Development Communication in an Urban Setting

By Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.
CFA Consultant
(From the book Philippine Mass Media: A Book of Readings, edited by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., published by the Communication Foundation for Asia: Manila, 1986)

Development communication is mentioned so often in the media and in countless seminars that it seems that communicators understand what it means. We are exposed to the term so often that we get a feel of its meaning – at least, we feel that we know what we are talking about. In the process, the term acquires various shades of meaning; until finally, each user adds his or her contribution to the circle of confusion or communication.

For some people, development communication or devcom refers to the communication projects of the government. Devcom means developmental messages – family planning, nutrition, tree-planting, cooperatives, and so on. To others, devcom is what our media are not all about. That is a perceptive definition of what devcom is by what it is not.

Dr. Nora Quebral of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, in her article aptly titled “Development Communication,” defines the concept as “the art and science of human communication applied to the speedy transformation of a country and the mass of its people from poverty to a dynamic state of economic growth that makes possible greater social equality and the larger fulfillment of the human potential.” Dr. Quebral elucidates further that “It is basically an approach or a point of view that sizes up a problem in the light of people to be reached, and of overcoming and side-stepping the barriers in the way of reaching them.”

What comes across quite clearly in this definition is the goal-orientedness of development communication. As Dr. Juan Jamias, also a professor in communication at UP Los Baños, notes: Development communication is purposive – with development as the purpose, goal, or objective.

Dr. Gloria Feliciano, former head of the Institute of Mass Communication at UP Diliman, delineates the goals of development communication into several levels of development: “One of these is technological development, which has to do with the acquisition of new occupational skills in the farms and homes. Another is economic development, or the application of new agricultural practices to increase food production; it also includes provision for a nationwide program of agrarian reform and cooperatives development. A third is social and cultural development, which refers to the change from old values to new ones and, in general, change in modes of living which results in human well-being.”

From these preceding ideas, we can see the following elements of development communication: (1) It is an approach to human communication; (2) It is purposive – connoting planned, result-oriented communication; (3) The goal is development – technological, economic, social, and cultural.

Having defined development communication through the ideas of other people, I would like to underscore some personal observations: I like to think that development communication is not merely an impersonal art or science, or an approach that can be made-to-order to fit a particular communication program. To my mind, development communication is essentially an orientation – an orientation towards people. This demands much of the communicator, for an orientation implies a personal belief, a personal stand, a personal commitment.

Development communication started in the area of agriculture, chiefly at Los Baños. Up to this date, it focuses on the rural farm folks for its target audience – almost two-thirds of the population (4,434,000 rural families against 1,913,000 urban families). This does not mean that development communication is out of place in an urban setting. In fact, our situation compels us to support development communication in the modern areas.

Media Performance in Urban Areas

Before presenting my proposal for development communication in an urban setting, I would like to make some observations about the performance of media, particularly television, in urban areas.

It can be generalized that Philippine television is urban-oriented. Most, if not all, programs are designed for the urban viewers – ranging from noontime variety programs for the so-called bakya (low class), to society talk shows for the so-called klas (high class). In summary, most programs are geared towards the urban consumer.

Philippine television is entertainment-oriented – entertainment for the sake of entertainment. Various content analyses of television programming show this as fact. Since Philippine television is designed basically for the entertainment of urban viewers, it is not used as a tool for development, but as a tool for the status quo. This status quo is characterized by three factors – urban rich, urban poor, and the masses of rural people. And television does not participate in bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots. In fact, Philippine television, supported by commercial advertising, serves to widen this chasm which divides our society.

This is a situation that is difficult to undo. But change is never easy. Development communication provides a concept that can reorient our media.

The masses are the basic concern of development communication. Who are the masses? Of course, the greatest number of people – the urban poor and rural masses – 90% of the Filipino families who share 62.9% of the nation’s total family income. Philippine television, and other media as well, even as they are directed towards the urban viewers, should exist for the masses. As George Verghese, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism in 1975, says in his article “Media as Development”: “Although newspapers may not reach the distant and illiterate villager, the rural masses – like the urban poor – are their real constituents.” The statement applies to all media.

Surely, there are many problems in the urban areas which should concern media – responsible parenthood, health, nutrition, pollution, traffic, housing, etc. But more than all this, media in an urban setting should aim at the development of a collective consciousness of the masses, an awareness of the situation of the greater number of Filipinos, and ideally, a collective effort towards social equality. These are nice words. The big question is “How?”

I mentioned that development communication is essentially an orientation; this implies a personal belief, a personal stand, a personal commitment. This is the reason why development communication demands a lot from the communicator. Development communication is a personal involvement with the people. If a communicator believes in development communication, then he orients himself with this commitment. In short, he makes a stand for the people.

Let us look at television. Development communication should not be merely a program among many un-developmental programs. Unfortunately, this is what happens in our networks today. Development communication is paid lip service. Since there are public service programs on weekdays, the network is free to swing on Sundays.

The problem is that networks do not have a definite stand. If they stand for anything at all, it is for the entertainment business. However, if a network stands for development communication, then this orientation must permeate its entire programming. The choice of programs is guided by this orientation. Therefore, musical programs are conceived not merely to follow a trend, but to create a “tool” for a particular objective. A foreign movie is not imported for its commercial appeal only, but for the insight which it may impart to our people. A drama is not conceived for the star, but for the viewers.

Furthermore, development communication, to be effective, demands that the communicator establish common ground with the people. This is the most difficult part of it all. Our communicators, particularly broadcasters, have been so influenced by Western models that they appear and act like their Western counterparts. Let me explain my point through questions: Why does a Filipino newscaster appear in coat-and-tie? Why does an emcee for a musical program appear in tuxedo? Why do lady emcees appear in evening gowns? Why are programs for the bakya in Pilipino, and those for the so-called klas in English? There is only one answer to these questions: Our communicators refuse to establish common ground with the people. And they cannot, because of their Western orientation.

Neville Jayaweera, a Sri Lankan communicator, thinks “that the communicators of the Third World cannot establish this common ground… The communicator is of necessity on an inaccessibly different level of life style, education, and economics than his listeners… Lack of sensibility and perception are … the result of class isolation.” The sad fact is that those who once belonged to the lowly class, but have succeeded in climbing the social ladder through media, now wallow in a newfound life style.

Bucking the System

Another big factor that poses a problem to development communication is the system. Can development communication exist in a commercial system? To do this, a development communicator must solve two problems: (1) financing and (2) ratings.

Financing may be difficult, but it is not entirely impossible. In the United States, the Public Broadcasting Service, the American educational network, exists side by side with the three entrenched commercial networks. Foundations and other private groups (even commercial ones) support the PBS, with matching grants from the Federal government. In this country, with proper support and manpower, the Maharlika Broadcasting System is a potential network which can serve as an alternative to the commercial networks. Of course, a complete overhaul is necessary to realize this potential of the MBS.

Private financing organizations could be tapped. At present, a few radio stations are supported by religious groups. These stations survive without compromising with commerce (e.g. Far East Broadcasting Company).

One thing is definite: Development communication has to find sustenance from sources other than commercial advertising. The present commercial system has so developed a monstrosity – and with it a public taste for the inane – that it would be difficult to fight commercial media on their own ground.

Development communicators must contend with ratings. In the first place, development communication is result-oriented. To achieve its goal, a developmental program must first reach its audience. Therefore, a development communicator must be concerned with ratings too. He or she must find answers to questions like: How does one create a developmental drama that rates? A developmental musical show? A developmental game show? A developmental children’s show?

A few so-called developmental programs exist, but they are synonymous with boredom. Media people misread this failure of the communicator as the ineffectiveness of development communication. Development programs must compete for audience share. How this is done depends on the creativity and ingenuity of the communicator. A failure of the communicator does not mean a failure of the concept of development communication.

This whole idea of development communication in an urban setting may sound too idealistic. It is. But, to my mind, it is an ideal which is not impossible to achieve. As long as there are communicators who will stand for the people, there will be this chance for communication that is relevant, meaningful and developmental. Of course, the question is “Are there communicators who will stand for the people?”

2 Responses to "Development Communication in an Urban Setting"

  • capture the moments 04:14 PM 01/8/2017

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  • adona 07:37 AM 30/8/2014

    Hi, your discussion on “development communication in the urban setting’ and how it caters not to the real mass audience and purpose of devcom, should be an eye opener to network giants and even to government stations if they really want to help the millions of Filipinos drudging in poverty. As it is we, as a people, should also make a stand for our poor brothers and help them get out of their pitiful situation. We should make devcom really works for them.

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