Media development is yet to find its place in mainstream development agenda. It often comes as a second priority after a poor nation has done “enough” to take care of its poverty, health, nutrition, infrastructure, governance and corruption issues. While it does make sense to prioritize, given limited resources in developing countries, but relegating media development as a secondary agenda looses out on the untapped potential of the changes this sector (if well developed) can bring about. An independent, sustainable and quality media sector is an asset to any economy. Such a media sector has an undeniable role in bringing in an all-inclusive development and transparency into an economy. While the latter is relatively simpler to gauge (thanks to a plethora of governance indicators at our disposal), the former is much more difficult to be quantified. Hence, let me put forward some anecdotal evidence to try and visualize how a free media can help “empower” people.
The country in question is India. India is a very interesting case – despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the developing countries cohort, it is plagued with rampant poverty, illiteracy, corruption and misgovernance (to name a few). It is also a country that leads in the number of deaths by hit and run road accidents (approximately 0.1 million people died in such incidents in 2007). Here I would mention a very interesting case where the government has used the new media to engage the citizens to enhance its responsiveness and public accountability. Very recently, the Delhi Traffic Police (the country’s capital city) has launched a facebook profile where they are interacting with the common man. The purpose of the same is twofold: to update people on the traffic conditions and to get information on traffic rule violations by civilians and traffic cops alike. This is the first time a public department has taken up such an initiative with an intention to improve its service provision. The initiative was greeted with a sweeping response with around 25,000 people already “following” them within a week and the site has been inundated with pictures and information of vehicles and people violating traffic rules in various parts of the city. Interestingly enough, the department has been taking care of the violators irrespective of whether they are civilians or traffic cops alike. Following their success story, the Traffic Department of Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, has launched a similar facebook page.
Initiatives like the above makes involvement and use of media more inclusive and effective. It creates a direct platform where the populace feels engaged in the development process of the country. It gives them a voice and a sense of assurance. Media used responsibly like this does cater to its role of ensuring “Voice and Accountability”.
Cases like this further highlights why media development should not be isolated from economic development – one should be well integrated into the other to derive the desired changes we all want to bring about.
Sanjukta Roy is a Research Analyst for The Media Map Project.