Since the Second World War, Free media as been an essential element for development and democracy to take root (Schramm, 1948). The media also possess immense potential of transforming a number of important areas. These include; women empowerment, education, and government accountability. This is as per the report by Center for international Media Assistance (CIMA, 2009). The report, entitled Empowering Independent Media, is the first report on the assistance which United States offers to the media in developing countries (CIMA, 2009).
Thus, because many foundations and governments have been increasingly embracing the important role of democratization in development, they have started directing more help into independent press in their endeavors to ensure accountability of the governments, strengthen the civil society and also foster free and fair elections (CIMA, 2009). This is because the media practitioners in any country are an important pillar among the other stakeholders in the provision of checks and balances. In addition, when the fourth estate gives coverage of various industries in countries where it is found, the international business partners and investors are able to focus upon the available investment opportunities. Afterwards, they can decide which societal advancement they can direct their surplus capital leading to (Islam, 2002).
In recent years, independent radio stations have played an important role in raising awareness among the populace where they operate (Inglis, 2004). For instance, when most African countries started embracing multiparty politics in the early 90s, radio stations played an important role in enlightening both the elite and the largely rule illiterate citizens on policies of various contenders (Balkin, 1999). This aided them in making informed choices, meaning higher chance of issues minded leaders taking public office.
Many donors such as the rich governments and foundations have in the last two decades channeled significant financial help to these stations to help them play their important role in the society (Jenkins, 2003). Therefore, these stations give voice to the marginalized groups due to their reach and the fact that many of them broadcast in languages, which majority of its audience understand; including the vernacular (Cole, 1996). The internet has also been used to enlighten people on what is going on in their societies by use of many social sites (Schuler & Day, 2004)
According to the United Nations, the poor developing nations might find it a daunting task to foster industrial development and structural changes under the current conditions without the inclusion of the media. This is when compared to the earlier generations of countries which managed to haul themselves from poverty or the so called Asian Tigers (Sparks, 2007). However, freedom of the media can be used to showcase the opportunities in a given country’s industry while at the same time ensuring that there are checks and balances on the government of the day. This will be aimed at ensuring transparency in expending financial resources and exposure of corruption (Jika and Ali, 2002).
In all nations across the globe, media practitioners ideally perform a number of roles which aid economic growth especially when all stakeholders such as leadership and corporate players are involved. The media sector provides genuine information and news to its audience, sparks discussion and public debate on a broad number of issues, and once in a while they set the agenda for debate (Olowu, Williams, & Soremekun, 1999). Further, it holds very powerful state and non state institutions accountable in its role as a watchdog for public interest. This role is still prevalent in developed countries such as UK where policy failure leads to media and public onslaught on the government (Dean, 2001).
Many donor organizations which engage in support for good governance largely embrace the necessity of strengthening independent media (UKaid, 2011). By liaising with the other stakeholders and using development communication, messages are crafted keenly in order to convince, persuade, and encourage the target or receiver audience have a positive attitude, and hence participate in actualization of the set development goals or plans (Espejo, 2010).
During certain instances, the information sent through these messages aims at making the targeted audience to have a positive attitudinal shift, and hence lean towards a specific development purpose (Napoli, 1996). This clearly shows the importance of the media working in tandem with the other main stakeholders to ensure that development efforts are given the attention they deserve (Hedebro, 1982). This is to mean that the attention given to various issues in the press affects the level of importance which is assigned to these issues by the mass media audience (Nwabueze, 2005). For instance, when media focus on beautiful curios being made by women in India or Kenya, and how these curios are helping these poor women to feed their families, the audience’s conscience is piqued leading to better sales for such an economic sector (Wilkins & Christians, 2009).
On the other hand, the moment media highlights good governance practices by a given government, donor partners and the other countries take note (Pastina, 2005). Thus, when both the industry and governance are in a close working relationship with the media, what happens is that because the media as up to date information about the two, it can play its role of informing the public and other interested parties on their development status.
Although the media may not change one’s opinion on a particular issue, it can change the perception of these people on what is good or the right course (Hemer, Tufte, & Eriksen, 2005). Hence, as pertains to developing societies, the media plays a role of informing, entertaining and educating which culminates in the societal advancement. We can therefore say that through educating, informing, and entertaining, the media makes the society its populace in leadership and industries on which it relies to begins some processes geared towards societal development and advancement (Kaul, 2008).
We also find the attached to these three primary functions of the fourth estate important function of persuasion. Here, the media are looked at as highly virile tools, which can be used to persuade and influence the actions of the targeted audience towards a specific direction (Morrow & Schramm, 1965). This is only possible when media is working closely with industries in the society and those holding leadership positions (Corruption and good governance: a media profile, 2000).
Unfortunately, many people in developing societies do not have access to timely, reliable and useful information, which can aid them in making informed choices and decisions. This is in most cases in societies where media censorship by the governments is prevalent (Matsheza & Kututwa, 2005). To solve this problem, there is a need for the industries in these societies to support the independent media outlets, through advertisement of their projects and brands. This can in turn aid the media in getting revenues to fund its activities and continue playing its important role in societal development.
On the other hand, the industries gain from publicity of their brands, although sometimes recession hits everyone making it hard for companies to offer enough advertisements (Picard, 2001). Ultimately, the state coffers are buoyed through taxation of corporate players. The society is more equipped on the choices they make and the books of account for these companies are boasted. The mass media also aids the governance of these developing societies to easily educate its populace on its policies and intended goals (Lent, 1980). This shows that, in the developing societies, media acts as a main uniting factor for the main societal pillars. An example of how empowered media can help societies grow is found in UK’s grant to BBC’s Media Action (the charity arm of BBC). This five year grant was used in equipping media houses in 14 developing countries with the capability to raise awareness on democratic governance and encourage accountability among the political office holders (Locksley, 2009). The other goals entailed improvement of resilience of communities to various humanitarian crises, strengthened evidence base on the role of communication and better healthcare for poor communities (UKaid, 2011). This grant and the programs it supported such as phones in debates on radio and TV are thought to have helped reduce the possibility of conflict in 11 countries. These countries included Kenya, Angola, Myanmar and Nepal (Conference on Media Development in Myanmar, 2012).
The media also ought to work hand in hand with all the major stakeholders from politicians, clergy, and captains of the industries, youth groups, civil society, women organizations, and other development partners of the societies where they operate. This can play an important role in ensuring peaceful coexistence for people from different walks of life and societal progress (Teheranian et al, 1977). This is by discouraging negative issues such as dictatorships, ethnicity, and corruption among government officials (Adedeji, 1999).
Therefore, in diverse and plural societies like most developing societies, information order, which is founded upon good relationship between the media and the state/society, between the elected leadership and the common citizens, and between the urbanized elite and the rural populations who may be poor and illiterate is necessary (Martin & Chaudhary, 1983). The industries on which these societies are based can then chip in through their corporate social responsibility programs and advertisements through the media to get more customers for their products, and also sustain media houses (Capriotti, 2009). As we advance more towards digital world, media are going to play an even bigger role in developing third world societies (Thomas & Carpenter, 2001).