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. We can think about building an independent media system later, but first we must make sure the people don't starve, or die in conflicts, or are supressed by their governments. Yes - and no. Of course these are the main objectives of development work. But communication mediated through a free and independent media is an important but underutilized component of peacebuilding efforts, of nation building, of economic aid.
Do we need a functioning state first, communication second? Or can communication build a successful state? One may generalize that the question is whether the structure comes first (the state) or the process (communication). This is a chicken or egg question, a question that philosophers have enjoyed discussing for centuries, even millenia. Chickens hatch from eggs, but eggs are laid by chickens - processes need a structure to evolve in, but structures are built through processes. This dilemma is called circular cause and consequence. As the term implies, I would argue that structure and process, political state and communication, cause each other in a circular manner, and that one cannot exist without the other.
Take the example of a conflict situation. We might assume that the first priority is to establish peace between the warring parties and to stabilize the governance structure. Later, too often much later, we can think about issues of communication and media. I propose that communication is essential to peacebuilding and that political structure and communication processes are mutually and simultaneously reinforcing. For instance, in the confusion of a conflict people need access to information just to orient themselves and find help if necessary. International organizations and humanitarian interventions on the ground need to communicate with each other, and they need to reach the people they're supposed to help too. Media campaigns can promote buy-in from the population for any peace efforts and convince the people that peace is desirable and necessary. Remember the slogan: Imagine it's war and nobody shows up? Public opinion is a powerful force even in oppressive countries. The media can also serve as an intermediary between conflict parties or channel negotiations. Peacebuilding, nation building, economic aid - they all are likely to be more successful and sustainable if they go hand in hand with organized communication efforts.
An independent media system is a major pillar of every free society - so how can you build a free society first, a free media system later?
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