The third of the ten key issues about development communication is a crucial one and it asserts that there is a significant difference between development communication and other types of communication. What is the difference and why is important? Let us start by defining communication’s most renowned function; i.e.
Are newspapers dead or dying? The growing chorus in the West seems to be: yes, newspapers are dead or dying. The internet is going to win and we all face a future where all the news that is fit to note will be on-line. Whatever happens in the West, reports suggest that in Asia at least newspapers are doing very well indeed. According to a recent report in TIME Magazine, for instance, as Asian societies become more open newspapers are sprouting all over the place and finding millions of readers.
Asia's media expansion has mirrored the fall of its dictators, as newspaper readers thrill at no longer getting just the day's propaganda. In Indonesia, the number of newspapers has increased from a few dozen when strongman Suharto was deposed in 1998 to roughly 800 today. The market is so buoyant that a new English-language paper, the Jakarta Globe, revved up its printing presses last November, just as several cash-strapped American papers were readying their final editions. "The Indonesian middle class is growing, and many households subscribe to two newspapers," says Ali Basyah Suryo, strategic adviser to the start-up Globe. "People like to hold the newspaper in their hands and even clip stories or save copies. It's seen as a valuable product."
Communication is - sadly - not at the core of most development work. At CommGAP we often hear: we need to strengthen the economy first. We need to stabilize the country first. We need to ensure the delivery of public services first.
I promised in the previous post on this topic to offer a way of taking internal political processes seriously as we seek to strengthen media systems around the world.
When we're advocating for more attention to the role of independent media systems in developing nations, we often hear the question: What about conflict and post-conflict societies? Isn't it much more important to build peace first, to provide humanitarian aid, and to stimulate economic growth before thinking about what the people see on television?
I have noticed over the years that groups working to strengthen media systems around the world concentrate their attention on donors active in international development. This is understandable for two reasons. Donors have money and you go to them if you want an initiative funded. Second, donors - either alone or collectively - have influence in many countries. Once in a long while, they are able to bring about change just by insisting on it and being prepared to fund the process of change.
But there is one big reason why donors alone cannot strengthen media systems, especially in authoritarian political systems. And that is power... the acquisition and retention of power.
I always find puzzling how easily techno-enthusiasts believe that new information software and gizmos can successfully address many problems for democratic communication. I guess it’s part of the perennial search for quick magic bullets to solve the miseries of the world.