Even as he worked in the law, Price was deeply immersed in the media. His books range from Cable Television: A Guide for Citizen Action (1972—really) to Television, Public Sphere and National Identity (1995) to The Academy and the Internet (2004), and his many articles include “The First Amendment and Television Broadcasting by Satellites” (UCLA Law Review, 1976) and “Law, Force and the Russian Media” (Cardozo Arts & Entertainment, 1995).

Over the years he has worked with scholars, governments, and civil-service groups to better understand the complicated matrix of media, law, politics, and economics—and the way those forces have affected regular people throughout the world.

Sometimes those forces converge violently, and Price has been particularly interested in how the media are affected in such times.

“One of the areas that I’ve explored and other people have been exploring is how to define relationships between speech and conflict,” he says. Of particular interest is the “overarching importance of an American model of the First Amendment dedication to speech, which is wholly important and significant. It’s interesting to figure out a context in which the principle is bumped up against limits, such as times of fear and times of conflict. These pose tremendous problems, actual and theoretical, in terms of working out media laws and policies, and the issue of how societies think about media in terms of increasing stability.

“Solving really detailed problems of conflict within a highly divided society is important,” he adds. “This is true in Iraq; it was true in Bosnia; it was true in Kosovo, in many of the post-conflict situations. So we’ve tried to help contribute to a literature that deals with these questions of how to think about the press in areas of intense conflict.”


The narrative of media policy-making [in Iraq] concerns ideas of “freedom of the media” and realization of “rights” in the midst of bitter, tough, angry combat. As a result, the story concerns that most important of issues, the relationship of words on the page and law in practice. The account of media policy in Iraq is about humans and their capabilities in an environment where the mere statement of law does not mean its absorption into reality.

—From “Iraq and the Making of
State Media Policy,” by Monroe Price.

 

This fragmentation along sectarian, ethnic, and ideological lines is not problematic in and of itself; indeed, it could be seen to reflect the pluralism viewed as desirable in most media landscapes. It is clear, however, that Iraq’s politicians and sectarian groups continue to view the media as a tactical tool, one duty-bound to support the government or the parties or groups that sponsor them. Sectarian divisions are potentially worrisome in a society with increased incidence of violence along ethnic and religious lines, and Iraq seems to be heading down this road more swiftly every day.

—From “Republic of Iraq Communications and Media Commission [CMC] Policy Recommendations Concerning Broadcasting in Iraq,” January 2007.

 

Before the invasion of Iraq, Price made some notes and recommendations for its future media landscape, which included some hopeful-sounding headings like “Plan for post-regime stability.” Today, he notes somberly, “Iraq represents a pathology of media intervention, and, as with any pathology, its study helps in dealing with more healthy organisms.”

A fascinating examination of that pathology appears in a paper by Ibrahim Al-Marashi, a visiting scholar at the Annenberg School last year. Titled “The Dynamics of Iraq’s Media: Ethno-Sectarian Violence, Political Islam, Public Advocacy, and Globalization,” it shows the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of the media situation there.

The good can be found in TV programs like The Iraqi Podium (which includes a “live call-in segment where viewers can direct questions about political affairs” to journalists, academics, and other guests) and Materials and Labor, a “reality-TV-type show where the station finances the repair of homes destroyed due to the violence.”

The bad might include the early broadcasts of Al-Zawra, a “satellite entertainment channel that also served as a mouthpiece for the Iraqi politician Mish’an al-Juburi during his parliamentary bid during the December 2005 elections.”

The truly ugly would be Al-Zawra after Mish’an’s expulsion from the Iraqi National Assembly—whereupon it “evolved into a platform for insurgents.” (The channel’s slogans include “Al-Zawra, The Voice of the Excluded and Marginalized.”)

Even after the Iraqi government closed it down, Al-Zawra was “able to circumvent the closure through its use of transnational satellites, and it is unclear where its operations are now centered”; its content has become “increasingly incendiary.”

The CMC’s report, presented to the International Conference on Freedom of Expression and Media Development in Iraq this past January, contains a detailed list of policy recommendations covering virtually every aspect of media laws and operations, including ownership, licensing, regulation, and technology. It also paints a stark picture of how badly things can go wrong: “Just recently, gunmen invaded the office of Al Shabbiya and killed 11 of its staff, including its founder, on the eve of its commencement of programming … Violence is its own form of regulation, and, in a context like Iraq, who constitutes the ‘regulator’ in this sense, and what [is the regulator’s] relationship to official and semi-official figures is murky at best.” And yet, it concludes, “even in the midst of instability, the search for the stable proceeds. Institutions, with mandates, exist.” And the emergence of a professional and independent media is “a prerequisite for the advance toward a stable democracy in Iraq.” Which is one reason that the CGCS partnered with Internews, an international NGO that supports independent media in emerging democracies, to produce a training video to help Iraqi journalists report on their nation’s elections.

While making policy recommendations is a major goal of the CGCS, both Price and Delli Carpini are quick to point out that there is no one model that should be followed in all cases.

“If there’s an underlying normative goal that drives our work, it’s that communications and media are central to the ability of a nation to operate in a democratic fashion,” says Delli Carpini. “We unabashedly say that is something that is important and good. After that, we don’t pretend we have some exclusive understanding of how to create a media environment that will encourage democratic practice and citizenry. The system will always vary in what it looks like from nation to nation.”

A 2005 report, “Media in Crisis States”—produced, with the support of the CGCS, by the Crisis States Programme at the London School of Economics (with the participation of academics, journalists, and policy-makers from Europe, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and North and South America)—shows the complexity of the issues. The report concluded that in some countries that are rebuilding after a war, a completely free and independent media can destabilize the situation and do more harm than good. In these fragile states, the formation of a functioning legal and judicial system, which can apply checks and balances to media, must come first. That conclusion, Price notes, “remains controversial and the findings were not unanimously applauded.”

A chilling example of the damage the wrong kind of media climate can unleash is Rwanda.

“The starting point for every public official in Rwanda is the role of the newspaper Kangura and the radio station RTLM’s role in inciting the 1994 genocide, and the need for regulation of the media to ensure that press outlets could never be used in such a way again,” states a draft of a CGCS paper titled “The State of the Media in Rwanda.” “The balance between freedom of expression and the experience of the recent past is a delicate one. As one Minister said, ‘The media destroyed this country.’”

“Rwanda’s history presents some unique challenges for our projects,” noted Enrique Armijo, a media-law attorney at the Washington firm of Covington and Burling (which is working with the CGCS on Rwanda), in an email to the CGCS’s Susan Abbott. “Every public official began our meeting with a discussion of the media’s role in inciting the genocide, and gave that as a rationale for content regulation. They have come a long way; there are 25 newspapers and 10 private radio stations, some of which express criticism of the government. But there is still some progress to be made, especially for the private media …”

Given that some Rwandan journalists have received anonymous threatening phone calls and been the targets of surveillance, and that one managing editor was beaten into a coma, it’s not surprising that self-censorship is the order of the day there. Armijo is in touch with the U.S. Embassy to see whether top Rwandan officials will speak out against the intimidation of private-media journalists.

“The challenge for Rwanda is to ensure that the prohibitions on content that are put in place to protect the country from repeating its history do not inhibit the press from performing its essential role in the democratic process,” notes the CGCS paper. “Not all criticism of the government undermines the morale of the country, and not every anti-government opinion is divisionism. In fact, an environment that encourages criticism, debate, and independent viewpoints will only lead to a stronger Rwanda.”

If all these examples seem far away and of questionable relevance for Americans, recent events have made it clear how deeply intertwined our lives are with the outside world.

“If we don’t care about political systems in other countries, what will happen?” Susan Abbott says. “That’s the why of all this. Why do people pursue careers in foreign service? Why do people do the kind of research we’re doing? To find peaceful ways of conflict resolution. This really is the future of education.” >> (sidebar)

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