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The term “development journalism” is used to refer to two different types of journalism. The first is a new school of journalism that began to appear in the 1960s. The idea behind it is similar to investigative reporting, but it focuses on conditions in developing nations and ways to improve them. The other type of involves heavy influence from the government of the nation involved. While this sort can be a powerful tool for local education and empowerment, it can also be a means of suppressing information and restricting journalists.
The first type of development journalism attempts to document the conditions within a country so that the larger world can understand them. Journalists are encouraged to travel to remote areas, interact with the citizens of the country, and report back. It also looks at proposed government projects to improve conditions in the country, and analyzes whether or not they will be effective. Ultimately, the journalist may come up with proposed solutions and actions in the piece, suggesting ways in which they might be implemented. Often, this form of journalism encourages a cooperative effort between citizens of the nation and the outside world.
The second type can walk a thin line. On the one hand, government participation in mass media can help get important information spread throughout the nation. Governments can help to educate their citizens and enlist cooperation on major development projects. A government can also use the idea of “development” to restrict freedom of speech for journalists, however. Journalists are told not to report on certain issues because it will impact the “development” of the nation in question, and therefore citizens are not actually being given access to the whole picture.
As a tool for social justice, development journalism can be very valuable. By speaking for those who cannot, a journalist can inform the rest of the world about important issues within developing nations. Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of a country may also help identify ways in which the nation can be helped. This style of journalism is a tool for empowerment.
When journalism is used as a propaganda tool, however, it can become very dangerous. Many citizens are taught that the news is a reliable and useful source of information. For example, within a developing nation which has a corrupt government, journalistic exposes of the government are extremely important for reform. If journalists are not allowed to write about what is actually going on, the citizens are not well served. Several international press organizations release reviews every year which look at the freedom of press in individual nations in an attempt to bring freedom of the press to all countries for this very reason.