USC Annenberg School For Communication and Journalism

Media, War & Conflict

Towards a diagnostic approach to media in fragile states: Examples from the Somali territories

Media interventions by international organizations and NGOs in conflict and post-conflict situations seek to develop and shape a media system to contribute to specific political and social ends. The analyses and assessments that inform these interventions are often based on an overview of the formal media and governance structures, such as mass media and state institutions, and overlook informal structures that may be instrumental for political and development goals. This article proposes a framework that can incorporate both the formal and informal modes of communication and participation that characterize a society. This framework encourages a ‘diagnostic’ approach centred around three areas: power, flows, and participation, and enables researchers to take into consideration features that are often overlooked such as customary law; a range of public authorities from politicians to Imams and local elders; information flows that may vary from poetry to mobile phones; and the culture of communication. Examples from the Somali territories, which are characterized by a weak central government, are employed to highlight how informal structures and actors intervene in shaping information flows and the importance of accounting for them.