UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators introduced in China to support local media

During a “Workshop on TV Program Production in Ethnic Minority Languages in Yunnan Province” the UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators (MDIs) were introduced for the first time in China to media managers and professionals from nine local media outlets and 12 different ethnic groups. The training workshop was held in the city of Kunming, China, on 2-5 February 2015, and was organized by the Chinese Society for Folk Film and TV Arts Promotion (CSFFTAP) with the support of the UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) and of International Media Support (IMS).

Concepts contained in the MDIs such as public service broadcasting “are relevant to fulfill the information needs of many local communities and vulnerable groups” said Dr. Zhongda Yuan from the Beijing Normal University, one of the workshop’s facilitators. Dr. Yuan has also translated into Chinese the IPDC-endorsed publication Media Development Indicators: A framework for assessing media development in close consultation with the UNESCO Beijing Office.

This workshop was organized within the framework of the IPDC project “Improving the Media Landscape in the Ethnic Minority Area of Yunnan Province”. This project also involved an MDI-based research activity in four pilot areas of the Yunnan province which comprises 26 ethnic groups and more than 25 local broadcast outlets, in additional to a provincial broadcaster, catering to 47 million inhabitants. The research was conducted in the form a surveys among both media professionals and their audiences.

The survey polled a sample of 115 media professionals, 75% of which were from minorities. The results highlighted the need to increase locally-produced content which is scarce due to lack of adequate staffing and resources in local media outlets. They also suggested the need to introduce media self-regulation and to enhance production skills. Concerning safety of media workers, about five per cent of the Survey’s respondents said that they had been harassed or threatened because of their profession, while one reporter stated having been subject to a physical attack, and another having been forced to reveal a source.

The findings of the survey portrayed a working environment in which small media outlets have to fulfill obligations towards local authorities. They also revealed a trend of mounting commercial pressure, with an increased part of the running budget of local media outlets needing to be generated by advertisement, leaving them struggling for economic sustainability in a context of competition with bigger media players.

From the survey involving a sample of the media audience it emerged that the majority of viewers of local television outlets prefer watching “TV news and information programs” (69% of respondents), followed by “arts programs” (11%). These results contrast with audiences’ preferences for provincial and national outlets, where entertainment programmes are most commonly sought. A clear majority of the audiences of local television outlets surveyed would like to see more locally-produced content broadcast (83% of respondents), reflecting the voices of ethnic minorities (65%), poor people (28%) and women (24%).

Such request for locally-produced content can be explained by the fact that “people want information relevant to them and their livelihoods” explained Mr. Haining Wu, Secretary-General of the CSFFTAP. The survey’s conclusions have been shared with relevant national authorities and CSFFTAP is planning to organize a “high-level” roundtable discussion later this year. CSFFTAP’s Secretary-General hopes that these activities will contribute to addressing current challenges of multilingual and local media outlets.

As a follow up to the survey’s recommendations, CSFFTAP has organized a first training workshop in Kunming, focusing on TV Program Production in Ethnic Minority Languages, and benefiting 30 media professionals selected from amongst nine local media outlets. Twelve ethnic minorities (Bai, Dai, Hani, Hui, Jingbo, Lisu, Miao, Naxi, Yi, Wa, Zang, and Zhuang) were represented and 13 of the participants were women.

Introducing the MDI methodology at the workshop, Andrea Cairola, Adviser for Communication and Information at the UNESCO Beijing Office, mentioned the importance of media pluralism and multilingualism to reflect the diversities of society. He also quoted UNESCO’s Director-General Ms. Irina Bokova stressing that: “Every language is equal and linked. Each is a unique force for understanding, writing and expressing reality…It is through language that we make sense of the world and that we can transform it for the better.”

One media professional from an ethnic minority who attended the workshop in Kunming said that “this kind of training and the MDI framework are really useful and can be applied in our daily work.” Other participants expressed the wish that such trainings and assessments contribute to advocating for policies supporting the flourishing of local media.

The CSFFTAP had applied to IPDC for support with a project proposal that was approved by the IPDC Bureau at its 57th meeting in March 2013. IPDC is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development.