In the framework of multi-stakeholder dialogue, media coverage can certainly increase the transparency of the process, as its workings and results would be shared with the general public and reach the attention of those groups in society that are most affected by the policy reform process. However, media coverage can be a double-edged sword, as it can have quite negative effects upon the trust environment that the process strives to create, especially if it sheds light on the participants’ potential trade-offs. After all, the last thing that stakeholders want is to be seen as disadvantageous to their own constituencies, who often conceive of political bargaining as a zero-sum game where compromise equals loss of power and privileges.

Moreover, too much media coverage can create a feeling among the dialogue participants of being monitored, something that diminishes trust. In highly polarised societies in particular, facilitators and dialogue participants need to be clear on what information they are willing to share with a wider audience and, more importantly, on the timing. For instance, in the early stages of the process it might be preferable to provide only general information about the dialogue; e.g. about the policy under discussion and the stakeholders involved, whereas in the final stages, and especially once the Roadmap for Reform has been agreed, media attention becomes vital.

Striking a balance between the need to preserve trust and the importance of engaging the media is not an easy task. As a general rule, the media should be seen as a positive force for change that can help raise people’s awareness concerning the policy under discussion. So whenever possible, the Dialogue Host and the participants should try to involve media representatives into the process not only in their journalistic capacity, but also as allies that can help in setting the agenda and raising awareness about the need for policy reform among wider strata of society.

This was the case in INSPIRED Ghana, where the project team involved the media right from the start, so as to disseminate the main arguments speaking in favour of affirmative action to all parts of society. This decision reflected the relatively uncontroversial nature of the topic (women under-representation in political decision-making) as well as the fact that all dialogue participants held some shared beliefs about the basic recipes for addressing this problem.

In some cases, media representatives can be key dialogue stakeholders in their own right, as it happened in the first INSPIRED process in Kyrgyzstan, where participants included journalists from news outlets and owners of broadcasting companies in minority languages. It was only logical to include them in the discussions, as the dialogue focused on the content of TV and radio programmes under the new framework for digital broadcasting that was to be developed by the government. In such cases, the media can play a very useful role in helping stakeholders from civil society to monitor the government’s implementation of policy reform agreements that its representatives have signed up to in the framework of the dialogue process.

NIMD’s experience in multi-party dialogue shows that finding the right balance between openness and seclusion is often a matter of timing and defining the scope and level of detail of the information that is shared with the media. Whatever the decision adopted by the participants, it is important that they stick to it and do not unilaterally provide information to journalists, as this could strongly diminish trust and jeopardise any nascent consensus.

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