Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The media as development tool

Recently a group of communications experts and practitioners met in Accra on how both traditional and new media can be harnessed to promote development.
Prof. John DowNing co-founder of OURMedia, global network which facilitates dialogue between media academics and practitioners underscored the connection between media and social movement of people who have the same interests and values to protect. Equally important was the suggestion by Prof Alfred Opubor that the syllabi taught in African universities and communications institutes should be changed to perhaps, reflect the growing need to use communication as a developmental tool.
Though the contribution of media economic output mostly in Africa and even in some parts of the world has not been massive, the media remain useful tools in promoting high productivity. Bruce M. Owen in his article "Media as an Industry: Economic Foundations of Mass Media argues that the availability of commercial information contained in advertising greatly reduces consumers' transaction and search costs and creates the possibility of mass marketing, with its economies of scale. Similarly the dissemination of commercial information, like commodity prices and wage rates facilitates productivity in small scale enterprises. Mass communication, he says also serves political, cultural and educational ends.
This explains why in the more matured democracies a very crucial role has been fashioned for the media. In fact the western media are part of the economic system that is pushing the globalisation agenda. Herman et al in "The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism:, argue that western media systems have tended to reflect the patterns of the overall system of the west. The global, the add provide the main vehicle for advertising corporate wares and ideas and facilitate the expansion of western corporations into new markets, nations and regions.
Radio for instance, has been used as a very potent channel of education and economic growth in the west, not forgetting the role radio played in the colonization of Africa. The United States for instance won the cold war largely due to the 'productive' use of Shortwave radio. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty funded by the United States government churned out western propaganda against the former Society Union and Cuba. So dominant were these radios that they became the lifeblood of many citizens of Cuba, the Soviet Union and its former Eastern European allies purportedly fighting to liberate themselves. To date the US and Britain still use the VOA and the BBC to pursue their foreign policies. Unfortunately for us in Ghana, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation has bailed out of the Shortwave broadcasting which has a wider reach than FM.
How Latin American and Asian countries used and continue to use radio as a driver of economic development has been well documented. They saw the spectrum as a national resource that should be harnessed for national development and they did. The purposeful use of communication as catalysts for social development gave birth to what is now commonly referred to as development communication.
What we have lacked in our development discourse is the non utilization of existing communication tools and applicable theories for result-driven strategies for the advancement of society.
Development communication in Asian and Latin America is greatly linked with the concepts of Sustainable Development (which can be defined as the improvement of a community using information and technology and the community's ability to maintain the created ideal state without compromising its environment and resources). It also relies greatly on Community and People Participation, which is the voluntary involvement of a group of people in a development activity with full knowledge of its purpose that will allow them to grow individually and as a community.
Development communication is the process of eliciting positive change (social, political, economic, moral, environmental, etc) through an effective exchange of pertinent information in order to induce people to action.1 Our media landscape doesn't give room for the utilisation of communication to achieve set goals, safe for promoting parochial interests. The call by Prof. Opubor for change in the syllabi of our communications institutions is forthright.

1. 1 ^ Quebral, Nora C.
(1973/72). "What Do We Mean by 'Development Communication'".
International Development Review 15 (2): 25–28.

Author: Amos Safo

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