Essay on Institutionalised Communication & National Development Processes



Scholars have made some interesting efforts to fashion meaning­ful theories about the role of institutionalized communication in the national developmental process.

Most of these studies indicate relationships among such factors as economics, religion, press freedom, industrialization, etc. Several studies, for example, have found a high correlation between the measures of economic growth and measures of communications growth. Daniel Lerner noted high correlation among four factors: urbanization, literacy, media participation and political participation.

Deutsch pointed out a correlation between mass communication of a country and its national spirit and action. Such correlations abound; researchers are constantly finding additional ones. A conclusion emerges: Communication is necessary not only for all aspects of a person's development, but also for all aspects of a nation's develop­ment.

No wonder, most of the work done in this area has focused on the entire national organism-on the process of interaction-and, of course, on inter-relationships

Some researchers have studied the impact of mass media on a small social unit-for example, a village in India. The natural tempta­tion is to project these findings in a national context. Certainly such studies have their value, but it is doubtful that implications for more complex nation-states are meaningful or valid. One might rather logically study the impact of a message on one person and project it to a whole group of people.

McNelly's Four Positions:

John T. McNelly of the University of Wisconsin has written of the contemporary lack of any full-blown theories of the role of mass communication in the development of nations, but he postulates that at least there are four general positions or points of view-which have emerged relative to mass communication's development role.

(i) The Null Position:

This position holds that mass communication has little or no role in national develop­ment. Usually those taking this position place great emphasis on literacy and education, or on economics, and not on the mass media.

(ii) Enthusiastic Position:

This is usually the position held by UNESCO and academicians of one kind or another. Here the mass media have been assigned a decisive role in-not only national development-but in bringing about peace and stability. This is, of course, a tempting position for journalists, but many scholars think it dubious.

(iii) Cautious Position:

Supporting this position are a number of studies cautioning that mass communication is not omnipotent and that a multitude of social and cultural factors serve to mediate or even nullify the impact of the mass media.

The two-step flow hypothesis, proposed, by Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld, relates to this position; it maintains that information and ideas often flow from the mass media to opinion leaders and from them to the general public. Certainly this stress on the importance of opinion leaders in disseminating information would tend to re-emphasize the importance of the mass media's direct impact on the society and would stress a more complex inter-personal social network.

(iv) Pragmatic Position:

Persons accepting this position realize that they do not have adequate theory to predict the impact of information flow for all types of messages on different societies in all situations. McNelly suggests that we might adopt what he calls the pragmatic position: Here the researcher seeks empirical evidence on the effects of mass communication in a culture, society or nation. He does not try to set up a priori guide or theory; he simply checks out the consequences case by case as they occur.

Pragmatic position accommodates diverse kinds of data and hypotheses. It leaves open the possibility of no media impact, a limited impact or a heavy impact depending on the circumstances. If it were to be dignified as a theory, it might well be called a situational consequence theory of mass communication.

If we accept McNelly's pragmatic position as the most useful then in effect the admission is being made that each case must be looked at separately and the following question posed: What has been the observable impact of the mass media in this specific case? This position is quite satisfying to those who do not demand a predictive theory, but for those who want a more encompassing theoretical framework, it will seem nothing more than a continuation of piece-meal case studies that generally remain unrelated and virtually meaningless.

A Review of Basic Findings:

Let us leave the area of positions and theoretical problems and turn to a few of the principal conclusions and generalizations which have come from a rather sizable number of technical and observa­tional studies since the end of World War II. Most of these appear to be generally accepted by most students of communication and national development; so in some cases the following statement will not be attributed to any one person.

Mass Communication is necessary to a national consciousness, spirit, and concerted national action, (Karl Deutsch).

Social communication's structure is reflective of the structure and development of society (W. Schramm). Communication grows and changes with society because it is something society does; it is the way society lives And communication is a function of society or a tool of society with which society constantly fashions and repairs itself.

Communications media contributes to (a) people's potentia­lities, (b) dissatisfaction and a desire to change, (c) a heightened sense of collective power among the people, (d) either stabilizing or disrupting the society, and (e) either instilling in the people realistic goals or creating extravagant expectations. (It is well to remember that communication activities contribute to these results-but it should be noted that communication activities are not necessarily carried on through mass media. For example, in early stages of development we can find rather complex networks of informal and personal pre-mass media communication working well).

Mass media provide information to a nation's people and the more information people get, the more they are interested in political developments (Schramm).

Communication can (a) raise the goals of the society, (b) spread news of these goals, and (c) widen the acceptance of these goals.

Pye sees the communication process in nation-building as mainly serving an amplifying function, but also as linking the political process to the people, providing the essential bases for rationality in mass politics, and giving form and structure to the political process by reminding politicians that political acts have consequences and the populace of what the acts are and what the consequences might be.

This, of course, is an important function of communication in advanced or well-developed nations, as was exemplified in the United States by the great Watergate Story of 1973.

Schramm says communication must be used (a) to contribute to a feeling of nation-ness, (b) as a voice of national planning, (c) to help teach necessary skills (d) to extend the effective market, (e) to help people look to the future and (f) to prepare people to play their role as a nation among nations.

In transitional nations (most of the world's nations) the mass media develop almost simultaneously with the new awareness of the outside world and a new national self-consciousness.

New nations tend to have a one-party press and have media systems of a rather highly authoritarian nature.

Mass communication can be used either as a national stimulant or tranquilizer (As Schramm says, the mere presence of a communica­tion system does not necessarily contribute to national development; it depends on the use of, and content of the media). Programs and stories could he largely entertainment and fantasy, for example, and could actually divert attention away from national problems. This is exactly what Polynesian media appeared to be doing in the 70's, according to a study by Ralph Barney.

A rapidly developing mass media system-or a well-developed one, for that matter-does not necessarily contribute to a wider and more democratic political base. Schramm says: Efficient communi­cation works as well for the dictator as for the democrat-may be better, because the dictator is likely to have a monopoly on communi­cation; but communication development provides the conditions for wider democratic participation-if the political philosophy permits it.

More than two-thirds of the world's citizens reside in nations which are normally classified as emerging, underdeveloped, or modernizing.

The Press in Underdeveloped Nations:

The press in underdeveloped nations is almost exclusively the result of Western efforts and influence, says Herbert Passin; no precedent for journalists can be found in traditional (emerging) societies. Journalism develops almost simultaneously with national self-consciousness and growing awareness of the outside world.

Mass communication has brought to developing nations a revolution of rising expectations (in the 1950s) and since the 1960s a revolution of rising frustrations. People of backward nations suddenly sensed through the mass media that a better life was possible; there they realized, when they began trying to get this better life, that their attempts generally were thwarted, leading to increased frustration.

Mass communication has often been overemphasized in consi­dering impact on national development, according to Pye. It is apparent...........that some governments in new countries once placed excessive faith in the potentialities of modern means of mass communications.

Deeper analysis show that the press and radio can have a profound influence in changing the ways of people only if they are fully supported by the informal, social channels of communication which are intimately related to basic social processes. Rapid national development calls for the coordinated and reinforcing use of both the impersonal mass media and the more personal, face-to-face pattern of social communication.