[ International Development Cooperation ]
Development and communication
On the importance of communication in the development process
Copyright by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 1992
I. THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS
1. Communication as a fundamental factor of a society's
"The Third World needs food and clean water, medical care and education, jobs
and a fair deal in international trade. It does not need electronic gadgets for
passing the time. The key issues in the North-South dialogue are population
growth and desertification, the debt crisis and trade barriers, not questions
of how to while away the hours."
1. Communication as a fundamental factor of a society's existence
Although it may appear to be stating the obvious, the importance of communication to human life cannot be overemphasised, for without communication no society can exist, no social structures can form or endure. For the existence and organisation of any society communication is the fundamental and vital process because all joint action by individuals is based on shared meanings conveyed by communication. (Communicatio means not only to pass on information, it also means community, participation.)
Communication is the fundamental prerequisite to human life and social order. Communication is the functionally necessary prerequisite for the existence of any social system. Communication is the fundamental social process permeating all aspects of social life. Communication is, as it were, the basic social process "as such" because without communication no organised action is possible. Social systems can only form and endure if the participating persons are linked to each other by communication.
Because of the ubiquity of communication the human being can be perceived as
'homo communicator' since what it is (and what it can be) came about (or will
come about) in communication situations. Communication is culture and culture
is communication. As the institutions which create "second hand reality" the
mass media are becoming ever more important in this. Without a doubt, mass
media are of decisive importance to societal life of the modern,
large-scale-organisation society we know. Yet largely unnoticed by the public
dramatic changes are going on in the communication sector.
On the one hand a development is happening under the influence of the socalled new communication media in the process of which the borders between mass communication and individual communication are becoming ever vaguer. The mass propagation of identical contents to a dispersed public will no longer be the predominant form of communication, but chosen communication (on-demand communication) will become ever more important. On the other hand, however, under the influence of the technological revolution in the field of data processing the fundamental structures of society are changing; coming into being is the information society (cf. 14.3 Technical development: telematics and trans-border data flow).
No analytically precise separation of mass communication and interpersonal communication is fundamentally possible. It would be only if one limited the mass communication process to the emission of the contents and ignored the recipients. Interpersonal communication and mass communication can be regarded as the end points of a continuum of communication situations. Although mass communication is inseparably linked to interpersonal communication there are considerable differences between the two. If a communicator's aim is to change attitudes or even behaviours, interpersonal communication in general is more effective than mass communication. The communicator can react more flexibly, that is check on the potential effect of a message (direct feedback). Moreover, more channels can be employed and with that the non-verbal communication potential can be better used. Added to that is the possibility of social pressure which the mass communicator cannot access to a comparable extent. Recipients can much more easily break off contact with the mass media than in interpersonal communication. In the mass communication process active participation by the recipient is comparably small (although this depends on content as well as the situative context and the personality of the recipient), whereby the recipient does not have to express his or her opinion on a possibly controversial subject raised by the mass communicator. The advantage in mass communication is its dissemination effect in spreading information; but it is limited by the communicator's addressing an indefinable number of people in the mass communication process without being able to take the various situations of the individuals into account. The optimal combination of mass communication and interpersonal communication is achieved if the mass media manage to reach the opinion leaders in the fields concerned who pass on the messages into interpersonal channels or strengthen them in the sense intended at the level of interpersonal communication.
2. Communication and quality of life
Communication is inseparably linked to quality of life. Quality of life is defined here as identification with the community, a feeling of being able to make the best of one's abilities (e.g. to have achieved something in one's vocation) and an appreciation of the beauty of art and nature, whereby the material basics and especially health assume decisive importance to the quality of life. In the following, under-development is to be taken to mean that compared to Western industrial nations in terms of economic performance and technological standard a nation is weaker, but not inferior in respect of cultural values nor automatically in regard to quality of life. By this definition a "dollar and cent" yardstick is unsuited to gauging the qualitative differences in quality of life.
In "The Health of Nations" Leonard A. Sagan points to the outstanding importance of communication to the quality of life, in this more specific context the ability to read and write. Sagan reports on a study done by him in which data about more than 150 societies (from pre-modern to highly complex modern ones) were analysed. Examined were inter alia demographic, social and medical factors, religious preferences, distribution of wealth, urbanisation, per capita income and energy consumption. Sagan comes to the conclusion: "By far the most consistently powerful predictor of life expectancy was the prevalence of literacy." Quite clearly there is a link between the spread of education to broad masses of the population and the decline of the mortality rate.
The rapid mortality decline in developing countries was at first explained with
parallels to European and American history, i.e. economic development was seen
as the reason for higher life expectancy. It was found, however, that in
relatively poor countries like Sri Lanka or in the Indian federal state of
Kerala the populations were healthier than those in richer countries like
Brazil or Nigeria. In the late 60s the fallen mortality was put down to
technological advances and the expansion of public health care. But this
explanation was also too simple because the improvement of hygienic conditions
and water supplies in some countries were not the decisive factors, either, for
the reduction in the incidence of diseases - sanitation and water supply
programmes failed to reduce disease incidence in some countries. Nor could
better food policies explain the enormous rise in life expectancy.
Finally, the importance of literacy, which in turn is dependent on the
existence of adequate communication structures, to the quality of health care
was recognised in the early 80s. In 1985 UNESCO published a study in which the
influence of many factors on mortality in 15 developing countries was examined
(inter alia occupational and educational status of parents, urban/rural
residence, religion, ethnic group, availability of health facilities, piped
water, flush lavatories). Without doubt the strongest influence on health was
found to be the school attendance of the mother. Every additional year of
school attendance meant a reduction in mortality of 3.4%. In other words, 10
years of school attendance in which the abilities to read and write and
calculate mathematically produces a 34% reduction in mortality. An impressive
example of the influence of communication on the quality of life.
In addition to interpersonal communication, in developing countries mass
communication is also of decisive importance. This holds not only for running
health campaigns or for diffusion of innovations but above all for the
communication of those matters that concern all of a state's citizens.
Development towards a modern society which is to be characterised by democracy,
social and economic justice, national consolidation, social discipline and
economic growth is hardly possible without employing mass media for in
societies with large rural sectors the mass media are able also to reach the
rural dwellers and supply them with information. Only a communication system
which also allows the population of the rural sector to inform themselves
continuously and above all also to articulate their own opinions enables
national identities to be formed and can prevent or remedy society's being
culturally split into a rural and an urban sector.
Modernisation, respectively development, apart from technical progress also encompasses democratisation in the sense that old social structures, most of which are based on inherited positions, are broken up. Political participation by segments of society previously excluded is a central element of democratisation. Thus the North-South Commission gave a wider definition to development than the transition from poor to rich. Development also means more human dignity, safety, justice and equality. The elimination of existing strong inequalities within society is central to successful development processes starting. Equality is the value which is of decisive importance to successful modernisation and whose attractiveness has been proved in the context of successful liberation wars.
Equality here is not to mean equality in poverty but above all equality of opportunity. Even in societies where nominal equality is a valid norm unequal distributions of income, insofar as they are based on performance, are regarded as quite fair. The propagation of the normative notion that equality means equality of opportunity can be done with the help of the mass media, whose effectiveness is greatest in times of marked social change. Such situations, in which traditional values and structures are in flux, are also the situations in which mass media can give orientation aids and convey new ideas (e.g. about future democratic forms of co-existence in society). Prerequisite to this is that the mass media are perceived as credible.
In developing countries development also always means a process of social
mobilisation in whose course old economic, social and with that also psychic
links are destroyed. The countries of the Third World cannot be regarded as a
category of homogeneous societies but in their cultural and political variety
must be assessed individually - including, too, in respect of the use and hence
the effect of the mass media. In regard to the expressive power of indicators
for measuring quality of life it must also be assumed that no two societies are
the same, because "development is like a giraffe: difficult to describe, but
easy to recognize".
The federal German government now places central importance on media promotion measures in both the national development process and as an instrument to improve relations between peoples and states. In the paper "Medienförderung in der entwicklungspolitischen Zusammenarbeit" (Media promotion in development policy cooperation) it is argued that the media offer the chance "positively to influence social change in developing countries by informing and motivating the population, by familiarising them with educational contents, values and norms indispensable to a country's development.... The breadth of developmentally instrumental use of the mass media ranges from the possibility of educational measures on the broadest possible basis, through the preservation and cultivation of cultural values, to the effective support of efforts at democratising society and strengthening self-help and participation in the development process".
3. Communication as a human right
The principle of Free Flow of Information was written into the United
Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1948. Article 19
declares freedom of information a fundamental human right: "Everyone has
a right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to
hold opinions... and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through
any media and regardless of frontiers." The McBride Commission argues: "The
right to communicate is an extension of the continuing advance toward liberty
In connection with the principle of "free flow of information" the structure of the world news system was for a long time in the foreground of the media policy debates conducted in the UNO, respectively UNESCO, a discussion aimed mainly at constructing a New World Information Order. In the dispute over free versus balanced news flow the position of the West was and is unequivocal: freedom of information and opinion is perceived as a basic right. Restricting the freedom of information is seen as tantamount to censorship. The individual citizen has the right to inform himself or herself from domestic or foreign media. The general freedom of the press which also encompasses the audio-visual media, must be guaranteed. There must be no state control of mass media, whereby the control of the mass media by a few powerful individuals or companies must also be seen as a danger to democracy. Press freedom must not mean that only a few economically powerful people or organisations have the opportunity to disseminate their opinions. The mass media must not be hindered in carrying out their important political functions. Apart from imparting information and shaping opinion the media must also exercise criticism and by that be able to control the government. That is why no state can assume responsibility for information the mass media disseminate in its area of jurisdiction or from its territory to other countries.
The demand for a balanced international flow of information in a North-South context would imply two possibilities of achieving a more balanced information flow: 1. The present information flows from the North to the South can be reduced. 2. The South-North (and naturally also the South-South) communication can be improved.
Since option one implies destroying or hindering existing communication channels, which would mean a lessening of the system's ability to learn, option two is without doubt preferable. In connection with trans-border communication of news an improvement of the possibilities of free flow of information is needed, in which the building of better South-North communication must be linked with better South-South communication. This proposition assumes that a government is interested in having a population which can and wants to participate in the process of democratic will-shaping. Investment in South-South flow also means that the chance to create solidarity in world society is used. Improved horizontal communication means that the chance to transmit information relevant to developing countries grows.
If information flow is restricted, on the other hand, it is very likely that existing undemocratic structures of rule will remain, under which the dignity of human beings is not respected and underprivileged parts of the population are prevented from gaining knowledge about possibilities of better lives. People must be aware of their being under-privileged and they must perceive this as unjust and stoppable so as to take action to improve the quality of life (on fighting fatalism cf. 8. Development journalism). Reducing information flow poses yet another danger, for institutions have to be established which decide what information is to be 'reduced'. Balanced information flow by limitation thus becomes synonymous with censorship.
4. The great handicap: misconceptions about the
importance of the mass media.
An excursus on the sociology of science
The theories and/or models about the effects of the mass media which have dominated in science over time can be characterised in their historical sequence as follows:
1. The early approaches to theoretical evaluation of media effects were closely linked with mass psychology. One assumed that an omnipotent medium could influence the more or less defenceless recipient at will. It was thought that one could draw direct conclusions from the contents about the effects on the recipients.
2. Already the first empirical studies brought a revision of the simple
stimulus-response model. Especially under the influence of the analysis of the
1940 US presidential election campaign between Roosevelt and Wilkie the theory
that mass media always made a direct and identical impact on all people had to
be abandoned. There followed a time in
which the theory of relative ineffectiveness of the mass media predominated.
Klapper in his literature appraisal came to the conclusion that in the normal
case mass communication had to be seen neither as a prerequisite nor an
adequate condition for effects.
According to this the main effect of the mass media is to strengthen existing
opinions. McGuire still maintains in the 1969 Handbook of Social Psychology
that on the basis of the research findings to hand it could be assumed that the
mass media had no effects at all.
3. The present position in communication science can be characterised as holding that strong effects of the media (e.g. on public opinion, the world-view, etc.) are recognised as indisputable, whereby there is no adherence to the simple cause-and-effect model of the first phase of effects research which at the same time seems to be ineradicable among non-communication scientists.
Effects of the media are defined as: characteristics and/or changes firstly at the level of individuals, secondly at the level of social groups and organisations (mesosystem) and thirdly the level from whole societies to the world system which can be wholly or partly traced back to the contents, forms and organisations of the mass media. Thus effects are identified not only at the level of individuals and groups, but mass communication as a social sub-system interacts with other sub-systems (e.g. politics, education, economics, churches, etc.) and society as a whole. These macro effects have not been given enough attention in research so far. An example would be, for example, the changing of the election campaign, respectively the selection of candidates in democratic parties by introduction of television (e.g. "show" on TV rather than political grass roots work). It would also be a decisive effect of television on the sub-system politics if the majority of the population believes because of the TV coverage that the individual cannot influence political decisions but that they are made by 'those up there'.
Because of their wide dissemination the mass media from the outset were at the centre of public discussions. A problem arises in this for communication research which, although it is common to all social sciences, becomes especially conspicuous here because, at least in the industrial states, everyone has their own experience with the mass media: The scepticism vis a vis the social sciences and the findings they make, prevailing generally in the public and politics, is especially marked here. Particularly in respect of the effects of the media there are widespread popular-scientific notions, most of which can be characterised as holding that although one is oneself a very critical media consumer, the 'others' (the "mass of the population") are in extreme jeopardy because of the assumed great effectiveness of the media.
The lay notions about media effects, very many of which have the character of self-evident cultural tenets, form a substantial barrier to the dissemination of findings in communication science (and the implementation of promotion measures in the media sector). If the findings of a scientific study correspond to the general assumptions it is seen as proof that one knew everything anyway and that communication science had nothing new to offer. If the results of a study are not compatible with widespread beliefs then their acceptance and dissemination is obstructed, for example by imputing that the researchers had worked faultily or imprecisely.
Fundamentally, no simple and eternally valid statement on what effects the media have can be made because the effects are so complex. This is due to the uniqueness of each situation, the mouldability of human beings - whereby it must also be considered that identical contents can be used and perceived differently by various recipients - and the systemic nexus of the components relevant in a given situation. Propagation of communication science findings is also made difficult by the public and/or the journalists who report on them expecting that they need to be easily and generally understandable. Especially in regard to the effects of media the "roller coaster argument" applies: If reality has the shape of a roller coaster, then the theories which attempt adequately to explain the reality must also assume the character of a roller coaster. In other words the tendency so popular with politicians and other decision makers to speculate about the effects of the mass media on the level of plausibility arguments which are mostly extrapolations of one's own life-experiences is bound to produce misconceptions.
In the context addressed here it is of decisive importance that it is not only
naive culture pessimists who tend to sweeping uncritical condemnation of the
mass media. Even related to a scientific public it appears more promising of
success in many cases to make statements based on everyday knowledge. A typical
example of this is the argumentation of Stanislav Andreski who rails against
the "witchmasters of the social sciences" and their methodological conjuring
tricks but himself gets entangled in culture-pessimistic platitudes when he
speaks of the "advanced stage of cretinisation into which our civilisation has
fallen under the influence of the mass media".
Also in complete misperception of the effects of the mass media Ludwig von Bertalanffy argues that every well managed advertising campaign is as precise a behaviourial experiment as any in a laboratory. Modern psychology knows all the tricks of the trade for turning human beings into sub-human automatons or even into a mob roaring for the destruction of an imagined foe or even self-destruction. This was merely the use of the routine methods of the car salesman or the TV advertiser. The author, whose reputation as a system theoretician and biologist is undisputed worldwide, nevertheless arrogates unto himself knowledge in the field of effects research and dilettantes on by arguing that because we treat human beings according to the model of Skinner rats and more and more make them into robots we have all those problems. For this reason we urgently needed a science of mass-influencing, both for the manipulators seeking new effective methods and for the manipulated so that they can be on guard against them. Mass-influencing became almost invincible if it was not applied by external compulsion but rather was internalised; if the animal within the human being were so conditioned that it had no option but to respond to the stimulation given it in the way the manipulator wanted it to. Next to nuclear weapons, this was the great invention of our age: the forming of humanity into automatons who simply "buy" anything - toothpaste, washing machines, presidents, atomic war and self-annihilation.
Such statements about the alleged effectiveness of the mass media made by indubitably renowned scientists who in their own fields have successfully tried to popularise their knowledge and therefore possess high reputations in public help to spread totally false notions because as a rule the non-communication scientist cannot recognise when an author oversteps the bounds of his competence. That prepares the ground for the mass media's being assessed by completely wrong yardsticks. If political decision makers adhere to such omnipotence suggestions and then find that an investment in the media sector does not immediately show the hoped for effects it cannot be ruled out that they react negatively inasmuch as further media promotion measures are made more difficult or prevented since one could, after all, assume that the media did not work anyway.
But as already mentioned, media effects are always very complex. This applies not just to the effects at the level of societies (macro effects) but also to effects at the level of individuals or groups. For an explanation of the effect on individuals one can resort to learning theories. From the premise of learning theory people are neither solely driven by internal forces nor pushed forward solely by environmental stimuli. Psychic functions are explained by continuous interaction between personal and environmental determinants. This reciprocal determinism means that expectations influence the ways people behave and that the consequences of this behaviour in turn change their expectations again. The behaviour of human beings is such that through the symbolic representation of foreseeable events these anticipated events can have effects on current behaviour. That means that most actions are subject to anticipatory control. This in itself is enough reason always to reject as wrong any explanation of the effects of mass media based on a simple cause-and-effect model.
However, effects research itself has largely added to the widespread notion that nothing precise was known about the effects of mass media. A state-sponsored German effects research commission in 1986 came to the conclusion that quite generally we know too little about the connection between mass communication and society, about the effect laws of the media. The commission stated further that although the research works to hand were thematically wideranging they were disparate at the same time. Often there was only a single study on a particular problem. Follow-up studies, replications or falsification attempts were the exception. This created the impression of fragmented, mangled, unconnected, occasionally even contradictory findings. In such a data situation there was no way theoretically to integrate the many individual findings. The demand for "the one" theory of media effects could not be met because the media and their contents were much too varied. Also, the conditions under which the media made their impact were much too complex for them to be assembled in one consistent set of hypotheses.
However - and in the context being addressed here this is the most important aspect - it is undisputed that the mass media do have an effect. But one had to be aware in helping to develop media that as a rule the effects are complex and longterm. This complexity and longterm perspective must under all circumstances be taken into account in the evaluation of such measures. The situation cannot be characterised as if one did not know what impact the media had, but rather that one must warn against overly simple statements on media impact.
The resumé to be drawn from this scientific-sociological excursus is this: If one has completely wrong notions about the effects of the mass media and uses them as the yardstick to assess the success of measures in the media sector negative judgments about media promotion measures are almost bound to be made.
5. On hostility towards the media
Walter Lippmann's famous formulation that "we define first and then see" also applies to politicians. Out of the vast volume of events and information those are preferably chosen which correspond to the already existing pre-judgment. Kenneth Burke argued similarly: "A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing - a focus upon object A involves a neglect of object B." If we have a corresponding image in our heads there is no difficulty processing even apparently contradictory information. Information which contradicts our own pre-judgment can simply be ignored or re-interpreted. The German poet, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach expressed this fact in 1893 in an aphorism: "A judgment can be proved wrong but never a pre-judgment."
In respect of the effect of media the valid proposition is that identical contents can be perceived and used completely differently. Every person chooses from the multitude of environmental phenomena only a few (selective perception), and depending on life experience especially those which fit into the familiar world-view. The decisive thing is the frame of reference within which perception takes place. Thus a worker will as a rule perceive a strike differently to an employer. In this context the 'hostile media phenomenon' is important. Valone et alii who coined this phrase proceeded from the assumption that in readers' letters to newspapers and magazines often one and the same article was attacked as one-sidedly presenting the position of the other side in each case - and this by people who held completely different views. It was obviously assumed the mass medium concerned in each case took a position hostile to the letter writer's.
It can be assumed that as a rule politicians and other decision makers feel unjustly treated by the media and therefore try to control them in their favour. For media promotion measures which aim at democratisation of the media this means in countries where such control of the media by politicians already happens that in principle such help is perceived as a threat to a status quo pleasant for the rulers. There is always massive resistance by those concerned to reforms and improvements in the media sector which could endanger the existing non-democratic structures of rule, although they never tire of claiming that they stand up for the freedom of the mass media.
6. The paradigms debate
The starting conditions for 'communication and development research' were almost ideal. Communication scientists such as Joseph Klapper, Harald D. Lasswell, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Leo Löwenthal - all authors whose scientific reputation is still beyond dispute - were co-authors of Issue 4 of the 1952/53 Volume of the periodical 'Public Opinion Quarterly' in which 'international communication research' was launched into the world. The political climate was very favourable to this young branch of science for in the USA one felt committed to spreading the American ideals of freedom and democracy throughout the world. The motive of pulling the rest of the world up to one's own level, to the "American way of life", was especially apparent in point 4 of President Trumann's 10-point programme of 1948: "Fourth. We must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas."
In this programme communication research was assigned an important task in the propaganda battle then fought with the Soviet Union for the loyalty of the developing countries. American foreign policy aimed at containing communism and included preventive measures in the developing countries in the form of development aid. Development aid was understood in this as an investment in world peace by which the political systems concerned were to be developed towards democracy.
Development aid was based on the following logic: One thought that by
introducing modernising institutions (e.g. schools or mass media) one could
raise modern personalities who in turn would be able adequately to fulfil
vocational roles in modern institutions (e.g. in factories). This, it was
thought further, would enable economic growth. Breaking the 'vicious circle of
poverty' was regarded as possible. Economic growth, the argumentation went on,
would lead to greater political stability and the formation of a democratic
Thus American development aid policy proceeded from the convergence-theoretical assumption that political behaviour, respectively the formation of democratic political institutions, was governed by fundamental economic processes. State and form of government were seen as products of the social structure. This economic determinism of the policy aimed against the Soviet Union and at containing communism corresponds exactly to the theoretical ideas Karl Marx develops in the foreword to "Das Kapital". Marx argues that the capitalists would overcome the backward production methods in the "under-developed" countries: "It concerns these laws itself (the laws of nature of capitalist production, M. K.), these seemingly oaken laws and asserting tendencies. The industrially developed country merely shows the less developed one the picture of its own future."
For decades the most influential book on the practical use of mass media in developing countries was "The Passing of Traditional Society" (New York 1958) by Daniel Lerner. It was originally designed as a study for the Voice of America. One wanted to know which recipients one could reach in developing countries. Lerner, who had worked in the "Intelligence Section of the Psychological Warfare Division of the US Army" during World War II, differentiated between modern, transitional and traditional personalities, wherein the transitional persons were seen as the key to change in the Middle East, where the study was done.
Apart from the economic and political interests the main motive in American development aid was also to try to set in motion modernisation processes by investments in the communication sector. The findings of socio-scientific research were to enable people to have lives in freedom and dignity. This basic position becomes clear with Wilbur Schramm who argues:
"- knowledge is better than ignorance;
- health is better than disease;
- to eat is better than to be hungry;
- a comfortable standard of living is better than poverty;
- to participate actively in one's nation is better than to be isolated from it."
In the mid 70s one arrived at the conclusion that development aid and especially the use of mass media by no means automatically set in motion peaceful development towards democracy; publication of an essay by Everett M. Rogers marked the end of the dominance of modernisation theories. However, the Lerner model influenced communication science until the mid 80s. The modernisation theories, according to which the causes for the under-development of certain societies or world regions lie in those societies themselves, were obviously off the mark. Under-development is not solely the cause of certain socio-cultural characteristics (e.g. traditionalism) or other system-immanent misdevelopments (e.g. population explosion).
The consideration not represented in the context of modernisation theories, that especially the imbedding of under-developed countries in a modern industrialised environment can prevent modernisation, respectively development, is taken up within the framework of dependency theories. The dependency theories, which attempt an all-encompassing explanation for the failure of decades of efforts to develop the Third World, perceive under-development as a result of worldwide economic interactions. Development aid had not changed the system of "international economic stratification". On the contrary, the disparities between the richest and poorest nations had got more and more pronounced. A rule of thumb had also evolved: the poorer a country, the greater the differences between rich and poor in it.
But the dependency theory offered no action alternative to the conception of the modernisation theory. The present situation comprises a "potpourri of theories" to choose from. The hypothesis of decoupling is only seldom espoused because in practice it means that one excludes oneself from processes of development going on worldwide and the lag behind the developed countries becomes larger and larger.
Starting from philosophical considerations of the type propagated for example
by Paulo Freire in "Pedagogy of the oppressed", value was placed also in the use of mass
media in the development process on such concepts as self-development,
distributive justice, self-reliance, people participation, etc. However, this paradigm of media usage in
developing countries did not produce the desired effects, either. Saxer and
Grossenbacher write: "It is often overlooked that communication is always meant
to be only part of an overall strategy and not its central element. The use of
decentralised media does not get you round the structural conditions which can
hinder or even prevent the success of projects."
In this context Sonaike emphasises as a further paradigm the approach of the
"culturalists" who see the key to development of the countries of the Third
World in the diverse traditional cultures. The integration of modern and traditional
methods of communication to impart development-relevant information is regarded
as decisive to the success of media promotion measures. The needs of the people
affected are to be taken into account in carrying out development measures.
In regard to the dependence theory considerations it remains to be observed
that regardless of how applicable they are or are not, they pose a great
danger: Politicians in developing countries can easily misuse them to deflect
attention from their own failings. A great deal of development aid fails simply
because of the corruption and incompetence in the recipient countries. There
was exploitation and despotic rule in many developing countries before they
became the victims of colonial and economic exploitation by the West. It is
also possible that in some of them Western values have been selectively
adopted. Thus Ali Mazrui argues that the African culture replicated the wrong
things from the West: "We borrowed the profit motive but not the
entrepreneurial spirit. We borrowed the acquisitive appetites of capitalism but
not the creative risk taking. We are at home with Western gadgets but are
bewildered by Western workshops. We wear the wristwatch but refuse to watch it
for the culture of punctuality. We have learned to parade in display, but not
to drill in discipline. The West's consumption patterns have arrived but not
necessarily the West's technique of production."
7. System-theoretical model
In the system-theoretical perspective mass communication is treated as a social sub-system interacting with a society's other sub-systems (politics, economics, religion, etc.). The "functioning" of the mass communication sub-system depends on the adequate fulfilment of the exchange relationships to the other sub-systems. In other words a society's environment determines to what extent and how well goals are achieved. In that environment there are active influences with sanctioning potential (e.g. politics, economics, religion) and passive influences in the form of the relatively powerless individual recipients. If, for example, the political sub-system no longer accepts the output of the mass communication sub-system then either the quality of the output has to change or the environment exerts pressure.
Hence the performance of the mass communication sub-system depends firstly on the relationships to the environment and secondly on internal structural factors (e.g. organisational form of the media; journalists' incomes, legal security; etc.) and on the "values climate" (e.g. the professional ethos of the journalists). One can assume that if effective interaction with the environment is to happen there has to be a certain correspondence between the characteristics inherent in the sub-system and the expectations emerging from the environment. Thus the possibility of asserting a certain kind of journalism, e.g. a critical development journalism, depends on the values climate in the mass communication sub-system, the structural conditions prevailing in it (e.g. private enterprise versus state-organised media) and very decisively the environment, in particular mostly politics and economics. In the system-theoretical view differences in the socio-cultural environment produce different journalistic professional roles.
Many developing countries - varying from medium to medium - lack the prerequisites for effective mass communication. It may be because for material reasons they do not possess the technical infrastructure to reach large sections of the population; it may be because there is no mass public able to read the press (e.g. in the rural sector). Thus radio will remain the major medium in developing countries since it can reach people unable to read or write. In this area it is especially promising to set up local stations broadcasting in the relevant local vernaculars, that is the language used on the radio must match the linguistic capabilities of the target audience. And hence, too, it should be attempted especially in regard to radio to train as journalists persons rooted in the relevant local cultures. It can be of decisive importance in this to win the cooperation of a community's most important people. This can assure integration in the local culture which means a gain in credibility and raises the chances of accessing channels of inter-personal communication.
Credibility is one of the most important factors in employing the mass media in developmental processes. Credibility is most readily achieved if the media adequately meet the task of criticising the government. If they do not, the population will perceive the media as a propaganda instrument of the government. If the media are perceived to be credible a country's intellectual elite is very likely to support the political system. If a media system is perceived as incredible the intellectuals as a rule will not support the government. Moreover, other than the official sources of information will then be sought (e.g. foreign radio stations). The main criterion in ensuring the mass media's controlling function is to ensure journalists' economic and legal security.
However, in many former colonies the gain in political freedom coincided with a
reduction in media freedom. Whereas in the West the development of the press
was most closely linked with the notion of individual freedom, a typical
characteristic of the press history of former colonies is that it was closely
involved with the struggle for statal independence, whose imperative mostly
was: national unity is more important than the freedom of the individual.
Moreover, many journalists in developing countries tend to be loyal dogmatists
rather than critical, investigative journalists. Many holders of top
journalistic positions are bureaucrats.
A further sub-division into types of political order (e.g. in Myrdal's
categories of "strong" and "weak" states) already shows how the functions of
the media and linked with that the professional self-perception of journalists
can vary from country to country. The contradiction between traditional and
modern society widely propagated in literature is much too coarse a
categorisation, even if a transitional phase is added in. Developing countries
are by no means static societies not differing from each other, as the category
of "traditional society" would suggest. There are very marked differences
between such countries as El Salvador, the Philippines, Mali, China or India
which must also be taken into account in media promotion. Reddi writes in the
context of his demand of including a specifically Indian perspective in
communication theory: "A common field of experience exists among the nations
which share the Judaeo-Christian religions and where religion and the way of
life are separate with the latter as the superior aspect. In Indian society,
homogeneity is starkly absent. With its diversity, there is no identifiable
common concept around which the society functions, except in as much as it is
different from other systems."
However, there can be quite common development trends in respect of the function of mass media in developing countries dependent on certain development phases. Thus the initial function the mass media in, say, colonies which have just gained independence might be to spread symbols and information nurturing national identity. When subsequently modernisation processes are launched the media's primary function is to mobilise the masses. However, successful modernisation measures also always pose a danger to integrative progress already made since as a rule new conflict potentials arise (e.g. new elites form). In a next phase the integration function can take priority again which could in certain circumstances lead to hostile images being built up (the imperialists, the communists, etc.), for a threat, regardless of whether it emanates from an enemy within or without, however it is defined, increases people's readiness to submit to authoritarian leadership and put internal disputes on the back burner. But the unintended consequence of building up such an enemy-image can be the loss of media credibility for a long time.
8. Development journalism
Whereas development support communication describes communicative measures related to a specific development project, development communication is understood as the communication strategy related to an entire society, respectively a comprehensive national development plan. In the ideal case development journalism is to be oriented to the needs of the population while not endangering the manageability of a state nor being able to be misused to legitimise obviously unjust structures of rule. This notion of development journalism proceeds from the normative assumption that the people affected must be actively involved in the decision making, planning and implementation of development projects. With that, apart from dissemination of information, two functions of development journalism are particularly emphasised: the motivation to active cooperation of the people affected and the active advocacy of their interests vis a vis the planners, respectively the government.
Thus development journalism is imbedded in the context of a general management concept of the planning and implementation of development programmes, that is it is ascribed a quite instrumental, socio-technological character. The journalist working within these prescribed norms will become comparable in aspects of his profession with the on-site leader of development projects. Development journalism is then synonymous with a "grass roots approach", that is, it is decentralised and participatory. It must not limit itself to the communication channels of the mass media alone but also use the traditional communication media. This development journalism is primarily "local journalism" in the sense that the journalist should be rooted in the local culture concerned.
It cannot be stated often enough that the most important component of development journalism is credibility, which is most readily won by the media's adequately advocating the interests of the affected people, which means inter alia articulating criticism of the government. It must be remembered in this connection that in most developing countries there is a vast gap between what government representatives say about the freedom the media have in their respective countries and the truth. Probably only a free media system is able to contribute to rooting out corruption, this fundamental evil in developing countries, by revealing and pillorying it. However, the demand for press freedom is practically unfulfillable in most developing countries because the governments always regard the mass media as something potentially very dangerous.49 Adequate for a start would be a phased freedom of the media system, perhaps at local or regional levels, i.e. corresponding to the experience horizons of the recipients. This would on the one hand secure the credibility of the media and on the other hand prevent a short-term "endangering" of the political system, i.e. trigger resistance from those with the political power.
Asserting such a development journalism depends decisively on whether the
rulers of a developing country can be convinced that free communication is in
the interests of the entire system, whereby interests means that national
autonomy is achieved or preserved and the material standard of living is lifted
by planned processes of social change. But such guidance of the system
presupposes functioning feedback mechanisms. Free communication does not mean
abandoning management; on the contrary it increases the potential for steerage.
Development journalism is not only to advocate externally set aims to the
recipients but at the same time through continuous feedback from them fulfil
the function of examining whether the development measures are succeeding or
not. The form of development journalism sketched here proceeds from the premise
that development policy measures run under the perspective of the entire
system, wherein those responsible must satisfy local and/or regional needs and
developments to avoid failures and friction. By ongoing feedback from the
people on the ground with the help of development journalism which should also
be the advocate of the recipients a process of learning the rules of play of
democracy can at the same time begin at local and/or regional levels, i.e. it
can be learned what loyal opposition means.
Fundamentally the most important task of development journalism can be seen in removing the acquiescent basic attitude towards one's own destiny which is so closely tied up with poverty. Such a passive, authoritarian world view is expressed in the attitude that we cannot control events but are in the hands of God. In this context one talks of learned helplessness, or the "hopelessness-helplessness" syndrome. Sagan sees learned helplessness as the main reason for natural disasters' claiming so many victims in developing countries. In the context of removing the acqiescent outlook special mention has to be made of the role of women who in many societies are still regarded and treated as second class human beings.
In summary, the socio-technological development journalism outlined here is characterised as purpose-rational and ethically responsible. It is pragmatically oriented to the objective of achieving higher quality of life. Apart from being the advocate of the interests of the population, another of its major tasks is to act as a buffer to exaggerated demands and to emphasise goals achievable in a longer perspective. In terms of its value premises this journalism is clearly oriented to democracy and emancipation.
©Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition mv&ola | August 1997