Efforts to reduce poverty in low-income countries will not succeed unless all policy actors pay more attention to the mass media.
In its latest report, Making poverty the story: time to involve the media in poverty reduction, Panos London shows how the media in low-income countries is too often overlooked as a serious player in the fight to reduce poverty.
'Policies on issues such as food security or access to public services are vital for poverty reduction, and the public needs to know how effective government policies and donor support are in making a positive contribution, particularly now achieving the Millennium Development Goals is in jeopardy.' says Jon Barnes, head of Panos London's globalisation programme and co-author of the report.
'It's time that those active in poverty reduction realise the media is a public good and in a prime position to monitor whether poverty reduction is taking place.'
The report assesses the media's potential to scrutinise the progress of plans to tackle poverty including Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). PRSPs were introduced by the World Bank and the IMF in 1999 as a condition for financial support and were supposed to take public views into account – and the views of poor people in particular. Eight years on, and many second- or third-generation poverty reduction strategies tend to focus more on economic growth and good governance.
'There is a danger that new poverty reduction initiatives will place less emphasis on the issues and policies of keenest concern for the poor,' says Jon Barnes. 'Giving poor people a voice through the media will keep up the pressure on governments and donors to design policies that reflect the priorities of those most in need.'
However, in many of the world's poorest countries, particularly in Africa, the media faces considerable challenges. The report highlights that while recent media liberalisation and increased media are to be welcomed, increased competition also means that public interest content can be sidelined as rival media outlets seek out bigger audiences.
Acting editor-in-chief of Kenya's Broadcasting Corporation George Gitau told Panos London's report writers. 'There are many television stations now – but who are they for? Public service television is vital. But we are asked: "If this programme is not going to make money, do we need it?"'
The report documents how many journalists in low-income countries are under-skilled, under-trained, poorly paid and precariously employed. It notes that while some governments have improved information-sharing and public communication, many journalists remain confronted by official secrecy, uncooperative politicians and red tape.
'We know that given the right conditions, the media is capable of promoting the public good,' says Jon Barnes. 'In Ghana, for example, community radio stations have made a unique contribution to poverty reduction by helping disadvantaged rural communities share information and take cooperative action.'
'However, like many around the world, these stations are under-resourced and face both financial and regulatory obstacles. Support for journalists to represent the interests of poor people is needed now as much as ever.'
Making poverty the story offers practical recommendations for policy-makers, civil society and media houses to ensure that the media is harnessed to support poverty reduction.
Notes to editors:
The report was funded by the Netherlands development agency, Cordaid, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Panos London is part of the worldwide Panos Network of independent institutes working to ensure information is used effectively to foster debate, pluralism and democracy.