Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Interface between Media, Democracy and Development

Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Interface between Media, Democracy and Development

Article excerpt

The media is a complex non-state actor whose activities have been made even more complex by massive advancement in technology. From the primitive gong of the village town crier, the eafleteering of anti-colonial movements, the bold headlines of the national dailies, the crystal clear news footages of the cable television networks, to the internet blogs, no one can seriously ignore the impacts of today's mass media on politics and governance, especially in developing democracies. What exactly constitute the media, what roles does the media perform, what is the character of the media in a developing democracy and how does it impact on governance, democracy and politics? Are the questions bobbing up and down in all discussions?

The history of mass communication media is full of social and political utopias and, in particular, of technological utopias. The questions of access and participation are, in fact, a crucial element of a utopia which is below labelled as democratisation of communication. Today, the democratic utopia of communication is again actualised by the recent development of technology like interactive television and computerised communication networks. Media and democratisation are closely related. The presence of a vibrant media is a sine qua non for democracy to survive, grow and flourish. The way and manner, the media perform their roles are a function of the character of the media and the cultural and historical values of the society- which could either strengthen or endanger democracy. It is therefore vital for leaders and citizens alike to continuously work to strengthen the media in other to enhance good governance, transparency and accountability in our democratic experiment.

Media can foster open public debate and information exchange which is vital for a democracy to flourish, and a democratic environment, in turn, can lead to the development of better media structures that respond to the concerns of people. However, the path towards democratisation and media development is rocky, and obstacles can include continued interventions by traditional (often governmental) or new (often commercial) power structures. In practice, there are usually powerful forces for and against it. Whatever stages the democratisation of any society may have reached; it is a result of the interplay of conflicts and resolution of such conflicts in society. Democratisation leads to more equity especially in the laws which govern human relations. It also leads to the elimination of conditions which promote, or allow, the exploitation of persons or groups of people by others.

Is change in the media landscape part of a process of democratisation? Variations on this question have been addressed by countless conference speakers, columnists, specialists and non-specialists in recent years. In some answers to it, new media technologies, such as satellite television and the Internet, are seen as promoting democratic practices. In others, an increase in the voicing of dissent via the media is seen as merely reflecting a wider process of democratisation. A yet further response holds that change in the media landscape is either illusory or superficial and that democratisation has not yet begun. In principle, all that is needed to answer the question is to calibrate the relationship between developments in the media on one hand and political moves towards democracy on the other. It is true that peculiarities of media economics--notably the unusual potential for economies of scale and scope, and the short shelf-life of much media output--create an inbuilt tendency everywhere towards undemocratic levels of concentration in media ownership. It is also true that what passes for democracy in some settings is little more than passive consent to an inegalitarian system with which major media organisations are complicit. Nevertheless, under certain conditions, the media can provide a forum for the expression of public opinion: they can tell governments what choices people want them to make. …

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