SGR may just be the beginning of developmental journalism

Massive media coverage on the launch of Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) by the Head of State on 31st May 2017 perhaps is one of the recent examples of developmental journalism at it best.

I witnessed both the local and international media representatives in Mombasa at the eve of the SGR launch jostled for their accreditations in readiness for their big assignment of reporting on this economic milestone.

Media houses dedicated their airtime to transmit the launch live, newspapers allocated acres of pages to showcase the unveiling of SGR that continues to count in the news bulletin both in electronic media as well as citizen journalism sphere better known as social media.

To put it in context, developmental journalism has over time taken a back seat in daily news beat among the media practitioners. Our daily news menu is largely punctuated with political activities.

This is more so during this electioneering period. Political campaigns rallies are convenient fodder for media consumers.

Daily reportorial format of stories; ‘he or she said’- and all inclined to the elite in society has been a common place in our media outlets. Less attention is being paid to other news angles that have direct impact on commoners in society.

That is why Standard Gauge Railway unveiling gave media audience a break from the norm- political news, bizarre items, conflicts and other common happenings. And supposing media houses dedicated some sections of airtime, newspaper pages on developmental news, I think this would add value to our daily news carte du jour.

Updating the public on one of the biggest economic delivery with a budget of shillings 327 billion for 472 kilometer railway is by no means a big story for developmental journalists.

The economic transformation positively impacting on transportation, tourism, trade, safety and business expansion all boils to the improvement of people’s lives. This is what developmental journalism is all about.

Developmental journalism is a kind of journalism that pays attention to the coverage of ideas, policies, programs, activities and events dealing with improvement of the lives of people.

It is that part of journalism that involves analytical interpretation, constructive criticism and sincere association with grass root rather than the elite.

It is through developmental reporting that people –the commoners are made aware of the programs in place and how the same will affect and impact on their lives. They are allowed to talk; generate enormous range of visions.
Indeed positives such as the reduction in passenger and cargo transportation, road accidents were some of the key messages filling up the social media conversations and Vox pop media interviews on the immediate impact of the SGR inauguration.

The less fortunate in society felt counted as the project would definitely bring with it direct and positive impact on them.

Dated back to 1960’s Asia chronicled a lot of concerns in an inadequate coverage of social economic development stories as opposed to other activities largely negative happenings. This led to development journalism being conceived.

Ethiopia is one of the African countries that have come up with a policy document on development journalism. The document postulates positive reporting on economic stories that will rally the populace to common agenda-the agenda of development.

Countries such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia fronted their developmental journalism around agriculture which supposedly had direct impact on the common man. This philosophy which some refers to as community journalism owing to its direct bearing on the livelihood of the common people in society has now widened its scope to health, education, social justices among others.

On the other hand, news editors and media managers in SriLanka are warming up to the philosophy of developmental reporting.

In Europe, the European Journalism Centre (EJC) in collaboration with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rewards quality journalism and advance a new distinctive agenda for development reporting.

Initiated in 2013, the organization encourages media managers to break away from stereotypes and simplistic narratives in their reporting and embrace developmental reporting.

The centre in the year 2017/18 will be awarding 1.6 million Euros to fund innovative development journalism projects that have direct and massive impact in society.

It is time for the Kenyan media to walk this pathway while at the same time guarding against possible propaganda journalism.

(The Writer is a Public Relations and Communications practitioner in the public sector)

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