THE CAPACITY TO RECEIVE INFORMATION, TO DEBATE, AND TO EXPRESS ONE’S OWN IDEAS AND NEEDS IS A RIGHT IN ITSELF AND AN ESSENTIAL PART OF PEOPLE’S ABILITY TO LIFT THEMSELVES OUT OF POVERTY AND PARTICIPATE IN THE LIFE OF THEIR SOCIETY.
Communication is part of the fabric of societies. By receiving, giving and discussing information and ideas we are able to make decisions and form opinions – parents decide if their child will go to school, an HIV positive person decides whether to declare his or her status, and individuals decide how to vote in an election.
Communication enables health services to ensure the supply of medicines in their clinics, farmers to find out the price of their crops, and diaspora communities to send remittances back home.
Communication underpins development.
The opportunities for communicating have increased enormously, especially over the past two decades. A technological revolution has brought us digital communication, satellites, the internet and mobile phones.
And many countries have become more democratic, allowing greater freedom of speech and a more varied and independent media.
So why should development agencies, donor organisations and civil society groups focus on communication? Because there are still many gaps:
Development planners often neglect communication, failing to appreciate how essential it is for sustainable development strategies; fragmented approaches to communication for development have led to confusion, poor decision-making and missed opportunities
- mass media (newspapers, radio and TV stations, and online news services) may have increased in number, but this is not always matched by the quality, variety, or relevance of their content
- poor people in rural areas of many developing countries still lack access to telephones, the internet and other forms of media, even if they could afford them
- the English language continues to dominate the internet, which is primarily geared towards people in rich countries – little content is produced by and for people in developing countries
- the potential of communication to be “bottom-up” - empowering poor and marginalised people to speak for themselves and participate in democratic processes, not just to receive information - has not been fully exploited
- development planners often neglect communication, failing to appreciate how essential it is for sustainable development strategies; fragmented approaches to communication for development have led to confusion, poor decision-making and missed opportunities
MINDING THE GAPS
Panos believes that a communication environment that promotes development is one that enables poor and marginalised people to make their voices heard, that helps people to participate in decision-making, and that encourages public debate – from the community level all the way to international policy.
We promote and support a broad and integrated view of communication. We have pioneered the use of oral testimony – training local people to conduct interviews that draw out direct personal experience and memory – as a way for ordinary men and women to articulate their perspectives on development and change.
|We have pioneered the use of oral testimony as a way for men and women to articulate their perspectives on development and change.|
Much of our work supports the media – especially radio, the medium that in many countries reaches poor people most easily - and analyses the role it can play in development.
As the Commission for Africa's 2005 report, Our Common Ground, noted: “The media is an educator and key information source that can help deliver the Millennium Development Goals, promote transparent governance and, through balanced reporting, help prevent conflicts. The wide benefits from plural media means it acts as a public good in development.”
We help radio stations produce programmes on issues of local public concern, and we enhance the skills of journalists to report on development issues. We also endeavour to strengthen the legal and regulatory environments which allow an independent and quality media to flourish – for instance by supporting local organisations to lobby against high taxes on small radio stations.
Making the internet and other telecommunications more accessible and affordable to poor and marginalised people, as well as to rural people, is key. At the national policy level we host debates between governments, private sector providers and researchers, for example on the pros and cons of allowing greater competition between internet service providers.
Finally, we have built up a solid reputation for our expertise and analysis on the role of communication in development. We collaborate with major international development agencies – such as the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, the UK’s Department for International Development and the UN Economic Commission for Africa – encouraging them to devote more efforts to communication.
By working in a variety of ways with a range of stakeholders we aim to strengthen the voices of poor and marginalised people and enable them to participate in development.