I like busting myths when I see them. That’s probably the result of my training as a journalist to be evidence-based, open-minded and always ask probing questions.
This makes me popular in some circles and very unwelcome in others!
I took a few shots at persistent development myths while speaking last week to a group of Asian broadcasters gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a workshop on ‘Connecting Communities through Community Broadcasting and ICTs’ in the run-up to Asia Media Summit 2007.
I was speaking during a session on ‘ICTs – Bringing Added Value to Community Radio’. ICT stands for information and communication technologies.
The first myth I exposed was what I call the development community’s ‘rural romance’ — almost exclusive obsession with the rural poor to the exclusion of similar, or even more compelling, needs of the urban poor. I have already devoted an entire blog post to this topic, so won’t repeat it here.
The next myth I tackled was the popular notion of ‘communities’.
I told my audience of researchers, activists and broadcasters: Communities are not just rural and unspoilt as some of you might imagine.
Here’s the relevant excerpt from my remarks:
What does ‘community’ meant to many card-carrying members of the development community? For starters:
• To begin with, people must be remote and rural, and in a geographically confined location.
• They are invariably poor, under-developed and living on the edges of survival.
• If they also have unique cultural artefacts or performances, that would offer convenient photographic or videographic opportunities to the development workers travelling from the city bearing gifts.
You get the idea. Now I ask you to get real.
Yes, such idyllic, hapless and romanticised communities probably exist in some endangered form in a few locations. But in most parts of the Real World (at least in Asia), communities -– both urban and rural -– are undergoing rapid transformation:
• People are on the move in search of jobs and opportunities.
• Technologies are on the move — especially mobile phones that no development agency put their money on!
• People are discerning and demanding, not blissfully ignorant or willing to settle for any offering from the outside!
These may seriously shatter some of your visions of an idyllic and ideal community, but these are essentially positive changes.
And communities no longer need to be defined merely by geographic proximity.
Newer ICTs now allow individuals scattered over larger areas to be connected via the airwaves or the web. This enables the creation and sustaining of:
• communities of practice;
• communities of shared interest/need;
• single issue agitation such as rallying around for constitutional reform, or repeal of an unfriendly law; and
• clamouring for political or democratic reforms.
So please move away from your narrow understanding of communities. Members of any of the above kinds of communities can benefit from community broadcasting.
I added that broadcasting itself isn’t what it used to be. The days of centrally manufactured content being imposed upon a hapless audience are now over.
Interactivity and user-generated content are IN.
Pompous, know-all anchors and presenters are OUT.
My plea to all my colleagues was: Things have moved on in the media world. So must we!
Read full text of my remarks to the workshop (cleaned up after delivery)