Media, communication and the future of development
Director of Policy and Research
Our director of policy and learning welcomes you to a new resource on why and how media and communication matters in international development.
To someone with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
It is the criticism levelled at many areas of international development.
To an economist, sort out economic policy and prosperity will follow. To a civil society activist, sort out access to rights and justice, then fairness will follow. To a governance specialist, sort out the effectiveness of government institutions, and good governance will follow.
And to someone working in media and communication, sort out the reliability of information available to people on the issues that concern them and the freedom people have to debate and voice their views, then development might thrive in an informed society where people can act to advance their interests, their wellbeing and their societies.
BBC Media Action’s hammer is media and communication – but we accept that not all development challenges that exist can be fixed by our particular type of nail. A radio programme will not build a hydro-electric dam, the mobile phone will not meet a shortage of trained doctors or teachers, the television will not miraculously conjure economic growth from a resource-poor country.
But while media and communication interventions won’t develop a new vaccine, they might make sure people demand it when it is available; while they won’t determine the most effective development policy for a post-conflict state, they might help people make an informed choice when they vote on whether that policy is right for them; while they won’t build a school or hospital, they might help people find out if and why the money designated for it goes missing.
Welcome to BBC Media Action Insight, a new BBC Media Action blog that seeks to illuminate the challenges that media and communication can help tackle within the sphere of international development. The blog is part of a new expanded area of the BBC Media Action website, Research and Insight, where we will be showcasing data, evidence, analysis and commentary on the role of media and communication in development.
Our hope is to engage especially those of you working on issues of international development, including those who might be more interested in development than you are in media. We hope this includes researchers and academics, policy makers and decision-makers, policy actors and development practitioners, donors and NGOs and, of course, media and communication organisations.
Yes, we will talk on this space a bit about media and communication – digital and analogue, radio and mobile, television and internet. But our main aim is to share insights about the role of media and communication within the three themes on which our organisation works: governance and rights, health, and resilience and humanitarian response.
Within the realm of governance and rights, that means issues of politics and participation, loyalty and identity, society and state, nation and community, democracy and accountability, governance and conflict. In the health sphere, we hope to spark policy and research conversations on using communication to reduce maternal and infant mortality, reduce the transmission of malaria and HIV and increase the demands for vital services, such as vaccines. In our third theme of humanitarian and resilience, it will be about the critical role of information in responding to earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and famines, and how media and communication can help those most vulnerable to adapt to sudden events - such as cyclones or earthquakes - and long-term strains - such as changes in the climate or economic crises.
So why this site and why now? Part of the answer to that question is that BBC Media Action has a good deal of data, analysis and experience in these areas that we need to get better at publishing and sharing. We hope to do that here.
But there is a more fundamental reason. We believe that the role of media and communication in shaping development outcomes is becoming increasingly recognised in everything from the aftermath of the Arab Uprisings, to the agreement at the UN of a post-2015 sustainable development dedicated to improving peace, justice and strong institutions (including ensuring “public access to information”) to the growing emphasis on using communication to improve public health and beyond.
We hope that the content posted here and the research, policy and practitioner conversations they spark will be as much about people as they are about technology, as much as about society as they are about state or government and as much about evidence and learning around what is working as they are about highlighting the latest tech breakthrough or development start up.
Above all, we hope that those in the international development community will use the insight from this new area of our website to develop a stronger understanding and – ultimately – a stronger interest in the role of media and communication.
Finally, this blog and new area of our website are focused on the role of media and communication in the countries in which BBC Media Action, as an international development charity mostly works: in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. It is not our purpose to focus on the role of media in the UK and much of the blog’s content will originate the experience of our staff around the world. However BBC Media Action Insight is launched in a week where our own country is gripped by considerable turmoil. One of our first blogs reflects on what we can learn from that experience.
James Deane is Director of Policy and Learning at BBC Media Action.