Re-Examination of Development Communication Theory and Practice: Informing a Critique of UNESCO's Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Merging Democracies

By Freedman, Eric; Rendahl, Stephen et al. | Journal of Development Communication, December 2009 | Go to article overview
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Re-Examination of Development Communication Theory and Practice: Informing a Critique of UNESCO's Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Merging Democracies


Freedman, Eric, Rendahl, Stephen, Shafer, Richard, Journal of Development Communication


Efforts internationally are underway to assess the quality of journalism education, a process that inevitably considers curriculum and the preparation of journalists able to meet professional standards. This article discusses three such efforts: the ongoing work of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC) based in the United States; the UNESCO Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Emerging Democracies introduced at the 2007 Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) conference in Singapore; and development journalism, a concept that originated as an alternative to the traditional Western model of journalism in Asian countries like the Philippines and India in the 1970s. These efforts encompass an explicit endorsement of the role of the press in promoting democracy, development, or both.

'Journalism education is an art, not a science, and there can be no universal formula for preparing students for journalistic careers, just as there can be no universal model of a press system. Any system of journalism education and its institutions must infuse students with theory and practical skills, must nurture their sense of curiosity, and must enable them to understand the role of the press in their widely divergent societies'

This article contends that the UNESCO model curricula, regardless of the strengths of its content, would be difficult to bring to fruition and to sustain--even in many developed countries--due to the financial demands that implementation would place on colleges and universities and its reliance on standard Western journalism practices. The purpose of this article is not to criticise the obvious ties of the UNESCO model curricula to Western journalistic theory and practice. Rather, it questions UNESCO's omission of discussion of alternative journalism models, in particular development journalism, in defending and advocating for its model. That omission reflects a mindset that illuminates how the model curricula are ambitious in theory but unlikely in practice.

This article uses "Western model" as a generic term to refer to mainstream press organs that have editorial independence from governments or political parties, have adequate financial resources to sustain that independence, and that display a professional commitment to fairness, balance, accuracy, and ethical conduct by their journalists. Those terms differentiate between independent media--news organs autonomous from editorial control by political parties, individual politicians and their family or friends, and quasi-state entities--from opposition media with funding from and editorial control by such entities and individual. Importantly, "Western model" is not intended to describe any particular national version, whether in the developed world--such as the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, France, or Great Britain--or in developing countries--such as India or South Africa.

It can be argued that because the Western press model in its various forms is dominant in the most advanced, industrial, and post-industrial countries, it must inherently be the most effective at promoting and sustaining development. Under that argument, which the current UNESCO curricula assumes, that is the desirable model that journalists and news organisations in developing countries should master to further economic and other forms of growth in their own nations. This would seem to be a foundational premise of those who designed the curricula.

There is unlikely to be a synthesis between the UNESCO curricula and one that encourages the practice of development journalism. Development journalism has interventionist and intentional characteristics that conflict with the objective and free-market orientations of Western journalism as reflected in the UNESCO curricula. In analysing the UNESCO model, it is evident that intentionality or intervention are omitted as objectives for journalism training and practice, and thus the model is inherently Western in ideology, content, and preferred practice.

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Re-Examination of Development Communication Theory and Practice: Informing a Critique of UNESCO's Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Merging Democracies
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