This article was published in the Indian Journal of Public Administration. Ref: Pandey, Manoj. IJPA, vol. LIX, no.2 (April-June 2013)
SOCIAL MEDIA: ARE GOVERNMENTS USING ITS POTENTIAL FOR CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT?
by Manoj Pandey*
Summary: Media has traditionally been helpful in government communication, but has mostly remained one-directional. Social media, with its limitless possibilities of engagement with people, can transcend communication barriers and help governments bring in transparency in administration, reach people, elicit their participation and deliver services. Constraints such as poor literacy and low internet penetration in developing countries can be overcome, provided governments change their mindset from one-way communication to engaging citizens as valuable stake-holders.
In democratic systems of governance, media enjoys a very high status because of its role as a watchdog over the three pillars of democracy – the legislature, the judiciary and the executive.
The media also plays another important role, that of an intermediary between the government and the people. In this role, the media becomes the purveyor of information, facilitator, exposer, aggregator of people’s opinions and people’s advocate. It informs people of the government’s good work; it reports on achievements as well failings of the public delivery systems; it analyses social, economic and political issues; it generates and supports debate on government initiatives and policies; it provides feedback on public perception of an elected government’s performance; and so on. It also helps non-governmental actors in the society communicate with the people and the government. By doing so, the media acts as an active participant in the socio-economic development of the nation.
The media has been evolving over the years in terms of reach as well as engagement with people. As the governments felt a greater need to reach people and engage with them, the media was there in its expanding roles.
Till a century back, the focus of government communication was on publicity of its activities and achievements. It slowly turned more utilitarian, mostly in the developing countries - informing the targeted beneficiaries of welfare schemes about the facilities being created and how to use them.
The mass media – print media, radio and television - obviously was the primary vehicle for spreading information on developmental activities. Other tools of communication such as outdoor media (e.g. hoardings and banners), mass mailing of publicity material and reaching people directly (inter-personal communication) were used to supplement the mainstream media for reaching messages to the people. Simultaneously, new ideas emerged in the development communication scene, such as educating people about how to make use of the facilities created for them (i.e. IEC), advocacy, behaviour change communication, social marketing and engaging communities in development. However, these stayed localised and project-based.
Advent of ICT and social media