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
• 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.