LEARNING MODULE 3: Journalism for Development


By Pirita Juppi

This learning module deals with the fundamental yet problematic concepts of development and development journalism (or development communication, more generally speaking). Both of these concepts have been understood in different ways in different times and societies and by different academics and practitioners.

One can even say that during the past five decades, there have been and still co-exist different paradigms of development and development communicaton. “Paradigm” refers to a rather normative conception and thought pattern of a certain field or phenomena under scrutiny, shared by a group of scholars. If a paradigm gains a dominant position, it is also likely to affect thought of politicians, journalists and other professionals, as well as the common people.


In the most simplified attempt to define it, development could be understood as a desirable societal change, as progress of a given society. Yet, the issue of development is far from simple, as different people might have very different ideas of what is “progress” and what qualifies as a ”desirable” change. What makes it even more complex is that development as a concept refers both to a means (development as a process) and an end (development as a goal or a set of goals). Because of the problematic nature and historical burden of the concept development, some scholars prefer using the more neutral concept of “social change” or "social transformation". Yet, as it is not likely that an established concept with a long history could be suddenly thrown off, it makes sense to analyse different conceptions of development, and to be aware of what we mean by development when we use the concept ourselves.

I Economic development

At the earliest phase, development was understood primarily as economic growth, which was seen as synonymic with development or as at least as a necessary condition of it. This concept of development has been refered to a "modernization paradigm", as it associated development with the western development model, characterized by industrialization and urbanization. Early proponents of economic development believed that as a nation’s economy grows, the benefits of growth will “trickle down” to the "masses".

Economic development approach uses statistics such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and er capita income as the measure of a society’s progress. This approach has been criticized of being too narrow. Today it is widely recognized that economic growth alone is not enough, but there is a need for active national and international policies to guarantee more equitable distribution of wealth.

Read the chapter Economic development (pp. 33-42) in the report The case for communication in sustainable development by Panos. It argues that information and communication, especially new ICT, are vital for fair and sustainably economic development .

II Human development (i.e. social development)

Proponents of human development have recognized that economic growth as such does not automatically improve the quality of life people in a given society. Human development approach is about “putting people at the centre of development” (UNDP 2010).

New indicators have been created to measure development from the perspective of people. The most known is the Human Development Index HDI, later supplemented by Gender-related Development Index, Gender Empowerment Measure and Human Poverty Index. All these indices have been developed by the Human Development Report, which is an annual report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

For more information on human development indices, see the following sources:
Human Development Indices
Human Development Report 2009
Human Development Report 2010 concept note

III Sustainable development

The concept of sustainable development was introduced in 1987 in so called Brundtland Report (“Our Common Future”) produced by the United Nations Wold Comission on Environment and development, WCED. It expands the idea of human development and takes into consideration also the environmental impacts of development.

In the Brundtland Report sustainable development was defined as development, which "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987, chapter 2). This means finding the right balance between economic growth and use of resources to satisfy the necessary needs of the current population, while preserving the environment so that it can provide the needed resources also for the future generations.

Sustainable development is usually divided into three dimensions:

  • Ecological sustainability (environment)
  • Social and cultural sustainability (society)
  • Economic sustainability (economy)

For more information on sustainable development, see the 

“Brundtland Report” (WCED 1987. Our Common Future. Chapter 2: Towards Sustainable Development).

IV Millennium Development Goals

The lates phase in the pursuits of the international community to define and achieve development are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), committed to by the member states of the United Nations in the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000. The eight MDGs are set to be achieved by the year 2015. In short they include the following goals:

  • Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieving universal primary education
  • Promoting gender equality and empowering women
  • Reducing child mortality
  • Imrpving maternal Health
  • Combatting HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability
  • Developing a global partnership for development

Focusing international development policy around MDGs has aroused also criticism. Critics have suggested that it is unlikely that the MDGs will be attained by 2015 with the development strategies adopted and with the existing macroeconomic policies confirming to neoliberal globalization. The formulation of MDG targets as well as the process leading to definition of MDGs have been criticised (See Galtung et al. 2008.)

For more information on the MDGs and critical views on them, see the following sources:
Millennium Development Goals
Critical review of MDGs by Johan Galtung et al. (2008)

V Development as an open-ended process

In recent years it has been suggested that in stead of giving definitive answers to what is development, we should see development rather as an open-ended process, where each community, nation and region can define and redefine their goals and means of achieving those goals. Here development is not regarded as an end in itself, but as a transformation process of the society, aiming at certain objectives.

According to this perspective, development can mean different things to different societies and they need to define their own development strategies. This view also implies that no society is ever fully “developed”, as each society have social, economic, environmental and other problems needing attention and solutions. (See Servaes 2009, 51-53.)

Listen to the lecture by Dr. Teppo Eskelinen, a philosopher and freelance journalist, pointing out the origins of and the problems with the concept “development”:


The idea of development communication (including journalism) was adopted already in 1960’s. In line with the modernization paradigm, western scholars were interested in the ways mass communication could be used to dissemintate western development model in the Third World countries recently liberated from the colonial rule. Leaders of developing countries, on the other hand, had their own ideas of how to utilize mass media to advance their ideologies and policies. In both attempts, the freedom, independence and integrity of journalists were compromised.

Early ideas of development communication have been later on criticized as being authoritative, elitist and based on top-down communication from government (or international organizations) to the people. The importance of information, communication and education for development and the role of media in providing them are still widely recognized, but nowadays there is more emphasis on media diversity, grassroots communication and civic participation (see the learning module 4 on Media and Civil Society).

I Development journalism in African countries

In African countries, during the post colonialist era, development journalism has been seen primarily as a tool of government, which can be used for promoting government policies of social, economic and cultural development. Mass media has been utilized by the governments in the struggle for independence and in building national unity and identity after the liberation from the colonialist rule. (See Domatob & Hall 1983.)

This paradigm of development journalism has aroused criticism. It has been criticized of serving mainly as political propaganda by government. In many cases, the freedom of speech and press was limited in the early stages of independence, and mass media was controlled by the government. Along with the democratization process, also the degree of freedom and independence of the media had increased lately in many African countries, though.

Listen to the lecture by Mr. Jonas Boateng, lecturer of Ghana Institute of Journalism, discussing the concept of development and the role of development journalism in African (esp. Ghanaian) context.

II “Development country journalism” in Finland

Finnish language lacks an equivalent word for “development journalism”. Instead, the concept of “kehitysmaajournalismi” (literally “developing country journalism”) is used in the journalism profession, education and research.

It has a slightly different connotation compared to development journalism. It is journalism about developing countries, rather than journalism dealing with development issues or aiming at facilitating social change. It also refers to journalism published in Finnish media – or in other Northern countries – and as such excludes journalism produced and published by the media in developing countries.

The concept has been criticised by many Finnish journalists and scholars. It has been argued, for example, that the concept itself emphasises differences and creates a sharp dichotomy and polarization between the developed and industrialized western countries and the underdeveloped Third World countries (e.g. Johansson 2009; Maasilta 2002).

Also the practises and contents of Finnish “development country journalism” – abd western foreign news more generally – have been criticized. According to several studies (e.g. Maasilta 1991b; Mäkilä 2002; Mustranta 2007; Palosuo 1988), news from developing countries mostly focus on negative issues, such as poverty, hunger, conflicts and natural disasters, or on politicians and other local elites. Another common type of articles are those reporting about Finnish development aid projects in developing countries. In stead, the everyday realities and experiences of ordinary people living in developing countries are only rarely reported. Also critical and analytical articles about development issues are rare.

There are, of course, also exceptions. Besides some dedicated journalists “the global news agency” IPS (Inter Press Service) aims at challenging the one-side reporting about developing countries. They provide the Western media articles written by local journalists in developing countries, increasing the diversity of topics, perspectives and voices in the news media.

IPS Home Page
IPS Finland

See the article at Kulmakivi.org: Real problems are left untold

III Towards participatory development journalism?

What could development journalism be like, then, if it should not be reduced to mere government propaganda or journalism about developing countries? Professor Jan Servaes (2009a, 2009b) suggests a multiplicity or participation paradigm to challenge the old development and development communication paradigms. This approach puts emphasis on empowering the communities at the local level and on participatory media and communication practises.

This idea of participatory media is further explored in the learning module 4 about the Media and civil society. Also the learning module 5 will explore alternative journalistic approaches.

For more information on the participation paradigm of development journalism, see the following sources:

Servaes, Jan 2009. Communication policies, good governance and development journalism. COMMUNICATIO Vol 35 (1), 50-80. (Available online) 

Servaes, Jan 2009b. Media for Social Transformation. Advocacy for Peace. Paper presented at the SIGNIS World Congress in Chiang Mai, October 19th 2009. (Available online)"



Domatob, Jerry Komia & Hall, Stephern William 1983. Development Journalism in Black Africa. International communication Gazette, 31:1, 9-33.

Galtung, Johan; Gosovic, Branislav; Khosla, Ashok & Zammit, Ann 2008. The Millennium Developmen Goals. A Costly Diversion from the Road to Sustainable Development. Critical Perspectives. Paper Prepared for the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Meeting, An Initiative of Stavanger 2008-European Capital of Culture 2008, 10-12 September 2008. http://www.transcend.org/tri/downloads/the_mill.pdf

Johansson, Peik 2009. Kehitysmaajournalismissa on kyse sananvapaudesta [Development journalism has to do with the freedom of speech]. Vikes’ (The Finnish Foundation for Media, Communication and Development) website. http://vikesfinland.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/kehitysmaajournalismissa-on-kyse-sananvapaudesta/

Maasilta, Mari 2001a. Kehitysmaajournalismista globaalijournalismiin. [From development journalism to global journalism ]. Pääskyt 1-2/2001. http://piccolo.kaapeli.fi/paaskyt/1081337176/index_html

Maasilta, Mari 2001b. Kehitysyhteistyökirjoittelu 90-luvun suomalaisessa lehdistössä. [Coverage of development cooperation in the Finnish press in 1990’s]. University of Tampere, Journalism Research and Development Centre.

Mustranta, Maria 2007. Maailmalta Keski-Suomeen. Kehitysmaauutisoinnin uutisvalinta Keskisuomalaisessa ja STT:ssä [From abroad to Central Findland. News selection of development news in Keskisuomalainen newspaper and the Finnish News Agency STT]. Master’s Thesis. Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä.

Mäkilä, Kimmo 2002. Kehityskohteena kehitysmaauutisointi. Kehitysmaauutisoinnin ongelman selvittelyä diskurssianalyysin keinoin [Developing development news. Discourse analyses on the problems of development news]. Master’s Thesis. Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä.

Palosuo, Eija 1999. Kehitysmaajournalismin genre ja sen vaihtoehdot. [Genre of developmen journalism and its alternatives]. A journalistic master’s Thesis. Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Tampere.

Servaes, Jan 2009a. Communication policies, good governance and development journalism. COMMUNICATIO Vol 35 (1), 50-80. https://lirias.hubrussel.be/bitstream/123456789/3057/1/Communicatio%2035-1-4%20Servaes.pdf

Servaes, Jan 2009b. Media for Social Transformation. Advocacy for Peace. Paper presented at the SIGNIS World Congress in Chiang Mai, October 19th 2009. http://www.signisworldcongress.net/2009/IMG/pdf/SERVAES_en-3.pdf

UNDP 2010. Human Development Report 2010 concept note. http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2010/

WCED 1987. Our Common Future: Report of the Wolrd Comission on Environment and Development. http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm


Alhassan Amin 2004. Development Communication Policy and Economic Fundamentalism in Ghana. Academic dissertation. Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis 364. Tampere University Press. http://acta.uta.fi/pdf/951-44-6023-5.pdf

Ayub, Rioba 2008. Media in Tanzania’s transition to Multiparty Democracy. An Assessment of Policy and Ethical Issues. Licentiate’s thesis. Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Tampere. http://tutkielmat.uta.fi/pdf/lisuri00097.pdf

Irigo, Charles I. K. R. 2006. The role of the media in fighting poverty in Tanzania. Master’s thesis Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Tampere. http://tutkielmat.uta.fi/pdf/gradu01367.pdf

Kasoma, Francis P. 2000.The Press and Multiparty Politics in Africa. Academic dissertation. Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis 783. Tampere University Press. http://acta.uta.fi/pdf/951-44-4968-1.pdf

Solomon , Eva 2006. Women's roles in media: Attitudes towards gender issues in six Tanzanian newspapers. Master’s thesis. Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Tampere. http://tutkielmat.uta.fi/pdf/gradu01296.pdf

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