Media Development in academic research is mostly looked upon as being equivalent to a free or independent press – one which can sustain itself financially and would propagate unbiased information to the populace. Another piece that is widely being focused upon in the media development practice is technological advancement – ensuring communities have more and more access to radio, television, mobile phones and the internet.
While these two pieces of the story are indeed very important in the context of media development, there is something more to it that almost goes un-noticed and unaccounted for, on a larger scale. Before elaborating on them let’s ask ourselves what each of us mean by “Media Development”. To me, media development means a developed media sector that is not a stronghold of any particular player in the society, financially sustainable, technologically updated, reaches beyond the obvious urban educated part of the population and more importanmtly a tool or source of information that can be deciphered by the population at large and used for making decisions.
It is the reach and usability of the media sector that is a missing piece so far. My understanding of this was bolstered by the points brought up Dr. Gerry Powers, Managing Director of Intermedia (London) during his recent seminar. In his presentation “Access to Information, Mobile Telephony, and the MDGs”, Dr. Powers stressed the daunting discrepancy in the amount of information that reaches and are being used by the urban versus the rural population. While a divide also exist between the educated versus the uneducated, the urban-rural divide was glaring. He used public opinion data for Kenya, Zambia and Ghana from the Audiencescapes research to substantiate his point.
The presentation brought to light the gaps in development initiatives and the challenges to overcome those. Dr. Powers also emphasized a rather important point – access to media does not mean access to “information” and access to information does not imply access to “quality information”. Just by building technological infrastructure one cannot ensure that the intended people will get the information they need from there.
While engaging in the Media Map Project, we are facing challenges very similar to those brought up by Dr. Powers. The quantitative data on “Media Development”, as mentioned earlier, encompasses how free the press is, how safe an environment it is for journalists and the legal and socio-economic framework for the sector in a country. There also exist data on how many TV, radio, telephone, mobile and internet subscriptions a country has per capita. But what it missing altogether is what proportion of those numbers are attributable to the urban population and how much is for the rural households. It does not say anything about how many of the users are educated or are female. There is no information that will help one understand the extent to which the traditional and new media are being used as a source of “information” via-a-vis a source of “entertainment”.
While addressing all the issues under the same umbrella is complicated, they should be addressed nonetheless. It is an important gap that begs to be looked at for the sake of holistic economic development. Without everyone being able to use media for information and for decision making, it can never lead to a trasparent, accountable and low corruption society.
Sanjukta Roy is a Research Analyst for The Media Map Project.
Tags: Media Development