Remarks by Carl Gershman at Center for International Media Assistance’s 10th Anniversary Event

December 1, 2016

This is an important occasion to bring together the community of people in Congress, in journalism and in the academic world, and in the NGO and donor communities who believe in the importance of media in democracy and how understanding what is going on in this fast changing environment is more important than ever.

It’s wonderful to have with us Senator Lugar who served on the NED board for nine years and who led many battles in the Senate to defend NED; and who is the person who inspired the creation of CIMA, whose 10th anniversary we observe today.

It’s also wonderful to have with us Cong. Adam Schiff who has been a stalwart supporter and advocate of press freedom and CIMA for the past decade.

I’m happy to welcome as well Ambassador Lee Feinstein, who has taken the lead in establishing the partnership between NED and the School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University.

Marguerite Sullivan is also with us today.  She was CIMA’s first director and who really placed it on the map as a major knowledge resource on all issues related to the strength and integrity of independent media as an indispensable part of a viable and functioning democracy.  Marguerite worked under the leadership and with the guidance of David Lowe, who is also with us, and who was instrumental in conceptualizing CIMA, managing its creation, and helping Marguerite build the Center and implement its research agenda.

I’m especially delighted that Paul Helmke is here today as we formally announce the partnership between NED and CIMA and Indiana University’s School for Global and Int’l Studies and have the occasion to welcome Liz Stein, who is the first Mark Helmke Post-Doctoral Scholar on Global Media, Development, and Democracy, a position that is jointly sponsored by NED and the SGIS.

Paul is the brother of Mark Helmke, and I can say without any doubt or hesitation that CIMA would not exist today were it not for Mark.  He took the lead in driving the process of its creation and then nurturing it through its early years and remaining its staunchest advocate and supporter.  He was also a dear friend and colleague to everyone who had the privilege of knowing and working with him.  He had the warmest smile and sense of humor, and a superb understanding of how to navigate the legislative process. 

We were all shocked and saddened at Mark’s passing, and being able to honor him with the creation of this new joint initiative by NED and Indiana University is a source of profound satisfaction to everyone who knew and loved Mark and who wants to remember him by carrying forward the work that he believed in so deeply.  I especially want Mark’s daughter Addison and his son Brighton to know what a tremendous pleasure it is to have them with us today as we remember and honor their father.

When we started CIMA, we primarily looked for ways to strengthen independent media in developing democracies.  But as a result of what we at NED call “resurgent authoritarianism,” we’re now concerned about protecting independent media from being subverted and taken over by political autocrats in league with oligarchs and other powerful and unaccountable economic interests.  We call this phenomenon “media capture.”

With the support of Congress, NED has developed and is now funding the implementation of a six-point strategic plan to respond to the new threats to democracy.  The plan includes the defense of civil society and international democratic norms that are under attack, ways of countering various forms of religious and ethnic extremism, fighting kleptocracy, and strengthening democratic governance.  And at the core of this strategic plan are programs to defend what we call the “integrity of the information space.”

It is under attack in our “post-truth” world from hackers and trolls and from governments that have weaponized information to divide and demoralize democratic societies.  Media capture takes place in this context, and we must not ignore the danger that this represents.

One of the major challenges of studying this phenomenon is the lack of data on media ownership. Some studies have already been done on media ownership, but they do not focus on developing countries where the capture phenomenon is most pronounced. Moreover, no one has yet developed a cross-country measure of ownership that could be used to track how ownership is evolving on a global basis over time.

For this reason, CIMA and SGIS have agreed to cooperate in the development of such a measure.  The Mark Helmke Post-Doctoral Scholarship on Global Media, Development and Democracy will focus on a research agenda on the conceptual and measurement issues related to evaluating the role of media in political competition and accountability. The fellow will also help develop a cross-national measure of media ownership.   This is the important task that Liz Stein initiate and about which we will learn more today.

Thank you all for being with us at this milestone celebration of CIMA’s 10th anniversary.

Remarks were made at CIMA’s event, Democracy and the Media Challenge in the 21st Century.