|Excerpts from essays writen for my Master of Arts Degree by the Centre for Mass Communications Research of Leicester University|
Professional practices: development news
This essay aims to define development news and the questions this kind of journalism faces. I will begin by explain the origins of the concept that can be traced to issues around the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). After, I will define de concept by contrasting it with mainstream news. These are the product of private and public service media around the world that postulate a dominant culture perspective and are produced within western codes and standards of journalism. Perspectives, news values, agenda setting, journalistic practices and ethics will be compared.
In the end, I will consider some of the development news problems, like the risk of falling into propaganda and the difficulty of survival in a market led environment.
Origins of the concept
The concept of development communication first arose in the American academic circles between 1945 and 1965 and is closely related with the modernization theory.
William Shramm was one of the defenders of this theory. The definition was created after WWII due to the division of the World in three: West, Eastern Europe and the rest (more recently the division between North and South has been preferred by some researchers). Shramm postulated that the poorer countries could be modernized through a transfer of knowledge from the West. This involved the transfer of Western created models and their adaptation to those countries, be it in social-economical areas or in the media, mainly through training, education and technology.
This model was later criticized for measuring modernization in terms of
the GNP and over-looking cultural, political and social dimensions of
communication, like the connection between media and elite, and so considering
the media as neutral forces of development (Servaes, 1996)
These questions were discussed in the UNESCO in what became known as the plea for a NWICO by the Southern countries first led by the Eastern block and later by the non-aligned countries. The debate was raised with a main concern: change the imbalances in the global news flow and bring Third World perspectives to world news.
With the withdrawal of the USA in 1984, and later of the UK, from the UNESCO motivated by the disagreement about NWICO (the two countries have the biggest shares of the global media market) the debate faded. However, the questions it gave rise to are still pertinent (more than ever, I would say). One of the legacies of NWICO was precisely the notion of development communication. (Nordenstreng, 1996 and Winseck, 1996)
Definition: a question of perspective
Development communication aims, if not to change, at least to make a dent in the reigning 'one-way flow information order' specially through altering one of it's basic characteristics: the creation of news with a single Western perspective.
Although the free flow of information is said by it's defenders to increase diversity, actually, through competition for audiences that are saleable to advertising agencies (the bread and butter of private media) the media end up singing in unison. The largest audience is the one that belongs to the dominant culture and that most media cultivate (except niche market media or alternative media) since it is the one that will bring them the highest rates and the biggest advertising profits.
This is specially true about the private media that will only survive
by satisfying the preferences of they consumers. So, far from encouraging
diversity of opinion, they present news within the pre existing frame
of their audiences values and beliefs (O'Neill, 199? p.342)
Mainstream media, specially the so called "international" news
agencies, cover events with a consumer type in mind: usually a Northern
inhabitant. As Aggarwala exemplifies, when there was a coup in Afghanistan
in 1978 Western correspondents asked if the new government was pro-Soviet
or pro-West not what was the impact of the change to the people of the
The mainstream perspective is often more than just that: it is a distortion of the truth. Reality is tamed to meet the needs of the organization, be it the referred audience rates/advertisement requirements or the routines of news production. (Helland, 1996, p.53 to 54).
A good illustration of that comes again from Helland: a news correspond
in the Middle East signed a piece on the demonstrations on Iraqi without
ever leaving Israel. The piece was constructed in between him and the
London office within the usual perspective. (p.53 to 56)
Development organizations have a different objective from mainstream news: not profit but development. Thus, their values and routines, like agenda setting, should not take them in the path of distortion. But the danger of distortion may come to this media in another form: government intervention and propaganda, as we will see later.
Spot news versus development news:
1) Agenda setting
Development journalism is more than just creating 'different perspective' news. It should deepen the news by finding their causes and underlying motives, which may require a thorough investigation. While main stream media seem to have an obsession with spot news, action news or hard news with a "coups and earthquakes syndrome" the development journalist should look behind the obvious, using an investigative explanation. (Thussu, 1996, p.78,81)
The development journalist is not merely interested in the event itself, but in the social-economic and political environment lying behind a situation or event.
During the out-brake of plague in India in 1994, international media filled the air, the screens and their pages with images of dying people and their murderers, the rats. The anachronism fitted one of their news values: it was unusual. But few news organizations went further than the show of a few dozen people (in a country of one billion) dying or the easy explanation of rats and lack of sanitation. Most failed to report that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had dictated in the previous years' structural adjustments that impoverished the India health system.(Thussu, p.80,81)
Therefore, development news has a different agenda from mainstream news: not short term fast happening events but trends and processes, social and economic changes that happen through years or decades not in a one hour infotainment show. That is why the out-put of development news agencies is so often investigative pieces or features, not hard news (e.g. Gemini news agency in Unit 38b)
The development journalist "should critically examine evaluate and report the relevance of a development project to national and local needs, the difference between the planned scheme and it's actual implementation, and the difference between it's impact on people as claimed by government officials and as it actually is." (Agarwalla quoted by Thussu, p.78)
In this perspective, the journalist should assume a pro-active role as an agent of social change in contrast with the mainstream journalist that usually only reacts to happenings: an accident, an election, a murder fast forgotten. (Dickinson, 1996)
2) News values
The agenda setting of the development journalist takes us directly to the question of news values. The Northern media are concerned with elite nations. Elections or major political changes in Southern countries will only be briefly covered. Ethnic or civil wars in Africa, like the recent case of Guinea-Bissau, the 17 year civil war in Mozambique and the still on going war in Angola, are only covered by international agencies if there is a group of Westerners living there or it affects some major Western corporation interests.
A natural disaster in the Third World as to be of big dimensions to get covered by Northern media, while these cover even traffic accidents in the North.
Elite persons also get coverage by Western media. Northern elite people, of course. Thus, personalization is another news value: actions are seen as resulting from individual people not from structures, processes and institutions, which are more difficult to investigate. 'Bad news is good news' is also a common belief of mainstream media. (Thussu, p.80)
These values, resulting from the above referred comodification of news tend to create simplified versions of complex realities that create stereotypes of the Third World and their people. But this clichés are even more detrimental for developing countries when their mainstream media, Westernized by media training and copying of the North media processes and standards, also copy the referred values. Through their mainstream national media or through international media Third World audiences get a 'clichetic' image of themselves instead of getting news about their social-economic interests and their culture and traditions.
Because of the one way flow and the lack of media products exchange between Southern countries, they also get a Northern image of them selves.
Even in countries where independent journalism has a tradition, developing issues may not get covered. Not because of western value importation, but because of the journalists lack of interest or lack of professional gratification in covering those issues.
In India, a country with the largest number of poor people in the world, issues of social-economic development may be ignored by the journalist that asks "what do I get from covering the poor?". The proximity to power and prominent people may seem much more attractive to journalists then the proximity to poor farmers (Thussu, p.81-82).
This question takes us directly into the topic of journalism practices and ethics.
Agarwalla says: "development news is not different from regular news or investigative reporting". He also stresses that development journalism is the use of journalistic skills to report the developing process in an interesting fashion" (Aggarwalla quoted by Thussu, p.78). Hence, the difference between developing journalists and mainstream ones resides in the news agenda not in the professional practices.
Which means the development journalist may be affected by the same factors as the mainstream journalist.
3) Professional practices
The mainstream journalists' power or control over their occupations (as, thus, their autonomy) is limited by external constraints as well as by internal ones (Dickinson, 1996, p.22).
Political and social lobbies may influence the journalist in such a way the final product may turn out to be propaganda. Commodification, resulting from the profitable nature of media (even public service tends to compete more and more for audiences and advertising), as well as the media owners interests, create internal constraints for the journalist. So do work routines, by taming the world of events and shaping reality according to pre-established rules. News follow "a day time cycle which relays heavily on a planning structure that creates routine agenda of predictable stories which provide the back bone of each day's production requirements" (Dickinson, p.30, 31).
Those routinized predictable news are important in the creation of a mainstream perspective, as referred before. Because of their different organizational objective - development, not commerce - development media operational procedures should not take them in the path of routinized predictable frames of production, or their goal of investigating alternative perspectives will be gone.
Thus, the development journalist must be a participant one. By conforming to routines the neutral reporter conforms to officially produced information, while the participant journalist uses is gathering skills to provide context and background and brings in is interpretation of the facts. The development journalist is of the second kind.
Being asked to conform to routine practices and to report according to the organization's perspective may create in the mainstream journalist an occupational conflict. His creativity, autonomy and his ethic values may be subjugated to a consumer product and to management goals. (Dickinson, p.31,32,33).
The development journalist may have similar dilemmas. Nevertheless, his problems will tend to result not so much from the consumer nature of the medium, but from the proximity of state officials or politicians to developing media.
Problems: propaganda and funding
The development medium has the same goals has the developing country government, even if of a private nature. If it is a public medium, the chances of state pressures will be even greater. The journalist will face the danger of transforming into a propaganda agent. A bigger danger in developing countries than in the West. Here, public service media have bye-laws that protect them (better or worst) from government intervention. In developing countries a series of conditions make the public media more vulnerable to state interference.
Most African countries are an example of this. There, political interference is common. The media, regardless of whether they are state owned, pro or anti government or independent, attract the attention of governments. In the book I Accuse the Press the Kenyan journalist Philip Ochieng tells how staff changes and agenda setting decisions in the independent media where made by the Kenyan government (Okigbo, 1996, p.186).
Many anti-colonial nationalist movements used the media as an instrument for de-colonization. Newspapers in Africa and radio in Algeria are good examples (Lewis, 1996, p.581, Unit 24).
This close relationship between political power and the media continued after independence. In many such countries the press was nationalized and journalists transformed into civil servants. However, even the private media are not immune to political interference that, in certain cases, is accepted by the managers, editors and journalists in exchange for social gratification. Being close to power gives you power.
In other cases political ideology is imposed through government blackmailing: funding, subsidies, training offered by the state to media that can barely survive without these.
A third case is that in which threats, violence and abuse of power are used, if not to convince independent media to be official institutions of power, at least to silence them. In many of the South American and Asian pseudo democracies newspapers still get closed by the police, journalists assassinated, editors threatened.
This thin line between propaganda and development journalism in the Third World was the main argument used by the USA and other Western powers against NWICO. The same countries that through defending freedom of the press based on the 'sacred' value of the free market allow for a global 'one way flow of information', against those that defend the role of the media in improving peoples lives and helping the development of countries.
What is the future of development news? With the NWICO debate dying, global liberalization of the media sector and tougher competition to survive, the panorama does not look brilliant. Several regional news agencies established in the 1970's with guidance of the UNESCO failed in developing a different news agenda or in affecting the news flow. Even the success cases face serious financial problems and need to be subsidized by non-governmental organizations (e.g. Interpress Service). This difficulties deviate this agencies to a mainstream agenda, a move that is not always the solution since that means competition with commercial international agencies like Reuters or AP.
Some small-scale media where more successful, like the Filipino Depth News, the Malaysian Third World Network or Gemini News Service, a London-based service with 100 correspondents around the world and 100 subscribers in 80 countries. These services usually have a small output and most of it is constituted by features, specially opinion articles. Access to the mainstream media in terms of selling their copy is a problem these organizations face because of lack of competitiveness in spot news and lack of credibility (Thussu, p.83 to 96).
Are development news media a remain from NWICO that is in extinction? Or are these, as the 'alternative media' they are destined to a brighter future with the help of new electronic media like the Internet? This could be the topic for a future essay.
Note: the author of this essay question should have considered the lack of reference materials in this module and in the set and reference books. Following the option's advice, I tried to compensate using module 4 information. In the library of my university and in the Internet I did not find any theoretical works on development journalism.
Media globalization, national identity and alternative media
This essay will begin by defining nation state, nation and national identity.
After, we will examine what is the role of the media in the formation
and maintenance of the nation state and national identity and whether
that role is preponderant.
Media Imperialism and globalization/localization
Media Imperialism, as Boyd Barret put it, is "the process whereby
the ownership, structure, distribution or content of the media in any
one country are singly or together subject to substantial external pressures
from the media interests of any other country, without proportionate reciprocation
of influence by the country so affected" (Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1996,
Alternative media eroding/building nations
Alternative media can be a reaction to globalization, in the sense of
international homogenization, or a reaction to intranational homogenization.
Voice of Free Algeria illustrates the second process: it contributed to
the formation of Algeria as a free nation and it had an important role
in the process of independence from France (Lewis, 1996, p.583-84)
Media in global context
Media history and social regulation
This essay aims to explain how new technologies influenced communication
industries focusing on the challenge they brought in terms of organization
and regulation of the media.
Challenges: the public sphere and public service; convergence and re-regulation.
In the 1980's two main dilemmas arose: the argument between the public
service media defenders and the free marketers (the first pending to the
social responsibility theory the second to the libertarian theory) and
the question of how to regulate media that tend to converge both technologically
and in terms of ownership.
But if de-regulation is still the order of the day, not only in the USA
or Britain but at least in most eastern and western Europe, re-regulation
may be the next trend.
While it may be easier to regulate the media in terms of ownership, use
of frequencies, copyright rules, trade restrictions or standards, the
fact they tend to be international operations creates difficulties in
terms of regulation of access, conduct and content. Regulations tend to
have a national span while most media nowadays are multinational in reach.
Thus UN failures in controlling internationally undesirable media practices
(e.g. cross-boarder radio transmissions inciting ethnic violence between
hutus and tootsies in Rwanda) (McQuail, 1995,p.406).
National cinema in India and China
This essay will look at the relationship between the state and the film
industry in China and India. These represent two of the oldest cultures
in the world and are the two biggest nations. Cinema was an important
instrument to create and maintain national identity in such vast and heterogeneous
Tradition, the West and self-censorship
These two countries with such different political and economical histories
developed two cinema industries, one communist, another capitalistic,
with very specific, strong, non-westernised characteristics that share
more than just that. The way national tradition and western imagery and
arts were used to create national identity is common to both. The practice
of self-censorship under authoritarian regimes (Indian 'socialistic' regime
is not far from that), also.