The role of the media in poverty alleviation

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Matters of poverty do not sell newspapers. One criticism of the media, which has echoed since the 1970s, is that the press does not devote sufficient resources to covering poor people’s issues and circumstances.
In a market-responsive industry, those who can afford media consumption drive the content of that media to some degree, while the poor do not see the issues most critical to their lives reflected in much mainstream media coverage.
When properly engaged, the media can use feature stories to provide new angles and tell hard-hitting human stories. The press can integrate poverty reduction stories into the core areas of journalism, such as politics, business and economics, governance, corruption and crime.
This is to say that information must serve as a means to support our development agenda, which will encourage growth within our boundaries and facilitate the further insertion of our economy into the global economy. That is the role of the media in a developing state.
Media is an essential tool in the prevention of violent conflict, as it creates a platform for non-violent discussion and issue resolution. By giving individuals and groups a voice, the media alleviates the sense of isolation and hopelessness that often precedes violence.
The knowledge and experiences of people living in poverty are often undervalued and their perspectives on their needs and on solutions to their own problems are ignored. Poverty eradication entails fundamental reforms to promote broader political participation.
A free flow of information strengthens accountability and transparency and prevents corruption. It can serve to inform governments of issues simmering among populations in order to direct the State’s resources towards areas of potential dissatisfaction and unrest.
The lack of effective voice of the most disadvantaged groups perpetuates inefficient forms of governance and service-delivery that keep the poor in a subordinate position. The media, therefore, affords individuals and communities the possibility to become active in the development process, thereby increasing its long-term suitability and sustainability.
Poverty eradication entails fundamental reforms to promote broader political participation, to ensure accountability and transparency of government, and to create a strong role for community groups in policy-making. It also requires that poor people have access to relevant information to make their own informed decisions and realise their rights.
Lack of access to the means of communication undermines the capacity of the poor to participate in democratic processes. Developmental journalism, therefore, offers a chance to introduce salient issues within poor communities to the larger national and global community.

* A summary of remarks delivered at the 7th Annual Research Conference, organised by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia in Windhoek on September 18, 2015.

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