openness and curiosity are the best means to explore other worlds of life and work, even if you do not understand the language. And that emotional ups and downs are not bad and belong to it. Self-care is also very important, to hold back from time to time, to go on your own pace and to rely on people you don't know. And I think it is important to get involved with the people on the ground. So, I live with locals and I also meet people from Kathmandu to eat with them, go to the cinema or to explore the city. I also went to a pre-school, for example, as I had the chance. Otherwise I would feel very isolated and too much "watching from the outside".


Altogether Mira will be in India and Kathmandu for five and a half weeks. After her return she has to adjust again and then she will sort, merge and analyze what she learned and experienced so far. Furthermore, she still has some writing and reading to do. 


March 11, 2020

Discussion about media development and development communication with Dr Kefa Hamidi

The research centre “Entwicklungskommunikation – Communication for Social Change” (EC4SC) at the university of Leipzig aims to analyse communication processes (actors, structures, formats) that contribute to social change. During the MEDAS 21 Lab-Meeting in March, the coordinator Dr Kefa Hamidi presented the work of the research centre as well as approaches on how communication for social change might succeed. The three focus areas of EC4SC comprise participation, empowerment and mediation. But what is the difference between development communication, communication for social change and media development? Dr Kefa Hamidi and the MEDAS 21 fellows engaged in lively discussions about this issue. Moreover, they talked about opportunities for future cooperation – the fellows are for example developing a seminar on media development at the moment and could profit from Hamidi’s teaching experience in terms of media and development. 


March 10, 2020

MEDAS 21 fellow Roja Zaitoonie presents the backdrop of her PhD thesis on the Humanitarian News Research Network

MEDAS 21 fellow Roja Zaitoonie has published a post for the Humanitarian News Research Network (HNRN) - it explains the historical backdrop to her PhD research on the use of UN radio in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. The post series is originating from the YECREA section of International and Intercultural Communication (IIC) and the Young Scholars Network (YSN),

which organized a PhD workshop with a focus on international journalism, humanitarian communication and news production at the Free University of Brussels on 30 October 2019. 


February 19, 2020

Training course on sustainable communication successfully completed

The significance of media and communication for the realization of global sustainability goals was recently addressed in a postgraduate course on "‘Sustainable Communication" (SusCom) offered by Jönköping University (Sweden). The 3-month doctoral course (November 2019 – January 2020) focused on the relationship between media communication and the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability. 

Two MEDAS 21 fellows, Fabíola Ortiz and Michel Leroy, completed the online course which was coordinated by Prof Peter Berglez and Prof Ulrika Olausson.

The course comprised pre-recorded lectures, live discussions as well as written and oral examinations. It drew upon the latest theory developments and international empirical research covering the following themes:

  • What is sustainable development? What is the role of media communication? 
  • Sustainable communication and journalism (What are sustainable journalism & global journalism?)
  • Sustainable communication and organizations (The challenges of cross-sector collaboration and communication for the realization of sustainability goals)
  • Sustainable communication as communication for social change
  • Sustainable development and critique of ideology: the problematic aspects of the sustainability concept in media society (a critical theoretical approach to sustainable communication)

Main takeaways
One of the main gains from this course is that there are different discourses and competing understandings of what sustainable development means. The readings and the lectures offered insights on how sustainability is understood in relation to different social layers, class, capitalism and what ideologies appear as being neutral in the context of public information. 

The concept of sustainability has been identified as playing an important part in the “depoliticisation” of modern society. It is often invoked not to question the main power inequalities but rather to prevent the critique of power structures in modern society. Since many ideological discourses develop through relations between various institutions such as the media, politics, science, and everyday life, what became the “non-ideological character” of sustainability and the way it is highlighted in public information have led to it being identified as a topic that allows for avoiding confrontational class politics, instead emphasising collaboration and consensus.


Have a look at
 our resources section for more information about the research papers that Fabíola Ortiz and Michel Leroy produced as part of the training course.


What does sustainability mean?

Sustainability represents a challenge to conventional thinking and practice; it is about long- and short-term well-being and bridges the gap between development and environment. 

This concept has evolved since 1972 when the international community begun to explore connections between quality of life and environment at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. 

It was not until 1987 that the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development Our Common Future (WCED) defined the term "sustainable development" as: "development that can meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."


That report has been crucial in putting sustainable development into the political arena of international development thinking. It refers to maintaining development over time. There are several definitions of this term and divergent interpretations, though. 


February 19, 2020

MEDAS 21 fellow Michel Leroy became part of an expert team on media development in France

MEDAS 21 fellow Michel Leroy was selected, along with Olivier Lechien and Marie-Soleil Frère, to be part of a panel of media development experts to advise the evaluators of the current contract of objectives between the French Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs and CFI, the French public operator in this sector, a subsidiary of France Médias Monde. Over the coming months, the expert team will meet regularly to provide the evaluators with insight into the specificities of this type of operation and into the challenges facing the media development sector nowadays.


February 14, 2020

Three questions to MEDAS 21 fellow Johanna Mack about her research trip to Bissau

MEDAS 21 fellow Johanna Mack spent two weeks in Bissau and interviewed different actors of the media sector in order to generate basic information about the media landscape. They will be merged in a mapping of the Guinea-Bissauan media system. For example, she talked to representatives of journalists' associations, of state, public and community media, a Portuguese broadcaster and news agency and the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office which offers assistance

to the media.


What is the biggest difference between researching in Bissau and

Germany for example?

A practical difference is that in Guinea-Bissau, it is not common to make

appointments a long time before a meeting shall take place. Rather, you just call and ask the people you want to meet if they are free on the same day. Moreover, the practice of journalism and the understanding of professionalism in the media sector is entirely different - mainly because of difficult working conditions for the journalists.


Which difficulties did you have to face?

Language is an issue because many people do not speak English or French, many not even Portuguese, but only Criollo and local languages. In addition, reaching media outlets outside the capital can be challenging. However, all my interview partners were very collaborative and ready to answer my questions.


What did you bring from Bissau?

I brought recordings and transcriptions of ca 25 interviews, as well as the current editions of local newspapers. In addition, the journey allowed me a better understanding of how journalists understand their work in Guinea-Bissau and how the media function there.


In the next months, Johanna will work on her theory and methodology. In particular, she will read about media system analysis and different theoretical approaches to (media) development.


February 3, 2020

Three questions to MEDAS 21 fellow Viviane Schönbächler about her field research in Burkina Faso

MEDAS 21 fellow Viviane Schönbächler is currently spending her time in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Since last November, she is carrying out her field research and her practice stay with her partner organization Eirene. In this first phase of field research, she wants to conduct an analysis of actors involved in local radios and also analyze their weekly programming with a special focus on gender and conflict coverage.


What did you do in Ouagadougou so far?

As for my practice stay with Eirene, I was asked to support their quest for an increased gender sensitivity in their Sahel program. Therefore, I conducted interviews with Eirene staff members, partner organizations, women journalists in the program and radio staff members of nine different local radio stations in Burkina Faso. And I collected more than 150 hours of radio programs. Moreover, I had the opportunity to participate in a regional seminar in Senegal, organized by Panos Institute West Africa, which discussed questions and approaches around gender-sensitive journalism.


What was the most interesting experience by now?

I found it very interesting how available women journalists in Niger were. Within three days, I was able to contact and conduct seven interviews without any difficulties. And despite the bad internet connection and some language barriers, these interviews were very rich and encouraging! The experience of conducting an interview through voice messages was also new and challenging for me.

The seminar with Panos West Africa was a great opportunity to meet and exchange with many women and men who are fighting for gender equality in the media.


What are your greatest "lessons learned"?

Always have a plan B and C and D ready! Everything can change, so be ready to adjust! This is particularly true in a difficult security situation. It also means, to be ready to adjust your methodology to the needs of the research participants. Where the situation is not stable, take concerns of anonymity, travelling constraints, and financial matters serious and be honest and straightforward with what you can and what you cannot do.

And provide for some buffer time! A week can pass very quickly and even though people in Burkina Faso are very spontaneous, it is also possible that spontaneously they will not be available for a week! Thanks to my buffer weeks, I was able to get the data I needed despite many delays and postponements.



Viviane will be back in Germany by mid-February. She plans to go back to the field in late March 2020 for the second phase, in which she will focus on the experience of women journalists in their daily work at these radio stations. And of course, she will continue to analyze the data collected so far as well as her analysis of Eirene’s Sahel program. Moreover, she will finish a draft report, which will be further developed in a next phase of practice stay in August-October 2020.


December 9, 2019

MEDAS 21 celebrates the jubilee of the Catholic Media Council

On Nov 28-29, 2019, Michel Leroy, one of Medas21's PhD candidates and research assistant at the Erich-Brost-Institute, was in charge of leading through the Catholic Media Council's jubilee celebration in Aachen as "master of ceremony".

For 50 years, Cameco has been a major player in media development. Its library is one of the richest in the sector.

On the occasion of its anniversary, media specialists from all over the world came together for a conference on the topic “Communicating from and with the margins.”

Three main questions were addressed:  How to better address the needs of marginalised groups? How can communication initiatives become more sustainable? And how can good practices be upscaled?


November 8, 2019

Meet and Greet at the FoME Symposium 2019

The annual symposium of the „Forum Medien und Entwicklung“ (FoME) is Germany’s most important gathering of people active in the field of media development. No wonder that the MEDAS 21 fellows were high in number at this year’s symposium which took place from Nov 7-8, 2019, in Bonn. Johanna Mack, Viviane Schönbächler, Stefan Wollnik, Roja Zaitoonie and Michel Leroy (pictured from left to right with MEDAS 21 coordinator Ines Drefs) seized the event as an opportunity to catch up with practice partners such as Catholic Media Council, Foundation Hirondelle, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and DW Akademie. The range of media development practitioners, journalists and academics present at the symposium also allowed to make new contacts and to gain insights into innovative technologies and approaches to media development in the new information ecosystem.


November 8, 2019

Paper presentation at the DGPuK Conference in Dortmund

MEDAS fellow Roja Zaitoonie has presented a paper titled "The Achievements and Challenges of the United Nations’ General Assembly in the Field of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs)" at the workshop 'Inter/transnational media policy and regulation in digital environments. Debates. Strategies. Innovations' in Dortmund at the end of October 2019. The workshop was organized by the International and Intercultural Communication section (IIC) of the German communications scholars’ network DGPuK.


September 26, 2019

Constructing Peace through Media? Paper presentation at the ECREA Workshop in Tel Aviv

MEDAS fellow Roja Zaitoonie has presented a paper titled "Constructing Peace through Media? The Targeted Use of Media Interventions in Peace Processes" at the workshop 'The Constructionist View of Communication: Promises and Challenges' in Tel Aviv, which was organized by the Philosophy of Communication Section of ECREA (European Communication Research and Education Association).

The paper reviews the phenomenological and constructivist approaches of Edmund Husserl, Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann and discusses their potential relevance for UN efforts on media development in peace missions.


July 23, 2019

Achievements and Challenges of the United Nations' General Assembly: Paper presentation at the annual IAMCR Conference in Madrid

MEDAS fellow Roja Zaitoonie has presented a paper on "The Achievements and Challenges of the United Nations’ General Assembly in the Field of Media and Public Communication" at the annual conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) in Madrid.

The paper examines nearly 1.600 subject-related resolutions adopted by the General Assembly between 1945 and 2018. It highlights the achievements and challenges of the General Assembly in the field of media and public communication and provides a basis for further investigation and knowledge-based advocacy concerning the promotion of freedom of information and media development in global governance.


June 1, 2019

The last fellow joined MEDAS 21

Johanna Mack is the last doctoral student who joined the research school MEDAS 21 on June 1, 2019. In her project, she will focus on another aspect of media development cooperation and complete the range of topics.


November 8, 2018

Successful Inaugural Lecture: MEDAS 21 – Global Media Assistance in the 21st century

Dr Roukaya Kasenally, CEO of the African Media Initiative, talked about the sustainability of African-European media cooperation.

The MEDAS 21 team with its partners. Photo: Marcus Kreutler
The MEDAS 21 team with its partners. Photo: Marcus Kreutler

The new research program MEDAS 21 – Global Media Assistance in the 21st Century started on 8th November 2018 with a successful inaugural lecture in the Erich-Brost-Institute for international journalism (EBI). For the next four years, the structured doctoral program will focus on media development cooperation and is supported by VolkswagenStiftung with about 1,7 million euro. MEDAS 21 is one of only eight supported research schools in Germany that is located at the intersection of university theory and practical application. 


Not only guests and friends of the Brost-Institute but also students and teachers of the Institute for journalism had the chance to listen to an exciting presentation of Dr Roukaya Kasenally, keynote speaker that evening. As CEO of the African Media Initiative, she could give a brief overview of the current developments, problems and discussions about media development cooperation. 


Dr Kasenally put an emphasis on the question of sustainability and efficiency of media cooperation between African and European countries and outlined possible financing and business models. Talking about the related quality requirements, she underlined the challenges media have to face due to the digitalisation of markets and the public sphere. In her opinion, African media need to develop an “African vocabulary” in order to fulfil their growing social responsibility – at that point, international partnerships should take over a leading position. These partnerships needed to act in a less competitive but a more cooperative and constructive way to promote a self-determined and sustainable media landscape. 


The director of the EBI and main notifier of the project, Prof Dr Susanne Fengler, is looking forward to new horizons MEDAS 21 will open: “The support of the VolkswagenStiftung is an extremely positive development. It is and will remain a difficult task to develop successful media companies and foster a public-oriented journalism. Effective media cooperation can thus contribute to boost media potentials.” At the same time, success is not granted. “It is conspicuous that there is no scientific organisation dealing with media development cooperation even though it is a huge topic that has to face lots of complex problems”, says Fengler. “That’s what we want to do in our new research program: promote the dialogue between science and professional practice, concentrate our knowledge, evaluate current developments and offer our results to the responsible media and communication officers in development institutions.” Due to that idea, science will remain at the pulse of social necessity. 



The VolkswagenStiftung supports the structured doctoral program MEDAS 21 – under the auspices of the TU Dortmund’s Institute for Journalism (IF) – with 1,7 million euro. The principal goal of the foundation is to ensure closer ties between theoretical approaches and practical relevance in the education of doctoral students. Besides Prof Dr Susanne Fengler (TU Dortmund), Prof Dr Barbara Thomaß (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) and Prof Dr Jens Loenhoff (Universität Duisburg-Essen) initiated the project. Dr Dirk-Claas Ulrich (EBI, TU Dortmund) conceived the research school and is scientific program director. The team of scientists has already cooperated in the context of the graduate program “School of International and Intercultural Communication | SIIC”, supported by MERCUR. The school focuses on current developments in media development cooperation under changed technological and political conditions. Furthermore, the seven PhDs have the chance to work up to one year in a cooperating foundation or NGO. Project partners are Deutsche Welle Akademie, Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), African Media Initiative (AMI), Media Cooperation and Transition (MiCT) as well as the Catholic Media Council (CAMECO) and the Swiss Fondation Hirondelle.


July 1, 2018

The first six out of seven fellows joined MEDAS 21

Michel Leroy, Stefan Wollnik and Roja Zaitoonie were the first doctoral students joining the research school MEDAS 21 on July 1, 2018, followed by Mira Keßler and Viviane Schönbächler on August 1 and Fabiola Ortíz on November 1. In the next years, they will focus on different aspects concerning media development cooperation. MEDAS 21 can be seen as "interdisciplinarity within a discipline", promises innovative theoretical approaches and focuses solutions to problems of practical relevance.