U.S. Will Spend $3.35M to 'Improve the Quality of Media Content'--In Armenia

December 18, 2013 - 4:15 PM

 

Armenian president

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian during a February campaign stop. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is planning to spend $3.35 million to “improve the quality of media content and strengthen the media’s capacity to meet professional standards” in Armenia, according to an agency request for applications (RFA).

No American media organizations are eligible for the grant, but “government controlled and government owned organizations” in Armenia are encouraged to apply even though the country is burdened by a “powerful executive that systematically undermines nascent institutions and agents of democratic accountability.”

“The Media for Informed Civic Engagement (MICE) is a five-year activity that aims to increase citizen access to independent and reliable sources of information about the Government of Armenia’s (GOAM) policies and planned reforms, with special emphasis on USAID-supported reforms in decentralization, transparency and accountability, and social sector policy,” according to the RFA. (See USAUD RFA.pdf)

Under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, only “local organizations” that are “organized under Armenian laws,” have their “principal place of business in the Armenia,” and are “managed by a governing body, the majority of whom are Armenian citizens….not controlled by a foreign entity” are eligible for the grant.

However, USAID includes “government controlled and government owned organizations in which the recipient government owns a majority interest or in which the majority of a governing body are government employees” under its definition of “local organizations.”

One of USAID’s goals is to “strengthen media capacity to meet professional standards of journalism and reflect a diversity of perspectives in reporting. As a result, journalists will be more professional; networks of media outlets will be strengthened; and access to credible and professionally produced information will increase,” according to USAID’s “Armenia’s Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance Assessment.” (See usaid armenia cdcs.pdf)

The assessment noted “the rapidly increasing level of internet penetration and its impact on media. The increase in online news as a source of information is prompting traditional media to cover a wider range of issues.”

However, “the key challenge is the lack of genuine checks and balances in the system compounded by a powerful executive that systematically undermines nascent institutions and agents of democratic accountability. The centralization of power leads to serious deficits in the consistent application of the rule of law and citizens’ meaningful participation in political processes….

“Contributing to the overall challenge, agents of accountability, including the citizenry, civic actors, and the media, are weak and do not constitute an effective counterweight to executive power,” the assessment stated.

After the second year of the five-year grant, USAID says it will conduct a “mid-term external performance evaluation” to determine: 1) the relevance of the activity vis-à-vis USAID/Armenia’s priorities; 2) the relevance of the approach in the current Armenian context; and 3) the performance of the implementer.”