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Understanding the media’s role in development

Understanding the media’s role in development
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It is not difficult to find examples that  illustrate the positive role the media can have   in tackling poverty and inequality. The mobilizing  power of social media in the Arab spring,   fundraising by charities, investigative journalism   and participatory video projects. Such examples  highlight the importance of media and development   but they only tell one side of the story. Media is  not a magic bullet and it is dangerous to think   it is. What role does the media really  play in tackling poverty and inequality? To answer this question it is helpful to  think about media in four different ways.
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The media can be seen as a vital means of  delivering important information about health,   food security, preparing for disasters  and elections. This can be achieved   through radio, television, posters newspapers,  mobiles and social media but information alone   is not enough. If people are not able to act on  the information they receive nothing will change.  
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The media can also be seen as an institution  playing a key role in promoting transparency   and accountability in society exposing corruption  and keeping citizens informed is a key function   of a free press. In which case perhaps we should  be promoting the development of the media itself   or media development this  involves encouraging plurality,   increasing professionalism, building capacity  and improving people’s media literacy.   But who gets to determine what the media  environment in another country should look like   and what function it should serve?
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The media  also acts as a window on the world teaching   us about the lives of people in other countries  and our relationship with and responsibilities   towards them this includes everything from  humanitarian appeals and international news   coverage to novels, feature films and reality  television programs set in foreign countries.  But how might representations  of development be improved?   Should we blame the advertisers is it the  responsibility of the owners or individual   journalists or maybe it is us the audience who is  ultimately responsible for influencing the media.
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Media can also be understood as  a means of facilitating dialogue   so that communities can decide for themselves  what development is and how it can be achieved.  Growing access to new technologies can  play an important role in achieving this   there are now more mobiles in the world  than toothbrushes and by 2015 there   will be more mobile accounts than people but  participatory communication doesn’t always work   who gets to speak for the community and  what happens if it leads to conflict?
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So media does matter for  development in many different ways   but the role of media is complex  and there are no easy solutions.

How can we begin to make sense of the numerous different ways in which media matters for development?

The video above gives an introduction to four different ways of thinking about why media matters:

Media for development: The media can be a tool for communicating useful information, in order to help audiences make positive changes to their behaviour.

Media development: Journalism can be a means of promoting good governance, by holding governments accountable for their actions.

Media representations of development: Media coverage about other parts of the world can not only help raise money for charities, but also educate audiences about international development issues.

Participatory communication: Local or community media can help to facilitate inclusive dialogue within communities, to promote empowerment.

How useful to you find these four different approaches? Go back to the previous step and consider how well these four approaches apply to the examples given there. Do they help summarise and categorise the examples? What do they miss out?

Share your ideas and responses in the comments below.

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Why Does Media Matter for Development?

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