While Senator Imee Marcos’ description of development communication as “cute and archaic may have flustered some of our colleagues, and that the remarks may be somewhat demeaning, they may be the needed “trigger” to make those of us in the field do some serious reflection. Though it has been around for over seven decades, taught in some of the most prestigious institutions of learning in various parts of the world, with perhaps tens of millions of college graduates and practitioners, the fact is, its real worth and impact needs deeper appreciation. Perhaps it is because it is better understood as a catalyst, where its contribution is more deeply felt when it is applied side by side with other disciplines. It had been earlier said that communication by itself, will not be able to bring about change, but change will not happen without communication.
Especially so with development communication (or communication for development or change), which, aside from its earlier historical origin (its focus on agriculture, diffusion, and adoption of technological and social innovations), is primarily a strategy or an approach in effecting behavioral change, and manifested in indicators such as participation, dialogue, and exchange to arrive at consensus, sharing, listening, connecting. And since development communication is purposive, its ultimate goal is, among others, self-management, structural change, power distribution in relationships, managing information to prevent flow of irrelevant information, two-way flow of information, and multilateralism.
Two publications which best illustrate communication’s role as an engine for change are Communication for Social Change, a 1,067-page anthology edited by Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron and Thomas Tufte with contributions from our local pioneers, Nora Quebral and Juan Jamias, from UP Los Baños; Gloria Feliciano, dean, UP College of Mass Communication; Victor Valbuena, Celeste Habito-Cadiz (who is trustee of the Consortium publisher), Karina Constantino-David, Mina Ramirez, and this writer. Many would recognize among the other 150 or so contributors famous writers like Paolo Freire; officials of UNESCO, Food Agriculture Organization, International Labor Organization where contributor Juan Somavia, is director-general; and academics and noted icons in communication and change like Wilbur Schramm, Daniel Lerner, Everett Rogers, Luis Ramiro Beltran, and many others who had mentored thousands of others all over the globe. Gracia Machel, minister of education and culture, Mozambique, writes: “Sustain social change relies on the power of people to advocate for the change, to negotiate through their differences and the power of people to come together, to form social movements, to demand their rights.”
The other book, The MacBride Report, prepared by an impressive panel chaired by Nobel Peace Laureate Sean MacBride, analyzed communication problems and suggested a new social order to help diminish these problems, further peace and human development by promoting pluralism and diversity.
The dynamic growth in the field, an outcome of collaborative research between scholars from the West and Asia happened in the 70’s. And I was fortunate to be an active observer as I was at the East-West Center and the University of Hawaii where I held a joint teaching and research post for five years. It was at that time the ideal hub for study, research, and dialogue, where scholars and practitioners came together to study critical world problems, among them, communication, culture, population, and resource management. Working later as a UNESCO specialist on population communication in Sri Lanka, and open learning in the same country for World Bank was an opportunity to test communication strategies in inter-agency collaboration across cultures.
One of my most gratifying experiences was teaching Ph.D. candidates who, right after graduation, moved on to re-vitalize departments of communication in various universities and government agencies which they headed. Ely Gomez who was then chair of the department, Madeline Suva, Celeste Cadiz, who became dean of the college (both she and sister, Teresa Stuart who works with UNICEF, have Ph.D. degrees in Development Communication), and Crispin Maslog who is today chair of AMIC, the prestigious Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Centre and our most prolific author of books on development communication and journalism, were among the professors of what is now the College of Development Communication, recognized as a center of excellence.
My own experience at the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication in integrating communication as a core element in fisheries resource management, environment, access to justice, as well as aggregating national and community needs for each biennial UNESCO country program, made me realize that communication is indeed a critical component in building a humane, peaceful world and that what is needed in communication is vision and leadership that is unafraid to blaze new trails or seek alternatives when the old are no longer relevant. Ramon Tuazon, who is now head of AIJC, had tirelessly worked with partners at UNESCO and AMIIC where he is secretary-general in making communication relevant to new challenges – media and information illiteracy and disinformation, as well as threats to the safety of journalists. In addition to violence against media professionals, other challenges that continue to face communication professionals include the culture of “silence” and “neutrality” and concentration of power in the hands of oligarchs.
Though much may have been achieved, we, have yet to fight for freedom of information, our people’s right to information.
I thought I would share this bit of history from my own personal experience with the hope of contributing towards greater awareness of the potential of this science, which is also an art, an omnipresent force that can no longer be ignored, especially in our digital ecosystems which is continually being transformed by the new technologies – robotics, artificial intelligence, and analytics.
My e-mail, [email protected]