Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Devcom Southeast Asia: The Moral Aspect

Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Devcom Southeast Asia: The Moral Aspect

Article excerpt

Twelve years after its financial crisis in the late '90s, Southeast Asia is back on its feet and is looking to make up for lost ground. To the east, India is flexing its economic muscle for its ASEAN neighbors to take note. To the north, far-flung China, a historical player in Asia and in the world, flaunts its re-entry onto the global stage with Olympic fanfare. In the region itself, the city state of Singapore maintains its status among the developed countries. Indonesia and Vietnam are rapidly moving up the development ladder, while Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam are holding their own.

That is the good news.

The bad news is that in the rest of Southeast Asia, the economic picture has gotten dimmer. At the same time, the political arena is in much disarray. Cambodia and Laos are at a virtual standstill economically and politically. Thailand is rocked by partisan dissension and the Philippines faces a make-or-break election at the time of writing. Myanmar remains hostage to its generals in an absolute autarchy. Disquieting to many is the large or growing role of the military in the governance of some ASEAN countries.

Corruption in Southeast Asia

But the real shocker for Southeast Asian sensibilities are the results of a corruption survey done in recent months by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). Of 16 investment destinations in Asia, Australia and the United States, the sample of middle and senior business executives gave top ranking in corruption to Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand in descending order (PDI, 3/10/10). Malaysia was eighth and Singapore the 16th, or the least corrupt. By comparison, India was sixth, China was seventh, the United States was 13th and Australia the 15th.

Poverty Plus Political Instability

Granted the validity of the PERC survey results, what is it about the five Southeast Asian countries that earns them top billing on the corruption list?

Anecdotal evidence has it that graft and corruption are more endemic in countries where poverty still is a major problem, as it is in the first four countries on the list. In the case of the fifth, the culprit appears to be political instability, from which, it should be pointed out, the other countries are not exempt. Which upholds the truism that development is seamless and that economic progress cannot be separate from the political, or vice-versa. Indeed, poverty and political instability appear to make a toxic combination that provides fertile breeding ground for corruption in Southeast Asia.

The Link to Development Communication

Corruption is a legitimate issue for development communication in its dual role as university discipline and a professional occupation. As a social science, development communication is action-oriented, according to Raul Roman (2005). "The work of development communication scholars," he says, "has always been enthused by a strong rolled-up sleeves sentiment: willingness (often a professional responsibility) to do something, a drive for action beyond mere academic reflection." In the concept of development communication, he contends further, "there is a broad context, a broad topic of interest, and also an overarching sense of purpose, a kind of moral drive."

Roman's unusually perceptive observations should raise the morale of practising development communicators and provide some much-needed legitimacy to collegiate units normally found in Southeast Asian agricultural campuses. By their very nature, the latter favour the biological and physical sciences and often regard development communication as a craft or a pseudo social science.

Development Communication As Study

Coming to academe by way of agricultural extension, development communication in Southeast Asia tended to be associated more with practice rather than with theory. The theory that development communication teachers did lean towards in their teaching and research was either development theory or educational theory, for which their subject matter had a natural affinity. …

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