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News and Political Satire Media: The Swiss Army Knife in International Development's Toolkit

 

International development’s media projects have accomplished a great deal. Soap operas, talk shows, reality TV, and public service announcements are just a few of the edutainment formats in international development’s toolkit to affect positive attitude and behavior change. And with the versatile potential of news and political satire media - media that uses satire, parody and sarcasm in its coverage of current affairs to entertain, inform and present an alternative perspective - that toolkit now has a multi-purpose Swiss army knife.

 

As tempting as it may be to “replicate” successful projects, the countless idiosyncrasies in every community guarantee a different project outcome and often with varying degrees of success. Still, some basic templates hold promise for broad traction, which is why at PMI we use the versatility of our craft to meet a wide range of objectives.

 

What does this mean for the news and political satire media (NPSM) genre? It means the form may change but the function holds true. The function being the ability of the genre to hook young adults with comedy and satire, win over their trust, provide an alternative perspective that catalyzes critical thinking, and potentially engage their audiences. A substantial body of research has already documented the positive impact of NPSM.

 

The versatility of NPSM means it can be made to specific international development objectives. For example, donors focused on anti-corruption programming may consider supporting an investigative satire show like John Oliver as part of its investigative journalism portfolio. Or given the research indicating that fans learn about the environment, science and global warming by watching NPSM, donors with science and environmental sustainability mandates may consider using the genre to influence viewers. The same goes for programs focused on voter education, women’s rights, CVE (Countering Violent Extremism), youth engagement, minority rights, health, transparency and accountability, and political participation.

 

Take for example The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, an NPSM TV show from an African American perspective on Comedy Central that was recently cancelled due to low ratings. When the news broke, Wilmore joked the cancellation meant “racism is solved.” And during Jon Stewart’s guest appearance on the final episode, he noted the show’s valuable contribution to the media landscape. “You gave voice to underserved voices in the media arena…You started a conversation that was not on television when you began,” Stewart said.   

 

In addition to such “media for development” initiatives, the value of NPSM also lies in its potential for “media development.” NPSM appeals to 18 to 35 year-olds – the highly coveted demographic by advertisers and sponsors. To promote industry standard best practices in business planning and marketing, an NPSM show can demonstrate the benefits of using media consumption data to inform marketing plans that keep the show financially afloat and editorially independent, ultimately promoting a media outlet model that fosters freedoms of expression and the press.

 

In addition to traditional TV broadcasting, distribution methods can incorporate Internet TV platforms (YouTube, Vimeo), social media websites (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr) and popular apps (SnapChat, Instagram). Shows don’t even have to be shows – instead, they can be a series of short-form video clips uploaded online on a strategic schedule. With mobile Internet becoming faster and more affordable for rural communities in emerging countries, viewers can watch and interact with videos like never before.

 

Even in high-risk contexts, due to the dangers associated with creating independent content, puppets, animation and simple post-production effects can be used to protect individuals’ identities. And content saved on flash drives can be disseminated via drones or informal markets.

 

NPSM essentially functions as a Swiss army knife – a simple multi-purpose tool. Whether the agenda is “media for development” or “media development”, donors and implementers have a versatile instrument in their toolkit.

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