Navigating closing civic spaces using the media and social media
Vanessa Malila (Rhodes University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the potential for NGOs to use the media and particularly social media as a tool for holding public officials to account is contexts where civic spaces are rapidly closing.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines the potential for NGOs to use the media and particularly social media as a tool in developing countries where civic space for holding public officials to account is rapidly closing. The media has long been regarded as 'the watchdog of society' and a key tool for accountability, but how do NGOs continue to navigate relationships with the media in contexts where not only are political spaces closing, but spaces for public debate and accountability through traditional media are also closing. One of the tactics being explored at a growing rate is the potential for social media to bypass the restrictions being imposed on the traditional media. This research uses questionnaires and interviews with NGOs based in three African countries - Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda - to better understand how NGOs are navigating closing civic spaces through the media and social media. Civil society have had to change the way in which they engage with citizens and public officials through the media. In contexts were public broadcasters have often been unofficial 'state' broadcasters and print journalists are often enticed to report on corruption and accountability only when remunerated, NGOs are harnessing the potential of social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to continue holding public officials to account. This paper explores the perspectives of NGOs on the way in which media is changing in their contexts, how they are adapting to changing civic spaces and the potential for social media to overcome restrictive regimes.