Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure

September 21, 2010
12:00 pm - 02:00 pm

Featuring:

John Burgess
Author, Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure

With comments by:

Lee B. Becker
James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Libby Morgan
Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication

Moderated by:

Georges Fauriol
National Endowment for Democracy

Global studies that rank countries by media freedom figure prominently in civil liberty debates, aid programming, foreign policy decisions, and academic research. Given the impact of such media freedom indexes, academics have been studying the quality of the social science behind these studies. Some academics claim deficiencies in the indexes, including methodology, cultural bias, and a focus on “old media.” Many, however, go on to conclude that whatever their shortcomings, the studies produce fairly consistent findings over time and are credible, useful tools for tracking the evolution of media freedom worldwide. They also serve to highlight the crucial role of a free press in democracy and good governance. A new CIMA report, Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure, examines the strengths and shortcomings of media freedom indexes-in particular IREX’s Media Sustainability Index, Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press, and Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index- and offers recommendations to improve these and other studies.

About the Author

John Burgess is a Washington writer specializing in international affairs and technology. He worked for 28 years at The Washington Post as a reporter and editor. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he covered the early days of television’s transition toward digital broadcasting for the Post. His other jobs at the newspaper included aviation and transit writer, Tokyo bureau chief, technology editor, and Europe editor. His book, Stories in Stone, about the 11th Century inscription that unlocked the history of the civilization that built Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, was published this summer. Burgess has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

About the Panelists

Lee B. Becker is a professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia. In addition to directing the Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communication, he also leads a research program examining the role of the media in democracy and governance, as well as evaluating media training programs designed to further democratization. Dr. Becker worked as a journalist at The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Wichita Eagle, The Lexington Herald, and The (Covington) Kentucky Post. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Georgia, Dr. Becker was a member of the faculty at Ohio State University and Syracuse University, in addition to serving as a visiting professor at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in The Netherlands, the University of Goettingen and the Academy for Music and Theater in Germany.

Libby Morgan is associate director of the Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, where she supports the development, planning, and administration of CGCS’s research, training, and policy activities. She has worked on a number of the center’s publication initiatives, including the forthcoming edited volume, Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure; Broadcasting, Voice and Accountability; and Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China. She received a master’s degree in International Relations, with a concentration in Media and Communication, from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and received her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College.