This report argues that all policy actors need to recognise and support the mass media’s potentially crucial contribution to poverty reduction. In particular, high-quality public service and public interest journalism should be supported as public goods in their own right. It is crucial to promote media development in order to realise the media’s scrutiny role. While specific initiatives to tackle problems and seize opportunities are valuable, a structural approach is called for, including support for comprehensive public policies on the media.
Poverty reduction has risen up the political agenda, making it more newsworthy for journalists and providing significant opportunities for those wishing to engage the media. Policy change has often stemmed from shifts in public and political opinion, and the media’s reach makes it valuable in raising public awareness and increasing debate. The media’s potential roles include:
- informing a wide range of audiences on poverty reduction issues
- providing an open forum to reflect different public views, including those of poor people
- scrutinising and holding actors to account.
Key challenges and constraints facing the media in low-income countries are commercial and political pressures and resource limitations. Heightened competition resulting from media liberalisation threatens the diversity of coverage and the quality of content. The increased number of media players standardise outputs in pursuit of conventional, better-off audiences, and poverty reduction may not be seen as an ‘attractive’ subject. Further, journalists are often under-skilled, under-trained, poorly paid and precariously employed. They may not have the time, skills or resources to research poverty reduction sources, and tend to rely on (limited) official sources of information.
A key opportunity is greater interaction between civil society and the media. Civil society must develop a stronger understanding of journalists’ constraints and of how to meet their professional needs. The media could improve its coverage of poverty reduction by drawing on civil society’s sources, insights and contacts. Media coverage of poverty reduction issues could also be improved by:
- Engaging and exploring the views of editors in discussions of how to strengthen the level and quality of poverty reduction coverage
- Pitching poverty reduction stories, such as features involving new angles and hard-hitting human stories, or discussion of the pros and cons of contentious decisions such as state reform or privatisation
- Mainstreaming poverty reduction in coverage of core issues of interest to the media such as politics, business and economics, governance, corruption and crime
- Amplifying poor people’s voices by combining alternative media such as community radio, oral testimonies and community theatre with the involvement of the mass media.
An integrated and strutural approach to media support is needed that recognises the value of the mainstream media’s public service and public interest roles and the contribution of alternative media. In terms of the roles of the various stakeholders:
- Civil society and the media should strive to overcome misunderstandings in order to exploit the mutual benefits of stronger interaction.
- Governments in low-income countries should see the public service and public interest roles of the media as a vital requirement of stronger national decision-making. They should incentivise journalists to perform these roles by providing supportive institutions, policies and legislation.
- Donors should support relevant actors and partners to develop and promote effective national media policies and media support strategies.
- Media leaders and support organisations should help journalists to develop their knowledge, skills and contacts.