Columnists Features

Do mass media have effects on rural populations of Zambia?


IMAGINE a body without blood circulation.
That body would most definitely be that of a departed soul. Blood circulation is thus synonymous with life as we know it in living things, human beings for example.
Similarly, communication, particularly mass communication, could safely be termed the lifeline of any thriving society.
It is agonisingly difficult, speaking from a strict sociological perspective of course, for any modern or post-modern society to meaningfully ‘survive’, maybe develop, without the all-important backbone.
In the spirit of those words, research by University of Zambia mass communication lecturer Emmanuel Kunda on media effects
on rural populations in Zambia represents a milestone in our country’s pursuit of the much-needed socio-economic development.
The research, published in the Journal of Humanities (Volume12, 2013) of the University of Zambia, highlights the grave variation between urban dwellers and their rural counterparts in terms of the impact of traditional mass media messages such as those via television and radio have on them.
The scholarly work was motivated by the need to ‘fill the gap of the actual effect of the mass media on the rural populations in Zambia.
Of special importance is the fact that it was conducted in researched comparison with the Western world.
According to the research, there is a marked difference in terms of the way people in Zambia’s urban areas and those in the countryside attend to mass-mediated messages and the meanings they assign to those messages.
One factor the research findings bring to the fore is that the mass media affect people differently in Zambia with special regard to the urban/rural divide.
It shows that mass media messages, which could take the form of politics or advertisements, are accessed differently as well as understood in different ways, if at all they are by all.
To me, that may mean it is possible that a good deal of people hardly understand the messages.
Attending to them, this group of people does, but whether they comprehend the messages is highly questionable as the research explains.
That should provide food for thought to policy makers and all those seeking to engage the rural community in their programmes, of course only harmless ones.
That is stated because it is difficult to rule out the probability that some people could be imagining and relishing the rural populations of our country with ulterior motives.
The research says that a good fraction of Zambians, especially those educated, are affected by mass media messages, although there exists a remarkable difference between the way people in Western countries are affected by the same messages and the way those in Zambia are, underscoring that the difference lies in the levels of industrial development on the one hand, and high levels of illiteracy and poverty on the other.
The survey brings to light the fact that over half of Zambians living in rural areas have no formal education.
“These rural dwellers without formal education were not as affected as the educated, because in the first place, they accessed the mass media erratically.
Secondly, they also have no use for advertisements because the products and services advertised are not only beyond their purchasing power but are also not easily available in the rural areas,” it says.
A crucial conclusion of the research is that, as far as Zambia is concerned, particularly with regard to the educated and the uneducated, the media institution may not have ‘similar effects on rural populations as it does on audiences of the Western world, or indeed the educated Zambian urban elite, who to a certain extent, share similar characteristics with people of the Western world’.
Another interesting conclusion the research draws, notwithstanding its methodological limitations, is that, by its cumulative evidence, the mass media in Zambia have bigger impact on the country’s educated and a minimal one on those without education.
It further winds up by stating that the media, based on the foregoing, do not define the world for everyone in Zambia but defines a limited world for the educated Zambians whether they live in urban areas or rural areas.
As stated already, this research is worth a lot to anyone interested in Zambia’s development agenda, especially as it relates to the poor and the poor of the poorest.
It is a resource to be relied on now and in future. Well done Lt Colonel Kunda!
The author is Zambia Daily Mail senior sub-editor.

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