Is media and communication relevant to wider development policy issues, particularly governance concerns? An extensive trawl of literature has been done on this. It led to the 7 C’s approach when applying ICT to address development questions as well as initiatives to nurture the sustainability of ICT-enabled communication and information systems. All initiatives have not failed to find decent evidence linking the media and communication to governance issues.
The ouster of Zidine al-Abidine in Tunisia and the fall of Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of misrule in Egypt support the relevance of media platforms to transform and define democratic space of nations, particularly developing ones. What is the capacity of the media, for instance the internet, in defining development concerns?
The social media can be a model. Behind the eye-catching power of the internet, one of the factors facilitating the witnessed political transformation of countries is online networking via such websites as Twitter, LinkIn, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Myspace, Ning, Digg, etc. While Egyptian and Tunisian authorities cracked down on dissent with the army and police, the online networking platforms gave citizens the unassailable media to express their opinion and hold virtual meetings. The opportunity provided a forum for dissenting voices and creative notes to challenge their recalcitrant rulers through civil unrests.
Anybody can claim the right to get on the online networking sites, the reason for their popularity. In the month of January, Facebook users reached a staggering 600 million worldwide. Despite debilitating regulatory hiccups in the Middle East , the users number 115 million, while the Asia-Pacific region recorded a figure of over 200 million. If more people in developing countries become users, how are autocratic regimes to pursue anti-democratic agenda devoid of vision ?
Social networking sites compete for attention, much like when the internet exploded onto the scene in developing nations in the mid-1990s. According to The Nielsen/Company Online Measurement for the fourth quarter of 2010, 74 percent of the world’s internet population visited a social networking/blogging site on the average of six hours monthly. If autocrats and other local strongmen think they can turn state media into an avenue for propaganda and lies, they will find the photographs of their actions – torture by their law enforcement agents and information about missing people – right there on the online sites. “The real threat to the regime is people will take pictures of the policemen beating their brothers and sisters, and the regime can’t respond well to Facebook images of the police shooting rubber bullets into a crowd,” said Phillip Howard, Director of the Project on Information Technology and political Islam at the University of Washington .
In other words, social media, according Kester Osahenye in Nigerian Guardian, is a powerful tool of mobilization that should not be a passive form of communication for governments but an interactive platform of communication to gauge public opinion, promote civility in politics, feel the pulse of the populace and resolve issues raised by the virtual community.
However, every media, both traditional and avant-garde, are relevant to development policy and governance concerns. Every one of them. Well, not badly run state media, but everything else, including radio and television. Forget the camouflage of control and focus: however much tools of communication and media are controlled, they have no choice than to participate in some form of governance concerns. If they operate below the expectation of people and claim quality and audience will not fall, they are doing so at their own risk. Not the people, nor the other users of these services. It will be taken out their hands because competition law will decide who becomes the winner or loser.
Needless to say, communication and media alone will not lead to development. Developing nations face other challenges – corruption, absence of institutional capacity, inadequate infrastructure and other problems. The media, especially the social online networking forums, can only be a tool to galvanise the collective will of the people through participatory communication processes transforming the fabrics of society.
To facilitate and consolidate these forum and others, the global community needs to drive development in emerging nations by supporting free, pluralistic and independent media environment and empowering citizens through embedding ICT needs within local language structure and ongoing social and political processes. Also, development partners and other stakeholders can assist by increasing connectivity in rural areas and embedding media within “communication for development”, “democratization” and other approaches.
A few minutes after Hosni Mubarak resigned, Wael Ghonim, the man who set up the Facebook that helped spark the Egyptian uprising, was interviewed on CNN. “We cried a lot,” he said. “Not because we are weak; we cried because we are human beings. Our tears were the bullets that killed 30 years of injustice.” Media and communication platforms are essential to governance concerns.