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Submitted by Hans Determeyer on
Dear Shanta, Thanks for the pleasantly sharp and down-to-earth observations. Indeed, for a more successful rural development in Africa, information servicing may be one of the key elements where we can improve considerably. This was also one of the key themes at the CTA conference in Brussels, last week, where the role of the media in rural development was discussed by more than 200 rural development specialists from around the globe. ICTs create impressive progress in access to and exchange of information for those operating in the more urbanized regions. Considering the oral-literate aspect, in rural environments most probably radio will remain a key channel for access to information for years to come. Interestingly, being so near its target group and in combination with text messaging, rural radio shows good potential to become much more interactive with the audiences in which it is rooted, in a relatively simple and lo-tech way. Thus, rural radio has potential to actually improve the quality of information offered by mixing it with feedback from those who actually toil the earth: meaning generations of experience. This, however, moves the problem to the next point: how to make two-way information servicing and information processing by rural radio more sustainable and more professional? The medium suffers from a vicious circle type of dilemma. There is no money, so competent staff is difficult to retain, so quality cannot easily grow or be maintained, so its SME investment value does not flourish, so there will be no investor interested, so there is no et cetera. For small and medium sized media, access to capital for investment and to working capital is very limited, if not zero. Subsidy and donation is more often than not their finance base, a dependency base. An entrepreneurial spirit is often there, certainly, but not necessarily always in terms of management, marketing or administration. Yet, these are true SMEs, even though they may not see themselves as such. In the information era these are even KEY-SMEs, to be cherished! Governments, however, rarely support the SME media sector with dedicated development policies (was this a euphemism?) and commercial entertainment radio makes competition tough. Managerial capacity may be limited, access to training for a more professional and entrepreneurial set-up may be limited, yet one finds thousands of such initiatives thriving around the world. They are thriving in terms of enthusiasm, in terms of rooting in its listenership, in terms of added value for rural and remote communities. So, let's make a point of supporting these essential actors in rural information servicing and processing. Not with subsidy, but with structural access to capital coupled with subsidized business development services. The models have been developed and tested. We can learn from KBR68H in Indonesia, SAMDEF in the SADC region, Red TV in Peru, MDLF. For more than ten years we see successful loans issued to media houses in developing countries. It can work and it deserves scaling up! We challenge the World Bank to adjust its telescope and catch sight of information servicing on the ground - a sector that needs dedicated financial services and better, more stimulating national policies and constructive rather than constraining regulation. We need the Bank's support in convincing governments that this SME media sector is essential to successful rural development. Their information services - often in local languages - are so essential, that policies promoting rural media may be considered pre-conditional to aid delivery. Hans Determeyer - manager media finance mechanisms Free Voice - support to media in development - The Netherlands