OGP Media Council Formed; SC Seeks Ambitious Goals

29 July 2013

An Open Government Partnership “Media Council” is exploring how the OGP can connect better with the media, according to the minutes of a recent OGP Steering Committee meeting and a FreedomInfo.org interview with the Council chairman.

The Media Council, which was formed with no fanfare, was one of many topics on the agenda at the July 11-12 Steering Committee (SC) meeting. Also discussed were the revised system for electing new government members to the Steering Committee, the budget, the independent review mechanism and the upcoming annual summit, to be held Oct. 31-Nov. 1 in London.

The SC supported a proposal that each OGP member country should arrive at the summit with one “ambitious new commitment, supported by civil society,” according to the minutes. The “stretch” commitment “may be a brand new commitment or an ambitious new implementation of an existing national Action Plan commitment.”

Media Council Quietly Created

The international Media Council is comprised of “high profile journalists from all regions,” according to the minutes. The chairman is Richard Sambrook, a journalism professor and former Director of Global News at the BBC, who made a presentation to the Steering Committee.

The Media Council, according to the minutes, “will provide expert guidance on how OGP can better partner with the media to promote our shared objective of more open and accessible government.” Described as “newly formed,” the council is underwritten by the Omidyar Network, which has been a major backer of the OGP, but is not an OGP institution.

The Media Council will present some initial recommendations fairly shortly on how the OGP can improve its own communications efforts. In addition, a white paper on broader media-related issues is being prepared. A session at the October summit is being planned.

To gather information, the Council is circulating a questionnaire to journalists worldwide. Among other things it asks about experience with transparency issues, attitudes toward open data, and opinions about recent high-profile U.S. whistleblowers.

Sambrook, now Professor of Journalism and Director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University, chairs the meetings and invited the current eight members, looking for a diverse group not only by region, seniority and media type, but also in terms of familiarity with the OGP and open government issues. It may grow by a few more members. The council has held several phone calls and communicated actively by email, Sambrook said.

The members of the Council so far are: Simon Rogers, The Guardian; Chris Kramer, Wall Street Journal; Pavel Andreev of the Russia news service RIA  Novosti; Wadhar Khanfar, former head of Al Jazeera; Juanita Williams, All Africa Global Media; David Schlesinger, now a consultant and the former chairman, of Thomson Reuters China; and Fernando Rodrigues, a Brazilian investigative  journalist.

The Media Council idea was contained in the OGP strategic plan, but had not been publically mentioned since then.

Sambrook described the effort in a July 31 WeMedia blog post (after this article was written). His posting says that OGP “lacked a media perspective – and as yet the OGP is little understood outside of governments and underreported.” He continues, “So the Omidyar Network has commissioned an independent Media Council to formulate a set of observations and suggestions regarding the relationship between the ‘open’ movement and the media.”

Further, he writes:

In theory, access to information will lead to the public interacting with policy more before giving governments massive amounts of feedback that can improve their policies. Unfortunately, the communicative step in the process – getting the information into the public sphere, distilling the most critical elements of it and getting ordinary people interested – has been somewhat overlooked.

Mandated Contributions Still on Tap

The Steering Committee continued to take steps toward asking all members to contribute financially.

In April, the committee agreed to set required contribution levels for all 60 member governments on a phased-in and  graduated basis. In July, the committee “confirmed agreement” on that principle, while debating whether the SC members and non-SC-members should pay at the same levels. The OGP, which also gets substantial support from private donors, has faced revenue shortfalls at a time when its activities needed to increase.

The SC asked a subcommittee to develop more detailed proposals before the OGP summit.

Not all of the current Steering Committee members have sent in their contributions yet, according to the minutes. South Africa, the Philippines, Norway and the UK have now paid in full. The United States will submit its 2013 contribution by the end of October Mexico, Indonesia and Brazil are “working through” internal processes.

The SC approved a revised budget, according to the minutes, which does not provide further details.

More of the detail on these topics is contained in pre-meeting documents on the Meetings & Minutes section of the OGP website.  (Also see previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Other SC Plans Advance

A variety of other initiatves were moved along, some ofwhich will be subject to public comment this fall as modifications to the Articles of Governance.

The draft rotation plan for electing government representatives to the Steering Committee was endorsed with a few tweaks. The final rotation plan is to be circulated for further review and readied for approval at the annual summit in October.

The SC reviewed plans for a pilot project of having five thematic working groups, on fiscal openness, open parliaments, open data, access to information, and extractives.

Also discussed were plans for joint efforts with four international financial institutions.

A previously made decision to have national actions plans renewed and reviewed every two years instead of every year was again discussed.

The minutes hint that a few of the next 39 countries that are scheduled to  have their action plans reviewed by an independent expert are not ready for that stage. “There are several Cohort 2 countries where there has been little or no activity on OGP, and where it may not make sense for the IRM to hire a local researcher.” No names were included and discussion on this is ongoing, according to an OGP official.

The SC also brainstormed on plans for the summit, deciding to have the planning group set up an advisory committee. The SC said that the theme should be “along the lines of ‘reinventing the relationship between governments and people.” The OGP has invited public comment on summit programs, extending the deadline to Sept. 1.

The proposal that each OGP member country should arrive at the summit with one “ambitious new commitment,” supported by civil society, was supported,” according to the minutes.

Operational Details

The minutes also provide information on a variety of operational matters. These include:

–         An ad hoc group was set up to help set the stage for a “health check” on OGP structures.

–         The subcommittees will meet monthly, rather than biweekly.

 Other items of note include:

–          The hiring of Joe Powell, who started in May as Deputy Director of the OGP Support Unit.

–         The recent employment of Kay Hixson as the Communications Director.

–         Plans to redo the OGP website by early October.

–         The hiring of an unnamed consultant to prepare 10-15 “case studies.”

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