The conversation might go something like this:
“We need to be clear that media is important in its own right, it is intrinsic to democracy. It needs to be supported as such, without reference to development agendas. We are talking about media development, a media that is free and independent. We are not talking about media for development”.
“Yes, I agree. But aren’t you talking about a certain type of media – a media that serves the public good, which holds governments to account, which is plural and acts in the interest of all citizens. Aren’t you actually talking about media that serves a set of social objectives which development organisations share. You aren’t talking about a media that just serves a political or economic elite…..so in effect you are talking about media in the context of a certain kind of development outcome – something that could be called media for development”.
“No, absolutely not. We are not talking about media that persuades people to use condoms…..we are talking about freedom of the media allied with issues of freedom of information, access to information and an informed citizenry.”
“Hang on, I wasn’t talking about condoms – or persuasion for that matter. I was trying to say that nearly all media development organisations have a framework of values, an objective that goes beyond simply seeing lots of functioning and sustainable media. They want a certain kind of media. China has lots of very sustainable media but they aren’t serving a public function.”
“Oh please! Of course we’re talking about media that is free, and yes if you like, it is media that exists to underpin a plural functioning democracy. But that’s not the same as media that is used by development organisations to achieve specific development objectives”.
“Ok….perhaps we’re getting somewhere. Let’s agree that many development organisations try to use media to achieve their objectives. We can put into that category everything from advocacy to achieve the Millennium Development Goals through to social marketing campaigns to persuade mothers to get their children vaccinated. It is a legitimate, important but ultimately instrumentalist view of the media – the media used as an instrument in the service of a particular narrowly defined objective. Probably the development world sees the media mostly in this way and spends most of its money on media in this way. I think you want to call that media for development.”
“Yes, I think that’s probably right….you seem to be proving my point.”
“Not exactly – I also think you are caricaturing much current development thinking. Many development organisations also want to see a media that does all the things you think it should – holding governments to account, informing citizens of issues that shape their lives, enabling inclusive public debate that is civil rather than violent, that provides the checks and balances necessary for economic growth in poor countries. In fact, these are probably the dominant issues in development thinking just now. I am not entirely sure why support provided for such objectives is not media for development if it is being supported to achieve just a set of development objectives”.
“Because media development supports media in its own right, to enable media to be be itself”
“I think that’s simply not true…..I think you want to support media to achieve a public good objective, not to be itself and if that’s the case you need to be transparent about that. Most evidence that I see in the 21st Century suggest that media are operating in such tough competitive markets, they are increasingly focused on an urban consumer elite, and often coopted by the political, religious or other forces who can pay for them. I think media development proponents are seeking to confront those trends but if that is the case they are working to see a certain kind of media playing a certain kind of function in society. If that is the case, then acknowledge it and we can have a completely different, more interesting and perhaps more productive conversation.”
“Like one that has a great deal in common with mainstream development debates. Like let’s all agree that media does have an intrinsic value to democratic development and that this is different from an instrumentalist view of using media. – and that this intrinsic value does have direct relevance to development outcomes and that mainstream development organisations should be treating it as a much more serious priority than they do now.”
“That sounds like a lovefest, not a conversation. I think media should be supported even if it doesn’t achieve ‘development’ outcomes”.
“Fair enough….but why alienate and confuse most of the development community with a debate around the wrong issue and using the wrong language with this “media/development” and “media for development” schism – especially when there seems to be at least in part a set of shared objectives?”.
“Because the media does not exist to serve a set of development objectives and even if it has value to development objectives, there is an absolute necessity for it to define itself in its own way and on its own terms. I agree, though, that this media development and media for development debate might be obscuring some more constructive ways of approaching this. What’s a better way of approaching it”
“Hmmm….sounds like it might be useful to bring some more people into this conversation”.