Fragile states: the role of media and communication

This briefing examines media trends for fragile states and explores whether these trends are making these states more, or less, fragile


Fragile states are an increasing priority for international diplomatic and development attention. The media – defined here as both traditional and digital media – is being transformed in most fragile states. Such transformations are unleashing unprecedented democratic energy, with profound political and social consequences. Fragile states are often fractured states, divided along religious, political, ethnic or other factional fault lines. For all the fresh potential they offer citizens to hold government to account, new media landscapes are also increasingly fractured – and are often fragmenting along the same fault lines that divide society. Co-option of the media by narrow factional interests appears to be growing. Successful political settlements in fractured fragile states depend on societies developing a stronger sense of shared identity. In the past, critics of support to media in fragile states have argued that a free and diverse media can foster division, reinforce factional identities and undermine state stability. The prospects of more open, free and vibrant media environments have prompted wariness in the past among those working to support state stability where government and governance is sometimes weak. More than 40 states around the world are classed as \"fragile\" by the OECD.

This policy briefing examines the implications of current media trends for fragile states and explores whether these trends are making these states more, or less, fragile. It argues that the role of a free media should be embraced and better prioritised in strategies designed to support such states. The paper focuses especially on fractured, fragile states where religion, politics, ethnicity or other factional fault lines divide society. The central part of the paper focuses on four states: Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya and Somalia.

The main conclusions are:

• Media is increasingly vulnerable to co-option by factional actors in fragile states. The effects of such co-option, and strategies to support genuinely independent media working in the public interest, should be better prioritised in assistance to fragile states.

• Media freedom and freedom of expression have often been sacrificed in the interests of state stability in fragile states. Such sacrifices often do more harm than good. Efforts to control media and open communication systems are likely to be ineffective and counter-productive in increasingly connected 21st-century communication environments.

• Support to free and professional media needs is poorly integrated and reflected in most development assistance strategies to fragile states. Media that enables dialogue across the faultlines that exist in fractured fragile states is a particular priority.


Deane, J. Fragile states: the role of media and communication. Policy Briefing No. 10. BBC Media Action, London, UK 28 pp.

Published 1 January 2013