How can communication support sustainable development? This article assesses different communication strategies in terms of short- and long-term development objectives. It outlines media performance indicators, and refers to recent events in Kenya to argue for a communication for development perspective that focuses on the self-development of local communities.
The importance of a free and balanced flow of information to an engaged civil society, through independent media and transparent government, has long been acknowledged. There have been two dominant paradigms informing the communication for development sector: modernisation and dependency. In recent years, a third paradigm has emerged: the multiplicity or participatory paradigm. This examines the processes of bottom-up change, focusing on the self-development of local communities. No countries or communities function completely autonomously, but nor are there any whose development is exclusively determined by external factors.
The media have shaped and will continue to shape Kenya’s democracy. Indicators developed for UNESCO help assess the media’s impact on democracy and governance. These cover issues such as regulation and control, plurality, transparency, and professional and infrastructural capacity. In the context of Kenya:
- In Kenya, journalists and broadcasters face immense commercial and political constraints. The poor remuneration, low status and inadequate personal safety of journalists are also hampering a free and plural media.
- Media monitoring by civil society and research organisations has helped discourage the broadcast of hate speech by media organisations. But this monitoring is currently haphazard.
- Kenya’s community media have emerged from crisis with great credit and could provide a model for the future.
- There is no independent public service broadcaster in Kenya. If there had been, the scale of the violence may have been less severe.
Communication plays a pivotal role in improving governance in developing countries: communication for development and social change should be recognised as a field in its own right. While good governance, transparency, accountability and development communication go hand-in-hand, there are challenges:
- Participation is about changing power relations. Communities consist of fluid interests and shifting relationships. Empowering one group may do the opposite to another. Meaningful participation requires organisation around common interests and engagement with power relations.
- Independent and pluralistic media should be reinforced to foster good governance and transparency. There is often a gap between what media report and the realities of a country. Press freedom is never guaranteed, even in a democracy.
- Communication for development initiatives require collaboration and adequate policies and resources. They should consider longer timescales and support community access to information.
- National governments should support the right to free expression and the emergence of free and pluralistic information systems.
- There is a need for effective links that give voices to the poorest. Local, national and regional communication for development processes should be fostered. New global partnerships are necessary between media, development agencies, universities and governments. Existing work should be co-ordinated and documented.
- The media policy and regulatory environment in Kenya will be the subject of considerable review and debate in the near future. This should be encouraged, and attention focused on a public interest approach to broadcasting and media.