July 2003

May 27 to 28, 2003: ICTs for development

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There is a huge scope to accord prime space to development issues and improve         the quality of coverage of development news in the mainstream print and         electronic media”.  This was the major consensus at the Second Regional Consultation on Cross Media Partnerships and Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) that opened on 27th May. The workshop was organised jointly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in partnership with the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi and the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB).

The first day of the consultation brought together a range of owners, editors and senior development journalists representing the language, mainstream and specialty media, chiefs of the corporate decision making divisions of large media houses and senior representatives from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) of the Government of India.

Opening the Consultation, the former Prime Minister of India, Mr. I K Gujral said that The Human Development Reports (HDRs) had impacted upon thinking and policies the world over as their philosophy was dynamic and people-centred rather than simply growth-led. Theemergence of new technologies also needed to be understood in the context of their relevance for human development. Lauding the expansion of the Indian language media in a big way over the years, Mr. Gujral said this had helped bring to the fore issues of poverty, gender equity and social transformation. Mr. Gujral cautioned that Government-owned media need not be commercially-driven as its central responsibility lay in promoting social change communication.

Speaking on the occasion, the I&B Secretary, Mr. Pawan Chopra said when Prasar Bharati was founded the idea was to have a media organisation that was free from not just political pressures but also immune to commercial pulls. He said that the Government in India had from the very early days made a conscious effort to be inclusive in its communication which is why the number of radio and television stations in the country had grown in a major way since independence. “The need now was to invest in capacity and competency-building for community-based communication”, the Secretary said. Citing examples of the Government’s efforts to enable affordable access to television to a majority of people in the country, Mr Chopra said the Government was working on free-to-air Direct to Homes (DTH) television which will enable receipt of multi-channel programmes for large sections of people.

The UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in India Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney, in her introductory remarks, said that while the share of Information Technology (IT) and IT-enabled services in the economy was beyond debate, yet the somewhat unglamorous information and communication technologies for development, especially the C between I and T gets crowded out of most policy and discussion fora. She also said that ICT is the key tool with much greater potential for rapid social change and human development

The Chief of Asia and Transition Economies Unit of UNDESA, Dr. Alexei Tikhomirov said ICTs had made a major impact on most aspects of our social lives, particularly in enhancing participation in decision-making leading to greater accountability.

Lamenting the trend towards shrinking space for development stories in the media, noted development journalist Darryl d’ Monte, Chairperson of the Forum of Environment Journalists, said even the regional media was following the profits-alone model of the national media. A fallacious premise was being made that development news does not sell and is not of much interest to the people. Citing a recent international environmental poll that confirmed that across the world people had shared concern related to health and environment, he asked why the media was not putting greater spotlight on issues of common concern.

Television journalist Vikram Chandra said the challenge was to strike the right balance between development news and other forms of news so as to allow for a large viewership. Noted journalist and editor of Saptahik Outlook, Alok Mehta said that one of the serious emerging concerns for the language media was that while in the past it derived inspiration from the mainstream media on editorial content and ideology, today it was taking cue from the profit-making plans and strategies of the big media, leading to commodification of the news. Noting that there was a growing demand for informed and analytical writing

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