There was a great article this week about The Media Map Project and Internews on Fortune.com.  We’re pleased that Fortune is interested in media development!   Will this help to elevate awareness of media development amongst those interested in alleviating poverty, strengthening economies, helping to ensure good governance, and empowering people?

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

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.

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Mark Nelson and Tara Susman-Peña made a presentation on the Media Map Project this morning at the UN Week Digital Media Lounge.  The event was created to give bloggers virtual access the UN Summit on Millennium Development Goals, which gives very limited access to the press.  In addition to live streaming of UN events, the Digital Media Lounge held its own series of speakers and presentations, focusing on the interactions between media and development.  The Media Map Project was the only presentation focusing on Media Development.  We hope that our findings from the Project will help redress this marginalization.

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

The Media Map Project will be participating in the UN Week Digital Media Lounge next week.  We will be presenting an overview of the project and engaging in Q & A with the audience, billed by the event as “today’s top online voices and up-and-coming bloggers.”  What’s the best way to boil down what we are trying to do into a format and length that will make sense to this group?  We are interested in appealing to a wide audience, and we would like the resources we create to be actually used and read.  Our final deliverable report on the project is meant to be ambitiously short at 20 pages.  But what could we say that is meaningful and full of impact in 140 characters or less?  And given the focus at the “Digital Media Lounge,” how can we still do justice to the still very important role that traditional media, especially radio, plays in development?  Most importantly, how can we get this audience excited about some some basic questions:

  • Should development donors be investing more in media? How should they decide what interventions to invest in?
  • Should media development be elevated as a sector, equal to democracy, or health development?  Why?
  • What evidence do we have that media development works?
  • How do we know what works when media development is successful?

Each of these bullets is under 140 characters.  The answers, I’m afraid, may be a bit longer.

I am inspired today by the Listening Project, an initiative begun in 2005, to listen to the experiences of people who have been on the receiving end of development aid.  Their important work reminds us of what really should drive international development work, and helps us to better think through how we assess the impact of media development.

To get to the next stage of understanding the role of media development in the overall development agenda, perhaps our field could take heed and undertake a few listening projects designed and aimed at media development.  By becoming the audience of our recipients, we can better understand the impact of media assistance, and donor goals and strategies.  Listening can also strengthen our approach to program design, and help us to more fully integrate media with broader development goals.  Take a look through the Listening Project’s website, and let us know what you think — what could the media development community gain by a listening initiative?

Susan Abbott is the Deputy Director for Program Development at Internews



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