In late 2015 I pitched the idea of a report on the impact of the new countering violent extremism agenda on media development because I was seeing the impact on freedom of expression and pressure mounting against tech firms, and had little doubt that as the UN, US and other governments adopted CVE strategies that donor priorities would be affected as well. The result was Media Development and Countering Violent Extremism: An Uneasy Relationship, a Need for Dialogue, a special report for the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA).

Governments have focused their efforts particularly on counter-messaging campaigns, and have provided support to civil society on initiatives aimed at challenging ISIS online by disseminating alternative, non-extremist narratives about current events. Most major donors funding media development also support programming related to countering violent extremism, often with a component related to building the capacity of NGOs to produce content on social media.

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Perhaps more worrying to the international community, however, is ISIS’s
prolific use of media for international recruitment, fearmongering, and
dissemination of its cause. ISIS propaganda is impressive and strategically leverages modern communication platforms in a highly visible way.

Given the prominent roles of messaging and alternative narratives in the CVE agenda, it is no surprise that CVE and international media assistance have become so closely associated. But many are concerned that policymakers will lose sight of the value of independent media in and of itself.

“The emergence of the CVE agenda has caused widespread unease  among a number of individuals concerned with how this new programmatic focus might negatively affect media development work and is already being used to restrict legitimate journalism and free expression.” 

In this report I describe how media development practitioners perceive the expansion of the CVE agenda’s influence into various aspects of their field, and the different and sometimes ambivalent ways in which they respond to these perceptions. There are three distinct views on how the CVE agenda is influencing media development efforts: programmatic critique, pragmatic adaptation, and engaged reassessment.

Two conclusions emerge strongly from these interviews. The first is that the efforts to distance CVE conceptually from media development are not providing the guidance needed to navigate an increasingly blurry line between the two fields in practice. The second is that audience reception studies and investments in media information literacy are needed, yet receive inadequate attention in CVE efforts and funding.

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