Development propaganda or Journalism?


By T, staffer of De Birhan Media


This thesis would in general try to asses development reporting and journalism in the developing world’s media. Cognizant of the complexity of under development and its multi dimensional effects and also the re-emergence of development communication, this write up attempts to analyse development journalism in developing countries from a birds eye view.

Reaching a mass, educating and bringing changes within a society are mostly made most possible by mass communication. Mass communication itself can take different forms and be done with various mechanics and methodologies. Development communication (Journalism) is one of the genres of communication (mass) that is highly focused on developing countries with the aim of lifting them out of abject poverty and stepping on the development ladder. Propaganda is another genre of mass communication that shares aspects from politics, sociology, psychology and journalism itself. According to, coined in 1968 at press foundation of Asia conference in the Phillipines, the term (Development journalism) refers to the press’s catalytic role in the socio-economic development in developing countries. While in the case of propaganda ,Richard Alan Nelson (1996) neutrally defines propaganda as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels. A propaganda organization employs propagandists who engage in propagandism—the applied creation and distribution of such forms of persuasion.” In light of such definitions in mind and aware of the dangers and benefits such reporting brings, it is worth analysing the type of development journalism and its weaknesses in the developing world. The literature has it that the capacity of mass communication especially one that is of persuasive qualities in guiding, influencing and indoctrinating groups and societies is of immense goals and objectives including poverty reduction and development.

Ethiopia’s development journalism document
Yet ungratified but used officially, the 48pages, Ethiopian development journalism policy document interrogates “philosophical and operational” issues. Ethiopia might be the only African country with such a policy document (Skjerdal, 2011).

This policy document defines development journalism as,

Development journalism is a journalism that makes people understand, accept and actively participate in the implementation of appropriate development ideas that may extricate people from poverty and backwardness by bringing about rapid national change and building on positive values of development and democratic change. (Ethiopian policy document on development journalism, EPA 2008) in Skjerdal (2011).

Positive success stories and positive promotion of development are the pillars of Ethiopia’s Policy Document on Development Journalism. The Document and internal administrative rules advocate the application pro- government, pro-development news reports. Investigation is neither promoted nor cultured. The following news is one of the many typical development reports practiced by the government media such as Ethiopian News Agency. This news was written on May 6, 2012.

Construction of 17 safe water facilities finalized

S.Tigray, May 6, 2012 (Maichew) – Construction of 17 safe water projects launched in Raya-Alamata Woreda, Southern Tigray Zone with over three million Birr has been finalized, the woreda information and public relation office said. Office Representative, Amanuel Gedamu told ENA over the weekend that the facilities include digging of ten water wells and development of seven springs. Amanuel said 9000 farmers will benefit from the facilities constructed in areas, which had no access to safe water service. He said the facilities will help to raise the service to 60 per cent from the previous 43 per cent. The regional government and the woreda administration allocated the budget for construction of the facilities.

The above news item does not critically examine the source of funding, if it was properly used, the complaints of the community, the views of the engineers and local stakeholders; if there have been complaints during the construction from any side and related critical questions.

Development journalism is given as an elective course within many African universities that teach journalism. The course is popularly called DJ or DC acronym for Development Journalism and Development Communication. African journalism students who aspire to see the development and progress of their nation study it with enthusiasm and dedication to apply it broadly as soon as they join the work force and life of reportorial.

‘Development journalism’ was said to have emerged in South East Asia in the 1960s in the case of Afria  Ghana’s Kwame has been credited to have promoted development journalism.   Hemant Shah’s 2008 paper titled “development journalism” emphasises this view saying,

Development journalism was conceived in the 1960s at the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA), where Filipino journalists Alan Chalkley and Juan Mercado were concerned that news organizations were inadequately covering socio-economic development. Journalists were reporting government press releases and quotes but giving little attention to detailed analysis, interpretation, or evaluation of development.

The author also states that the meetings of the 1970s and 80s that were popularly called   New World Information and Communication Order [NWICO] debatewere also the emerging periods of development communication when countries of the South argued that media of the North misrepresented them and that they needed development journalism to avert that.
The Asian Development Journalism

Dixit, a Nepali journalist who was the regional director for Asia Pacific of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency from 1991 to 1997, said in an internal memo to journalism staff in 1993: 

Development journalism has been done so sloppily for so long by so many people that when you mention DJ, their eyes glaze over. One thing you don’t say nowadays when you introduce IPS (Inter Press Service) is that we specialise in development journalism. The concept and need for development journalism is still valid. Unfortunately the phrase is tattered and hackneyed because it has been sabotaged by violently unreadable writers. 

IPS, which was originally set up in the 1960s by a group of Latin  American journalists living in Europe and unhappy with the Western media’s negative reporting of their continent, specialises in develop-ment journalism and is very much modelled on Tarzie Vitachi’s vision of a ‘critical assessment’ of the development process (Vitachi, 1987).

Media in Asia argue in their development reports argue that the media are hardly keeping an eye on government and relief agencies in terms of helping to ensure that monies raised and aid get to the needy. They argue that “Questions are not being asked about why reconstruction efforts are taking so long to complete, or why some aid agencies are not following the Red Cross’s code of ethics for relief work and rather, are more interested in proselytising.”  The media in Asia focus on the critical aspect of the development story than merely reporting the success and positive side of it.  Development news should examine development plans critically, evaluate and point out disparities between the original plan and actual implementation (Aggarwala, 1979). In the few cases of development news reports that I have come across, the above prerequisites of development journalism by Aggarwala were applied but in the Ethiopian.


If Ethiopian journalists are going to adopt a better form of development journalism; it should not only oppose or be inquisitive of the government ideological sprout developmental democracy but also try not to reflect Western perspectives, prejudices and misconceptions that are blindly followed by African journalists and are reproduced locally. If development journalism was going to be against the New World Order remaking the image of the South/Africa, then Ethiopian developmental journalists should consider the balancing of Ethiopia’s image at the world fora too. Studies on media ownership and proportion of development news coverage show that conglomerate-controlled newspapers cover more governmental news than development news in comparison to independent newspapers (Vilanilam, 1979b). Same was the case in the Ethiopian media be it online News agencies such as Ethiopian News Agency and Walta or the government owned broadcast and print media. They all reported development stories from a positive and success story angle making them propaganda and mouth pieces of the incumbent. In addition to that, the developmental journalism policy of 2008 stipulated what the journalist in the government media should and should not do. As a nation and government that is increasingly going “developmental authoritarian”, policies and programs that are tuned to the developmental rhetoric of the incumbent have entered every sector from arts, politics, business to mass media and many other. They reported either just “what they were told” or “served as conduits of whatever the regime leaked as developmental“. The developmental state that is statist by its nature promoting full government interference and leadership in all sectors memos and does the same with the media. Therefore, it won’t be hasty to generalise that the media in Ethiopia except few private press are and perform a kind of development reporting that could be called propaganda journalism.


Aggarwala, N.K. (1978). News with third world perspective: A practical suggestion. In P.C. Horton (Ed.), the third world and press freedom (97-209). New York: Praeger

Jowett, Garth S. and O’Donnell, Victoria (2006)Propaganda and Persuasion 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications

Nelson, Richard Alan (1996). A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press

Punch, Keith F (1998) Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. London: SAGE Publications

Shoemaker, P.& Reese,S.(1996)Mediating the Message: Theories of  Influences on the Mass Media Content. NY. Longman

EPA (Ethiopian Press Agency). 2008, April. Basis and directives for an operational philosophy of our democratic and developmental media. Draft policy document.

Skjerdal, T. 2011. Development journalism revived: The case of Ethiopia African Journalism Studies 32(2), 58–74

Shah H. (2008) Development Journalism, The International Encyclopedia of Communication

Vilanilam, J. V. (1979b). Ownership verses development news content: An analysis of independent and conglomerate newspapers of India. In J. A. Lent & J. V.  Vilanilam (Eds.), the use of development news: Case studies in India, Malaysia, Ghana, and Thailand. Singapore: Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Center.


  1. I know why you write this-to said Tigray is develop…Tigray get more water dam. You are one longhatemonger. Dergist. Try to think like 21stc, you are an old fart.

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