Many developing country governments have attempted to use mass media—which are often officially owned or controlled—to educate and inform their populations and in this way to promote economic and social development. Frequently the media have also been used for political purposes. In a large number of cases, these two roles have been intertwined, making it difficult to assess accurately the effectiveness of either. This article examines only the use of mass media for development through education and information campaigns; it does not look at the wider role mass media might have as instruments for such purposes as “nation-building.”
Most developing countries today have access to the tools of mass communication, but the reach of different media varies considerably with the level of development and size of individual countries. The use to which the different media are put also varies. All developing countries today have a radio broadcasting system in place; a majority also have television systems. Most countries have national or regional newspapers, although their reach is somewhat limited by the lack of newsprint, low literacy, and relatively high cost to readers. Films are widely available for entertainment but traditionally have been a somewhat limited medium for development purposes. They involve comparatively expensive and cumbersome production and distribution systems. The emergence of the relatively cheaper and more convenient videotape, however, has displaced film to some extent.
The potential audience for the mass media in the developing world is huge, predominantly rural, and ill educated. Over 3 billion of the global population of about 4.7 billion live in developing countries. More than 2 billion live in countries with GNP per capita, in 1980, of less than $410 per annum. On average, about four out of five inhabitants of the low-income economies live in the countryside. The average level of adult literacy in developing countries, including China and India, is only 56 percent, and this level falls to 40 percent when these two countries are excluded.
As already indicated, the developmental role of the mass media may be divided into two parts: formal education, by which is meant vocational training as well as classroom instruction; and informal or general information that serves to keep people aware of developments that may not directly affect their immediate activity but that is designed to add to their stock of knowledge and help improve their lives.