Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform (GFN-SSR)

A Beginner's Guide to Security Sector Reform (SSR)

SSR Beginners Guide

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The Role of Civil Society and the Media

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How can civil society and the media help build integrity and reduce the risk of corruption in the defence and security sectors? This chapter argues that civil society and the media can play a key oversight role in the defence sector and build public support for more accountable democratic governance. Efforts are needed to promote an enabling environment for civil society and the media. Initiatives should include ongoing dialogue to foster cooperation and trust between the government, civil society (broadly defined) and the media.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) can help to counterbalance the power of the state, oppose authoritarianism and ensure that the state is not controlled by vested interests. The media can act as a watchdog by exposing corruption and can help to promote good governance and accountability by providing accurate, balanced and timely information that is of interest and relevance to the public.

Civil society and the media have a critical role to play in building a culture of integrity within security institutions. However, in practice, they have played a limited role in fragile and transition states, as well as in more advanced democracies and especially NATO alliance countries. A number of key challenges preventing civil society and media engagement are noted in the following contexts:

  • Fragile states. The establishment of abusive security operations makes it difficult for civil society and media organisations to carry out monitoring and advocacy work within the defence sector.
  • Transition countries. The role of non-state actors is often restricted due to bureaucratic obstacles to the legal recognition of NGOs, low levels of political freedom and the absence of a strong civil society. Post 9/11 counter-terrorism legislation and other measures have also led to restrictions on civil society.
  • NATO countries. Significant gaps exist between the rhetoric and practice of NATO's policy on openness, transparency and accountability.

Efforts are needed to increase civil society and government integrity-building partnerships in situations where such mutually-beneficial relationships are lacking or inadequate.  It is important to promote change in public attitudes and practices by fostering ongoing dialogue, cooperation and trust between the government, civil society and the media. Civil society should be understood in a broad sense (including trade unions and women’s groups) rather than simply as “establishment-friendly” organisations.

  • Governments should create an environment that is conducive to the effective functioning of CSOs and the media - by reducing restrictions, for example.
  • Civil society groups should engage actively in public debates on security strategies and dealing with the risk of corruption. CSOs can help to promote balance between, on the one hand, the need for investment in integrity, transparency and accountability and, on the other hand, the quest for efficiency and effectiveness within the defence sector.
  • CSOs should help to recast the debate on increasing integrity and reducing the potential for corruption in the defence sector. Efforts are needed to develop an innovative policy framework that is practical, based on empirical evidence and ethically grounded.
  • CSOs should welcome calls for greater transparency and accountability within their own organisations in the interests of legitimacy and public transparency. Enhanced accountability and transparency is also required within governments and their agencies, as well as within NATO.


Author: Ian Davis
Source: Davis, I., 2010, 'The Role of Civil Society and the Media', in Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defence: A Compendium of Best Practices, ed. T. Tagarev, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), Geneva, pp261-280
Size: 20 pages (1.95 MB)