Development and communication in Asia is a vast and complicated topic for two main reasons. First, Asia comprises a substantial portion of the earth’s land mass and population. Second, the direction as well as the velocity of economic development in Asian countries varies profoundly. Economists have divided Asia into five categories, including Japan, People’s Republic of China, East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The term “East Asia” here refers to the newly industrialized economies of Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. South Asia consists of Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam form Southeast Asia. This categorization is premised not necessarily on topography, but on such important economic variables as per capita income, structure of the economy, openness to trade, engagement with the imperatives of globalization, and policy directions.
Currently, development is vitally connected with the newer information and communication technologies. Email, mobile phones, semiconductors, etc. are becoming increasingly important in data transmission, database management, and in communication in general. It is evident that there is a glaring gap in Asia in the availability and use of information and communication technologies. There is, as development planners in Asia maintain, a digital divide in Asia. Countries such as Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, and Taiwan are at the top of this digital divide while the other countries are at the bottom. The term “development” is used here in an expanded and inclusive sense, to include attention to a process of social change that has as its objective the improvement in the quality of the lives of people without causing damage to the natural and cultural environment in which they exist. In this understanding, development seeks to involve people as closely as possible in this enterprise, making them the masters of their own destiny. Communication plays a highly significant role in this process.
Five models of development and communication have guided Asian societies. The first model pertinent to the Asian context is the oldest and the most dominant among them. It emphasizes rapid economic growth by means of industrialization. Heavy emphasis was laid on capital-intensive technologies and centralized planning. The guiding thought seems to have been that productivity is the key to development and that the most productive sector of modern society is the industrial sector. Mass media such as newspapers, radio, and television were deployed for the purpose of creating a more conducive climate for rapid modernization and industrialization. This was evident in countries like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It was also felt that for rapid modernization to take place, a modern elite needed to play a crucial leadership role. It was felt that the weight of communication policies should be on the side of protecting the freedom of these leaders and fortifying their influence in society. This model of development and communication was very powerful in the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1970s certain doubts regarding the efficacy of this model were expressed by communication scholars and policy planners in countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Bangladesh. Critiques of this model pointed to the inappropriate replication of western models to Asian and other regions.
All these perceived deficiencies of the first model resulted in the emergence of a second model of development and communication, particularly advocated in India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. It emphasized both capital-intensive and labor-intensive technologies, centralized and decentralized planning, and exogenous and endogenous factors of development. The advocates of this model raised a number of important questions related to development and communication: how can distributive justice be achieved? How can the ideals of self-reliance, self-development, and popular participation be attained? How can the power of the old and new media of communication be purposefully combined? How best can we make use of culture as an ally and facilitator of development? How can we come up with more historically conscious and society-specific models of communication? This shift of emphasis regarding the meaning of development was accompanied by a parallel shift of emphasis in the meaning of communication. The old mechanistic, linear, one-way model of communication was replaced by a process oriented two-way approach to communication. The emphasis was now on the facilitation of information exchange related to development through mass media and interpersonal channels.
A third approach to development focused on centralized planning within nations, emerging in communist countries like China, North Korea, and Vietnam. This model has to be understood against the backdrop of socialist ambitions and agendas, which placed emphasis on centralized planning and command economies. Capitalist individualism and private entrepreneurship were shunned and collective activities encouraged. In this model, media of communication played a propaganda role in mobilizing the people behind this set of goals. As is now evident, after the fall of the Soviet empire and the increasing globalization of the world, this model has lost much of its luster.
An alternative, fourth approach to communication and development was encouraged by communication scholars in countries such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, who were in some ways disenchanted with the development in their respective countries. Their approach focused on the interdependence of the developed and developing countries, and how developed countries are responsible for the underdevelopment in the poorer countries. The advocates of this approach demonstrated the futility of discussing communication and development in a national setting, when the global experience influences the possibilities and constraints for social change in nations and communities.
Prominent within Asian development was attention to self-reliance as a fifth and last model. Here the focus was on grassroots development, integrated village development, use of appropriate technology, productive use of local resources, maintenance of the ecological balance, and culture as a mediating force for development. NGOs across Asia played a critical role in the propagation of this model. In countries such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, and Nepal, it was easy to see the way that this model was being popularized. The emergence of the concept of sustainable development in recent times has strengthened this model.
With the increasing velocity of globalization and the spread of satellite communication and the strengthening of the forces of neo-liberalism, the first model has received additional impetus. Even countries like China, which were fiercely opposed to this capitalist model, are increasingly embracing it. Development and communication in Asia is a multi-faceted topic.
- Dissanayake, W. (1988). Communication theory: The Asian perspective. Singapore: Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Center.
- Goonasekera, A., & Kuo, E. C. Y. (2000). Towards an Asian theory of communication? [Special issue]. Asian Journal of Communication, 10(2), 1–123.
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