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« on: March 14 2013 »

By Elias Banda, PSAf

The Southern Africa region is still riddled with extreme poverty, weak governance systems, a weak response to harmful climatic changes, inadequate provision of health services, including stable high HIV infection rates and rigid political frameworks not responsive to the needs of the citizens.

Although the region is abundantly endowed with different a vast array of natural resources, it is home to some of the world’s poorest people. As such, the demand and need for socio-economic development in this region is higher than anywhere in the world. The people of Southern Africa have always wanted development yesterday.

So then why have this much needed development been so elusive to the region? Is it because of poor work culture, the low levels of education or the propensity for corruption that makes the people of this region not develop?

Many reasons can be suggested for the region’s state of affairs but there is one unique thing that hampers the developmental efforts of the Southern African region, and that thing is lack of information.

Even in the study of a perfect economy in business economics, it is always assumed that there would be free flow of vital information among all players and that those that seek information can easily find it and those that have information have all means available for their freely sharing this information.

While there exists many forms of media or platforms for conveying this information from one player to another, it is noticeable that the traditional forms of media such as radio, television and newspapers form the largest and influential platform for information sharing and dissemination.

The traditional media is said to have three distinct roles that include an entertainment role, an educative role and an informative role. The last two roles refer to the media platform being a place where vital information for instruction and upliftment is found. It also refers to a platform where information that matters on any topic of local concern is found and which citizens can rely on as a source of developmental information.

The media that plays an educative role and an information role has been the desire of many communications for development (C4D) or communication for change (C4C) advocates and players. Even the region’s governments have tried to transform State broadcasters to play this leading role, as can be seen in the many media policy reforms that have sought to make these state broadcasters transformed from being propaganda tools for the party in government or a selected powerful group of individuals into National Broadcasters.
Community members demonstrating how they can use a mobile phone to gather and disseminate information

Community members demonstrating how they can use a mobile phone to gather and disseminate information

At Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), we have dedicated our efforts to finding these media platforms so that they could be supported in terms of providing the media house itself with the necessary skills and capacity to improve their content to fill it up with vital information on topical issues of local concern on health, agriculture, environment and climate change and good governance among other issues. PSAf has trained management in these media houses to appreciate community development and to strategically position their staff to extensively seek relevant information and knowledge for the development and empowerment of their communities. Editors and senior reporters have also been provided with media fellowships and exchange programmes enabling them to visit and interact with other media players doing well in this C4D or C4C areas.

Recently PSAf with the support of UNESCO brought together 20 senior reporters and station managers into Zambia’s capital Lusaka to appraise themselves with social media and other web 2.0 applications and how these could enhance their C4D roles in their communities. This social media and ICT training built the capacity of these media managers in utilising social media platfoms such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, blogging and podcasting to improve their radio stations’ content and programming and in the long run improve the interaction with the radio station’s listeners and the communities.

In terms of the individual reporters, PSAf builds the capacity of these media players to specialize in reporting on topics of local concern and to be experts in these. Reporters are encouraged to specialize in science reporting, in health reporting and in covering the environment, the extractive industry, matters of taxations and reporting on public accountability among others. Reporters are encouraged to conduct investigative reporting and delve into the root cause of poverty, hunger, electoral malpractice and to propose solutions that the general populace can then use as source for their well informed debates.

To the consumer of the media products, be they reader, listener or viewer, PSAf through the radio listening club (RLC) concepts, among others, has empowered these communities with tools to monitor, record and express their views and opinions on the contents and programmes being churned out of their media platform. Some communities have been equipped with radio sets and recorders for the purpose of producing their own content to take to the radio stations while others have be trained in the use of social media and ICTs and provided with digital cameras and data-enabled phones to capture events in their communities and send these pictures and recordings as feedback into their nearest media platform.

The end result of the PSAf intervention is a region’s media platform that is both rich in developmental information and content and is also accessible to its readers, viewers or listeners to freely participate and influence the development of media content, topics and programmes so the community can all join in the discussion and debates for a better region, country or community is realized.

To PSAf, the media is an untapped platform that can indirectly influence the pace and speed at which individuals and communities develop themselves.

PSAf believes that empowering communities to drive their own development agenda is more sustainable than externally driven interventions and what better way is there to do this than to support the development of a media platform (radio, TV or newspaper) in the country where citizens can turn to for information to educate themselves and equip themselves with information for development.

The author is the PSAf Regional Programme Manager for Media Development and ICTs. He can be contacted through email elias@panos.org.zm. This article was first published in the Zambia Daily Mail newspaper

source: www.panos.org.zm
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