Do communication and media have a role in improving the lot of the world’s poor? Yes, and it is integral to building a social movement, argues Colin Sparks in ‘Globalization, Development and the Mass Media’ (www.sagepublications.com). On its own, however, the best communication cannot succeed in changing the situation, the author concedes; for, it is only when the poor are organised and confident can the problems be addressed.
“It is social action that gives people confidence and organisation. The media have a central role in the process because finding a public voice is one of the ways in which both confidence and organisation can be built.”
The author is of the view that, at least at the outset, the large-scale media may not play any central role in giving the poor a voice to articulate their grievances. He reasons that everywhere in the world, the main broadcasters and newspapers are deeply implicated in the existing power structure.
“While they may play some role in exposing this or that abuse of the system, they do not habitually lead campaigns for a fundamental transformation of the system. Occasionally, perhaps, the voices of the poor will be heard, but usually as individuals responding to agendas set elsewhere.”
The natural media, therefore, upon which activists will concentrate will be the small scale newspaper, the micro-local radio station, and perhaps the modest web presence, Sparks explains. “Everywhere in the world, these voices will not sound loudly against the din of the commercial media, but they will be able to articulate grievances and debate issues that find no reflection in the mainstream.”
When such movements reach a significant size, they begin to attract towards them all sorts of groups who are themselves often relatively privileged individuals, he continues. “Journalists working for the large-scale media are one such group. In periods of social crisis, at least some of these people are likely to break with the ties that bind them to the rich and powerful and to seek to find ways of assisting in social change.”