Scrolling towards a digital resilience

© ©Maysoon Khaled

Interview with Louis Meunier - CFI Médias

Who is CFI and what is their main purpose of existence in the Qudra Programme as well as in Jordan?

CFI is the French media development agency of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. CFI implements media development programmes to promote democratic debate and pluralistic information and to support the objectives of sustainable development. Alongside civil society members as well as private and public media organisations (TV, radio, print media, online media), CFI carries out “Media Development” projects (strengthening the capacity of media actors) as well as Communication for Development initiatives (sometimes called “C4D”, i.e. producing and disseminating content to support development, which is the case in the frame of Qudra).

As part of the Qudra Programme CFI’s aim is to facilitate the production and dissemination of information towards Syrian refugees and host populations in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to foster social cohesion. Indeed, findings show that communities suffer blatant information gaps on many issues: people are not aware of the most basic legal documentation procedures, nor are they aware of their rights and also sometimes duties. They don’t know how to find work, how to get access to education, how to benefit from healthcare services, just to name a few gaps. As the Syrian crisis is getting more and more protracted, we can witness a growing resentment towards refugees. The provision of information contributes to alleviating social tensions between Syrians and host communities, who have to share limited resources with a high number of refugees. We thus implement communication campaigns on a wide range of topics: From legal assistance to protection, to the promotion of employment opportunities.

How would you describe the potentials of the “digital world” in social development area, especially when it comes to perform in such context-sensitive countries targeting vulnerable audiences?

The “digital world” is a tremendous opportunity to communicate with communities who were considered “hard-to-reach” until just a few years ago. A survey that we commissioned show that there is a very high level of media equipment existing within host populations as well as refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey: 97% of our targeted beneficiaries have phones, mostly smartphones, which they consider their lifeline. Although the cost of internet is a challenge in Lebanon - people spend an average of 10€ per month on internet, which is worth 5 GB in Jordan, 2.8 in Turkey, and only 0.8 in Lebanon – Facebook is the primary tool for our communication campaigns. The digital era makes it possible to deliver actionable information through video clips on topics that are relevant to our audience.

To what extent do digital media have an influence or impact on reaching European Union’s goals in Jordan in response to the refugee crisis? How would you describe the contribution of “Together in Jordan” Facebook page on this regard?

We created a Facebook page in Jordan to channel our communication campaigns – and we hope to do the same in Lebanon and Turkey very soon. After four months of existence, the page has attracted more than 40,000 followers, and the videos we posted have been viewed more than 1.3 million times. That means we are reaching a high number of individuals affected by the crisis.

Besides providing actionable information, the page is helping to generate a dialogue between the Jordanian host communities and Syrian refugees. Indeed, the videos that we produce are promoting successful cooperation stories between Jordanians and Syrians and are showing that Syrian refugees are not taking advantage of the situation, but are rather doing their best to survive, while being grateful for the Jordanian hospitality. This positive dialogue is reflected in the comments of people and their questions on our page, the vast majority of them encouraging resilience and social cohesion.

Our campaigns are implemented through a participatory process involving lead stakeholders on each of the topics that we tackle, including local authorities but also UN agencies and NGOs who receive funding from the European Union. In the case of employment for example, we work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, the Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, the UNHCR, the ILO, and ARDD (a NGO providing legal assistance). Our videos are produced in a collaborative manner, posted on our Facebook page in the first place, and then shared on the pages of all our partners. This strategy not only ensures the accuracy of the content we produce and increases visibility, but it also supports a global collaboration momentum between various actors who receive the support of the European Union.

© Maysoon Khaled

How do digital media change the lives of the Jordanian people?

Digital media has become an important way to access and share information for the people in Jordan. The use of digital media technology has become an alternative to traditional media and is altogether increasing civil society participation and enabling individuals to politically engage.

In the case of Jordan, is there any lack of digital infrastructure in some areas?

Overall, the digital coverage is very good. However, in some remote areas of the southern and northern provinces, there is lack of telecommunication infrastructure due to the absence of competition between providers.

Do you think social media contents and reactions are getting the political authorities’ attention?  Do you have any example of a changed behaviour of decision makers according to the social media change in Jordan?

According to the 2017 Arab Social Media Report, Facebook is the most popular social network in the Arab world. By 2017, the number of Facebook users in the Arab region reached 156 million, compared with 115 million the previous year. As for Twitter, there were 11.1 million active users early 2017, compared with 5.8 million three years earlier. Year by year, social media networks are playing an even greater role in political and social decision-making processes. In Jordan for example, this is reflected in the amendment of Article 308 of the Penal Code that allowed the rapist to marry the victim and that was abolished by the Parliament under the pressure of civil society through social networks.

Jordanian authorities have developed a keen understanding of social media networks and are using them not only to feel the pulse of the population but also to spread information. As mentioned above, we work in close collaboration with them in the frame of our campaigns. The Ministry of Labour, for once, is reposting our videos on their Facebook page. They have gone further, by adding the following sentence to their website in the section on Syrian employment: "If you want to learn more about issues related to work for Syrian refugees, labour rights, and permissions in the agricultural and construction sectors, visit the Facebook page “Together in Jordan”. This is truly a great echo to our collaborative approach.

Do you think are there disadvantages of digitalisation and social media regarding the social cohesion between refugees, IDPs and host communities?

Yes, certainly, social networks are large spaces, allowing diverse opinions, some of which foster even hate speech towards refugees.

© GIZ / Qudra Programme

Do CFI have interdisciplinary approaches to build sustainable bridges in this digital world?

Communication for Development combines research, production, and dissemination. Most of our work is invisible, it is done before production and it is about developing an understanding of an information gap and its psychological bottlenecks in the mind of our audience, to craft the right message. This is done by conducting desk reviews, interviews and focus group discussions in partnership with lead actors which are, by nature, very different – take a recycling company in the case of a campaign on waste reduction, and a trade union federation when it comes to employment. In these two examples, research is not targeting the same layers of the population and are not conducted in the same way. We thus must adapt and develop tailored research tools.

When it comes to production, we are developing video clips as they are the most popular type of content, but we also create still pictures, posters, audio content, infographics, surveys and polls to engage with our audience.

Could you name one turning point of CFI in Jordan based on your digital journalism experiences?

Launching of the Facebook page ”Together in Jordan” was a great turning point for CFI in Jordan in the frame of the Qudra Programme. It proved to be a great catalyst for our activities and enabled us to disseminate our production on a channel different from television.

© GIZ / Qudra Programme

Do you have any predictions on prospective digital developments in the future? What additional measures could international agencies take in terms of capacity development and social cohesion?

I believe that access to information is becoming an integral part of any holistic development approach. In the digital-era, information is indeed a crucial and basic need for all individuals. Providing vulnerable communities with the right information at the right time is a way of empowering them. It enables people to make the decisions most appropriate for themselves and their families and can sometimes make the difference between being a victim or a survivor.

NGOs and international development agencies should increasingly consider internet as a tool for communication with communities, not only to gain visibility. Most organizations use social media to promote their activities, reporting about their achievements and their goals, but they should also see the potential to influence behaviours and foster positive change.

Could you provide us some facts and figures from your community page on Facebook “Together in Jordan”?

As of September 16th, 2018, we count 41,712 followers - 28% of them are women and 72% men, with the 25-34 years old age group predominating among our audience. Our videos have been viewed about 1.3 million times, directly from our page and from the pages of partners who are sharing our clips.

Any other comments you would like to add?

In my entire career at the crossroads of media and development, this current work with the “community for development C4D” approach we are using in the Qudra Programme is the most exciting! I am really enjoying it very much. 

Interview by Didem AYBERKİN YÜKSEL, published on Qudra Matters Magazine 09/2018

CFI is the cooperation agency of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs tasked with coordinating and implementing France’s aid policy for the development of media in the South. It provides assistance to stakeholders, both public and private, in the media industry with the aim of strengthening the processes of modernisation and democratization, a cause to which France is committed.