Television for Development Essay

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During their colonial occupation, many parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean were underdeveloped; forced labor was used in mines, fields, and plantations to supply the factories of Europe. Television has been part of state-led reconstruction attempts for national development since the 1970s, albeit with no explicit policies.

After the Second North Atlantic War of 1939– 1945, the Soviet bloc, the US, and the Bretton Woods institutions (the UN, the World Bank, and the IMF) initiated modernization and development projects in Europe’s former colonies. By the 1960s, this ‘social-engineering-of-change project’ began to be called “economic development.” A communication medium like television with audio and visual capability and two sound tracks was considered an extremely promising educational tool for low-literacy populations and a channel for their modernization.

The introduction of television began in the 1950s and was much more complex than radio. The capital and operating costs of television production, costs to the consumer of receiver purchase, and for electricity were high. The modes of different nations’ entry to television varied according to the nature of the state, audience/market size, domestic capital, and national cultural characteristics. These modes of television entry were initiated by domestic private capital for urban entertainment, grants by foreign governments to help market expansion, sales promotion by their manufacturers, and UN- and foreign-aided demonstrations of television’s educational potential.

Competing foreign equipment manufacturers used ‘aid-for-trade offers’ from their home governments. Local television set distributors or ad agencies took the initiative for the introduction of television in countries where there was domestic capital and openness to financing by advertising. UNESCO, the Ford Foundation, and bilateral foreign aid agencies promoted demonstrations of the audiovisual capability of the medium as an educational solution for low-literacy countries. In many cases, once the short-term financing ended, the donated equipment and facilities were transformed into a sports and entertainment channel for the middle and upper classes.

With the introduction of direct-broadcast satellites pioneered by NASA in the early 1970s, development pilot projects of varying lengths were conducted to demonstrate the capability of TV, radio, and telecommunication. The mid-1970s saw a more advanced NASA satellite demonstrate educational applications in Alaska, the Pacific, Appalachia, and India. India’s year-long (1975–1976) “Satellite Instructional TV Experiment (SITE)” was investigated by national and international scholars whose findings elaborated on the results of projects elsewhere: more attention should have been paid to the design of educational programs. The total SITE effort involved 3,300 person years of which 2,050 were spent on technology, hardware, or equipment: only 9 percent was dedicated to program development (Mody 1987). Nevertheless, some effects materialized. Children exposed to TV in the classroom showed significant gains in language development; programs led to enquiries for more knowledge, as measured by the greater utilization of libraries in schools, and the adult education evening transmissions resulted in statistically significant gains in the knowledge of preventive health.

In the 1980s, US foreign aid (USAID) and the then satellite cooperative INTELSAT conducted educational demonstrations of satellite capability. INTELSAT enabled the Chinese Open University to experiment with one-way video and audio applications; Ireland and Jordan to exchange university courses; and hospitals in Latin America and Miami, and Uganda, Kenya, and Canada, to do telemedicine.

Until the 1980s, TV was owned and operated in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean by the state. TV in Latin America had fallen under US commercial influence after its independence from European colonizers. The few applications of television for development were expensive and state-financed, and hence constituted additional demands on already overstretched state budgets. As developing countries struggled with their economy, the US, western Europe, and Japan pushed them to open up national firms (including state broadcasting monopolies) to private and foreign investment. Simultaneously, domestic lobbies were advocating the US model of advertising-based radio and TV ownership so coverage could expand beyond the capital city.

The instructional design model of the 1960s and 1970s for specific educational audiences, which was so expensive to implement and was infrequently used outside short-lived, aid-financed projects, has given way to another educational model initiated by foreign aid that is more suited to the large-audience needs of an advertiser-financed media system. Entertainment education has actually been credited with helping the state broadcaster to move from state public service ownership to a commercially competitive operator in India. Television for development in the early twenty-first century is promoting modernization via the marketplace. Audience-specific educational media interventions are limited to community radio initiatives, where they exist.


  1. Enghel, F. & Wilkins, K. (eds.) (2012). Communication, media and development: Problems and perspectives. Nordicom. Special Issue. Vol. 31.
  2. Hornik, R. C. (1988). Development communication: Information, agriculture and nutrition in the third world. New York: Longman.
  3. McAnany, E. (2012). Saving the world: A brief history of communication for development and social change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  4. Mody, B. (1987). Contextual analysis of the adoption of a communication technology: The case of satellites in India. Telematics and Informatics, 4(2), 151–158.
  5. Singhal, A. (ed.) (2004). Entertainment, education and social change. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  6. Wilkins, K., Tufte, T., & Obregon, R. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of development communication and social change. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

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