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Other research product . 2020

Is Media Assistance Obsolete? A Practice-Based Perspective on the Potential for Digital Technologies to Achieve Media Development Goals in Sub-Saharan Africa

Higgins, Daire;
Open Access
Published: 01 Dec 2020
Publisher: Technological University Dublin
Country: Ireland

The area of media assistance is not a widely known part of the Development Aid sector, even though it has been in existence since after World War II and has grown significantly since then as part of the development agenda. Media Assistance has been included in the strategies of Western and non Western donors as part of their overseas Aid programmes in many regions, supporting journalism and media with the objectives of contributing to accountability, transparency, governance and ultimately, democracy. This thesis examines the impact on the Media Assistance sector of the arrival of digital technologies into the ‘information ecosystems’ in which it operates. Whereas historically in Media Assistance, broadcast media and the press have been the preferred (or available) media for achieving development objectives, digital technologies such as mobile phones and social media are radically altering the landscape of Media Assistance. In Africa, where mobile phones are heralded as a “gift to development”, donors have been exploring the potential of these tools to achieve their development objective. As a consequence, the area of ICTs for Development (ICT4D) has flourished. At a time when the narrative in the western media has been of an “Africa Rising” and of techno-determinism, this research asks whether these digital technologies are indeed being used to achieve Media Assistance objectives in practice. If they are being integrated into media development programmes – or even replacing media development programmes - to what level of success? To answer this question, the thesis focuses on two countries in East Africa – Kenya and Tanzania – and interviews 40 stakeholders working in media assistance in these countries. The research finds that in fact many projects continue to use traditional methods. This is due to issues such as the digital divide, technical literacy, and continuing preference for traditional media by wider populations in these countries. Furthermore, the study notes that the virtual public sphere facilitated by the internet is not accessible to all, nor is it an ideal public sphere. Finally, citizens of these countries, the research finds, do not necessarily use these technologies for participation or accountability ends. Thus, despite widespread diffusion of technologies such as mobile phones in both these countries, there is still an important role for traditional media development approaches to achieve donor objectives in the new information ecosystem.


Development Aid sector, Media Assistance, journalism, media, Digital Humanities

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