One of the most difficult barriers in the field of communication and development is the lack of quantitative empirical evidence that demonstrates the effect of communication on development. When we argue that communication is central to development and increases development effectiveness, economists often raise an eyebrow and ask "Where's the data?" It's a legitimate question.
Recently our colleagues from the BBC World Service Trust forwarded us a report on "Governance and the Media," an opinion survey of policy makers in the realm of governance and media development. Late last year CommGAP also commissioned a "Governance Advisors Assessment Study" with virtually similar objectives. Both studies gauge the current thinking on the role of the media in governance, its perceived importance, and obstacles to integrating media work into governance reform. Amazingly, both reports present almost identical results.
“Think of a world where everybody is afraid to speak out, then think of a world where no one is afraid to speak up.”
- Media Development
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?
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.