Media Development vs. Media for Development

Within the media development sector, many experts differentiate between “media development” vs. “media for development.” While media development seeks to develop the media sector in a country as an end in itself, media for development uses the media to convey specific messages on issues, such as health care, poverty reduction, good governance, and environmental protection.

Much of the money in media development today, in fact, goes not to building independent, professional media, but to paying for issue-specific programs. Officials at USAID estimate they spend four times more on communication for development than they do on developing independent media. Foundations also tend to target their grants toward specific issues, seeking to battle disease or environmental degradation by creating media programs or training journalists to report on these issues. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, gave out nearly $6.75 million in 2006 to bolster health reporting in developing countries. Given the shortage of funding in the field, many NGOs eagerly accept whatever resources are available, and attempt to build basic training into their programs.

The argument over the role of “communication for development” fuels passions on both sides. “It’s like giving a person a fish instead of teaching him to fish,” says Internews President David Hoffman. “Most of that money is wasted.” The debate is a “false and distracting dichotomy,” counters Warren Feek of the Communication Initiative Network, an online resource center for communications in development.

Others, however, warn that the field is skewed far too much toward communication for development; they argue, moreover, that investing first and firmly in independent media is the surest path to serious coverage of the very social issues that funders want addressed. “You need both,” says ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan. “But to have journalists report well on accountability and health and the environment, they first need to have good skills.” Others point to the fact that media for development programs do little to build a long-term base for independent media. “When you’re looking at it through the lens of a health program or an election program, you are forced to neglect the whole sustainability question,” says IREX’s Mark Whitehouse.

Relevant Reports

Empowering Independent Media: U.S. Efforts to Foster Free and Independent News Around the World

Independent Media's Vital Role in Development

Experimentation and Evolution in Private U.S. Funding of Media Development


Relevant Events

World Press Freedom Day 2007: The International Role of the Media in Exposing Corruption and Promoting Good Governance

Releasing Panos London’s report At the Heart of Change: The Role of Communication in Sustainable Development

U.S. Private and Non-U.S. Funding of Media Development

Independent Voices: Radio’s Role in Democracy and Development

Engaging Citizens in Peace: Media and Communication Development Strategies in Post-conflict and Fragile States

Green Journalism: Environmental Reporting in Developing Countries


Relevant Organizations

Communication Initiative