Media Development and Political Stability: An Analysis of Sub-Saharan Africa

By Roy, Sanjukta | The Journal of Developing Areas, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Media Development and Political Stability: An Analysis of Sub-Saharan Africa


Roy, Sanjukta, The Journal of Developing Areas


(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

INTRODUCTION

The growing literature on economic development, and more that on new institutional economics, has increasingly acknowledged that the media sector of a country is of critical importance in its development process. An independent media sector, free from either public or private control, informs the populace without bias. It acts as an anchor for many facets of a society and supports its fundamental workings - upholding the party in rule or exposing its vices, bringing out the positives and negatives of industry, making citizens' voices audible to decision makers and most importantly, revealing and spreading economic and other information. However, while independence is clearly important it is not the only characteristic of a healthy media sector. A free media cannot serve its purpose if it does not reach every section of the population and is not understood and used as critical source of information by majority. As Islam (2002) points out, the three most critical attributes of an efficient media sector are independence, quality and reach. These ensure that information is reported without the fear of government and other interest groups, views are expressed from a wide variety of perspectives and media has the capacity to produce political, social and economic information for all segments of the society.

As African countries strive for sustainable development, press freedom and the broader issue of democratization of communication have become primary concerns to stakeholders interested in African development. Sustainable development here refers to the empowerment of people to seek not only their own self-improvement but also the improvement of future generations. From this standpoint, information supports sustainable development when the majority of the people have access to the information they need to make informed economic, political and social decisions. Free press helps reduce information asymmetry and create a transparent, accountable society. Adequate access to information furthers this goal by ensuring that the unbiased information flows freely and reaches the populace at large. Together, these two elements of a healthy media sector further the goal of successful democratization and strengthen the path of sustainable development.

In the past two decades, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has seen mixed growth and developmental outcomes. According to IMF statistics, the region has shown a steady rate of growth in the past two decades. However, during the same time, when we look at the condition of governance in the region, the statistics are not as promising. This conflicting development story in the region can be attributed to a large number of social, political, cultural and demographic factors. Of these, political stability is often cited as a key determinant of the state of development in the region (Armah and Amoah, 2010). As mentioned earlier and established by the academic literature (discussed later), an independent media is considered to be a precondition of development in a country. However, for the independent media to perform its role effectively there needs to be certain other key conditions in place. Most importantly, the media sector of a country should have adequate reach such that information reaches every section of the population and enables informed decision making. A free and independent media with inadequate reach is incomplete in its objective. Similarly, a captured media with extensive reach does no good to the society.

The linkage between a healthy media sector and political stability is particularly important because it is where the media's role as a "watchdog" has the potential to hold the government to account to its people and curb extractive rent seeking and exploitative practices. The context is particularly important for the SSA region because of the political dynamics in the region, what has been called the "third wave of democratization" (Huttington, 1991) over the last two decades. …

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