The High Cost of Ignorance

Published on 21st March 2006
Media technology has been accepted as an effective tool to bridge the geographical distance between the message-senders and receivers. Extensive use of electronic and print media in support of agricultural extension, diffusion of information technology, social reforms, education and health awareness can be seen all over the world.
Radio was used to educate farmers’ children in Australia and New Zealand in the 1930s, for the first time. In most developing countries, radio has been used for awareness generation and agricultural extension programs. The extension of the expert voice at an acceptable cost is the prime justification for its use in countries lacking financial resources, skilled manpower and necessary infrastructure like road communication.
Several studies have examined the role of radios in disseminating agricultural information. Kidd (1968) found that 57% of his Nigerian samples listened to agricultural programs on radio. These included 17% who told someone also about what they had heard and 23%, who improved their agricultural practice as a result of listening to the radio. The Indian Institute of Mass Communication found that in zones served by special farm radio, people were 20% more likely to report it as their source of information about High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds than people in areas with less farm radio. There was also some tendency of farmers in the special radio areas to report greater adoption of HYVs (Hornik 1988:71-72).
Worldwide use of television, radio, video and film has not only reduced the gap of information but has also contributed to economic growth and development in countries like Taiwan and South Korea (Hornik, 88:xi). The “Satellite Instructional Television Experiment” in India contributed to the agricultural production and enrollment of children in schools. The popularity of educative entertainment programs shows the effect of television on the overall process of development. Simultaneous audio-visual presentation of reports and messages minimizes distortions and helps transforming traditional society into progressive society.
Print media has been used to support rural extension in African subcontinent. Publication of large numbers of rural newspapers with increasing popularity is an indicator of their usefulness in the rural areas. Posters, leaflets and newsletters convey accurate and clear information through pictures, diagrams and words. Rural libraries and newspapers help in retention of literacy and continuing education, participatory management, sharing of experiences and market information. In India and Thailand, Rural libraries have been used as centers of continuing education and learning of new techniques of agriculture. Printed media, in India, played a vital role to spread the message from “lab to land” which led to the “Green Revolution”.
The use of communication media in isolation cannot prove an effective tool of extension in the absence of access to education, technical skill, appropriate infrastructure, material resources and land reforms among others.
Broadcasting units in most of the developing countries are centrally controlled and highly bureaucratized with little field co-ordination. The programs are produced by those who have no time and interest to interact with the audience. The routine broadcasts meant for farmers (viewed as fatalists by producers and announcers) do not always succeed in creating positive response among farmers, whose needs are rarely studied before preparing the bulletins. At times, the top-down structure of media system seems to contribute to the development of culture of silence, particularly in States ruled by dictators, instead of supporting extension work in rural areas.
Theoretically, media technology has the capability to bridge the geographical distance without any scale bias. However, in practice, the messages prepared by subject matter specialists in textbook language either prove irrelevant or incomprehensible for the poor ignorant peasants. The “know-it-all” experts may be rewarded for presenting a message on the latest capital-intensive technology, meaningless for farmers living in the complex, diverse and risk-prone environment. Effective use of media is affected due to lack of appropriate infrastructure in rural areas. Printed materials rarely reach the rural areas to the desired extent because of poor road communication and transportation facilities. Television and videos cannot reach the masses in remote areas without electrification of villages.

Electronic media in popular perception has been identified as a channel of entertainment. Despite recommendations of communication experts to use them for upgrading skill and extension purposes, they are being used by rulers, producers and advertisers for promotion of political interests. Both, electronic as well as printed media, are controlled either by government or business houses with top-down structures and no scope for community participation in the process of production. Program producers are isolated from the farmers they serve.
It may be logical to conclude that the use of media, which in itself is neutral, can prove a milestone for extension programs with objective application, if the structural and infrastructural deficiencies discussed above, are addressed to simultaneously.

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