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.

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One of the things we have charged ourselves with doing in this ambitious project called Media Map is empirically demonstrating the impact of media development on the media sector and other development sectors throughout the world.  Not much work has been done yet precisely in this area.  It is difficult to get at the impact of development assistance, as finding reliable figures for donor investments is challenging (and how can you determine impact if you can’t determine exactly what was done?).  We will get to this as a next step.

As a first step, we are looking at what has been done to explore the relationship between the news media sector and development. A half dozen or so studies have looked at the relationship between freedom of the press and development, particularly governance.  Overall they have found a positive relationship between freedom of the press and democratic governance, and indeed, between freedom of the press and other areas of development such as the economy, health, and education.

However, there is much left to be done.  Most of these studies have shown correlations; but is it possible to show causality?  How do these relationships between the press and other sectors differ and change across regions and over time?  It may well be impossible to isolate the impact of the media on other areas, so how can we look at the combination of factors and their various influences in a meaningful way?

Most studies rely heavily on Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index.  While this has been a valuable measure, it has met with criticism for having an American bias. There may be other, better measures for freedom of the press; also, there are ways to perform more sophisticated analysis using Freedom House data to further test the relationships between freedom of the press and development.

I would like to propose that 1) in examining the degree to which a developed media exists, 2) testing the media sector’s relationship to other development areas, 3) analyzing the extent to which donor investments in media development interventions had any impact in the media and other development sectors… we need to look beyond press freedom.  Yes, press freedom is important, but it is only part of the story.

So beyond press freedom, what are other important areas to explore?  We are interested in:

  • Independence
  • Quality
  • Reach
  • Business strength of the media sector (also called sustainability)
  • Empowerment of the audience / users to have a voice in public life and to make meaningful decisions that impact their own lives

In upcoming posts, we will explore what these terms mean for our purposes and how best to research them.

I’ll end with a starting point.  How are we defining media development?

Media development is the process of improving one or more factors that impact the media’s ability to communicate with the public.  External actors, such as foreign donors and media assistance implementers, can support media development.

Tara Susman-Peña is the Director of Research of The Media Map Project.

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