A Platform or Partner: Engaging the Media in Advocacy
Lisa-Marie Selvik (2021)
Special Issue Article In: Global Policy
What are the roles of media actors in relation to civil society actors in advocacy campaigns, and what factors shape these roles? Interested in media strategies of civil society actors, the paper examines the advocacy for a ‘right to information’ law in Ghana. While journalists are obvious partners in pushing for the right to information, the civil society-led advocacy encountered a passive media. Focused on mechanisms of engaging media actors as advocates in civil society-led advocacy, this study relies on interviews with key actors in the advocacy campaign and textual analysis of news coverage, spanning 2010–2019. The paper posits that mainly two factors contributed to the media taking a more active role in the campaign; the Civil Society Organisations changed their approach and how they communicated and related to media actors, and media actors developed more awareness and understanding of the advocacy issue. Two important main mechanisms are uncovered in this study. First, it matters how civil society actors perceive of media actors in their media strategy, and how this in turn is received by media actors. Second, when CSOs seek to engage media as partners, it is necessary to also give room for their ownership and advocacy as independent partners.
Advocacy strategies to ‘use the media’ should be better developed to include journalists’ own agency. CSO strategies should see activist journalists and other influential figures in news content creation as potential partners and seek to harness the agency of journalists in their media strategies rather than merely using the media as a megaphone for their message.
Media strategies should seek to empower journalists and media practitioners. Training and communication to media actors should not solely focus on the campaign issue, but also on probing awareness of journalists and media practitioners’ power in shaping media attention.
CSO advocates seeking to engage media actors in advocacy should apply a holistic approach in their strategies. They should combine media outreach with outreach to communities concerned by the campaign issue, and they should appeal to media actors’ legal and civic responsibility to their respective communities.
Because CSOs and media actors can experience different kinds of political space for engaging in advocacy, and can affect each other’s space for manoeuvre, advocates should consider the media-civil society relationship when making strategies for achieving political change.