No wonder some policy makers are confused. Is this field of work media development, development communication, media and/for development, change communication or any other of the myriad of terms to describe media and communication processes?
Let me focus on what I believe is the false and distracting dichotomy between the two major terms - media development and communication for development. Some brief overall observations follow but let me begin with a practical example from history of why I believe that this is a false and distracting dichotomy.
There is little doubt that communication and media relationships and processes were vital in the civil rights struggle in the USA. This is all documented in Roberts and Klibanoff's excellent Pulitzer Prize winning book "The Race Beat". An important story in that book is the Ford Foundation's role in identifying and supporting young black journalists to tell the civil rights discrimination and action story from within black communities.
Is this initiative "media development"? After all, it is building journalist capacity amongst a community with few journalists at that time.
Is it "media for development"? These journalists are not neutral in this struggle - they are seeking a particular voice and will [and did] reflect that voice and message as priority parts of their reporting? Is it "independent media development"? It strengthened so-called Black Media institutions, but it was funded by a development agency with an overt agenda and set of priorities.
Is it "communication for development"? In common with all media [from Fox News to Al Jazeera] there is a bi-directional umbilical cord relationship between media processes and public knowledge, debate, voice, and opinion...which also affects the nature of media coverage – which flips back to affect media coverage and so on. This was of course the dynamic in the civil rights movement - the inextricable link between media, public, and policy communication processes.
Maybe this makes this Ford-supported work "communication for development" but not "media development" because it is not objective/independent but is instead goal/objective driven?
Or maybe it makes this vitally important initiative "freedom of expression" but not "message" based? But hold on - it had both elements. But it was media - right? Because these were journalists and media institutions? Sure - but it is their place in the public communication processes, of which media were one part, that really mattered - right? And without that relationship to the on-the-ground community action and voice, was there a media process? But they were not objective - so should we call them journalists? Maybe Ford was irresponsible and should have called them - what? - the Black community voice representatives? If any of these Ford-supported journalists are alive now, should we disbar them from the journalist's union for failing the independence test?
Confused? Me too! Of course the appropriate answer to all of these questions is "who cares?" Why do we want to create these little sub-categories with all of these small, opaque, confusing, and inconsistent distinctions? And this does not just relate to the civil rights movement. Here are a few contemporary questions for your consideration:
If your organisation received USA Government funding, based on pursuing State Department foreign policy objectives, for media development in East and Central Europe, can you claim to be an advocate, supporter, and exemplifier of independent media?
If your organisation trains journalists in ways to cover HIV/AIDS issues, based on funding related to the development goal of reducing the incidence and impact of HIV/AIDS, can you claim to be supporting media capacity building or HIV/AIDS action or both?
If you are organising a conference on independent media and independent journalism, and that event is sponsored and funded by an agency that needs to invest its resources into pursuing specific development goals - for example, a UN agency that sees everything through the lens of the Millennium Development Goals - is the event really supporting independent media?
Is independence and objectivity - the absence of a perspective, view, identity, or opinion by the journalist or media agency - a core and non-negotiable element for what it takes to be called a journalist or media organisation? Would anyone dare to say that legendary media figures such as James Cameron and John Pilger are not journalists! Anyone who lives in the UK knows the political instincts of their friends by the broadsheet they buy [maybe some of them are not broadsheets anymore]. And do not get me started on Fox News and Talk Radio! If you are in Colombia and part of Medios para la Paz [Journalists for Peace] are you automatically disqualifying yourself from being a journalist because you have broken through the 'independence' and 'objective' thresholds?
Is supporting the growth of talk radio [for example, in East Africa] media development or communication for development? If you are advocating media legislation changes that require social norm changes relative to the percived relationship bewteen media and political processes - then are you supporting independent media development or seeking a specific social and behaviural change? Both? Intextricably linked?
There are a bunch more questions. Most of the answers are probably 'does it matter?' There are much bigger and more vital issues. As a communication and media development field, we need to get away from a focus on these little ornaments and onto the big picture.
Whether you are a journalist or media organisation discovering and reporting the range of perspectives and voices on a story - an essential component of all quality media work - or you are a community organiser seeking to ensure that the voices, perspectives, and ideas of the people most-affected by HIV/AIDS are more to the fore in policy debates on addressing this extremely complex, difficult, and sensitive issue, we have more in common than what divides us.
Let's look at those common principles:
First, all in the communication and media development field and community are about improving an aspect of the human condition, whether those improvements relate to increasing freedom of expression and protecting the rights of journalists in order that we have genuinely free and democratic societies or to supporting extensive public debate and action for more effective approaches on issues including HIV/AIDS, environmental protection, gender equity, greater citizen involvement in political processes, and a myriad of other factors.
Second, at the heart of all the action by anyone in this dynamic and vibrant communication and media development community and field of work is the intersection of a communication process and a media form. One cannot exist without the other - knowledge through radio; policy debate through print media; freedom of expression through the legal protection of news media; information through TV; HIV/AIDS awareness through press coverage; greater political engagement by citizens through local drama promotions and variations on traditional stories; I could go on and on!
Third, all of us in this field do have some common core factors that strongly unite us. In very brief summary form, these are: Voice; Knowledge; Debate; Policy and Legislation; Social Norms, Behaviours and Attitudes; Evidence; and Research. I could take the whole paper to explain these; they are crucial to the argument about this being a common field.
The final part of the argument for not dividing the communication and media development community into small pieces with really fuzzy and confusing boundaries between those pieces is much more strategic and practical. Whether you are part of a journalism or independent media support process or someone in an agency seeking to address the social norms that constrain and oppress women on HIV/AIDS issues or promote citizen involvement in election processes, you have common complaints: we do not get enough funding; our policy ideas and perspectives are not central to policy debate and development; we are treated as second class citizens by economists, epidemiologists, and physical scientists - essentially, 'hey - what about us?'
If we want to move ahead as a field we need weight, and size is a really important component for weight. This is a very extensive field - by way of example over 70,000 people have joined the CI network across all elements of this community. This is not a call to halt the debates and discussions within our community - those are vital for any field and community of work. But we have strong commonalities and really strong points of common interest. Based on those strong commonalities, let's do this together as a substantive, vital, and dynamic community and field of work.
And lets call that field Communication and Media for Development!
Warren Feek is Executive Director of The Communication Initiative - these are his personal views