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Lack of media contact contributes to rural poverty

GUO XIAOLIANG, LIU QIANG | 2018-06-19
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


As information technology penetrates the countryside, new media forms like mobile phones and the internet are gradually radiating to impoverished rural areas.


 

To lift poor rural residents out of poverty, it is fundamental to mobilize the initiative of local farmers who have a good basic education and understand both agricultural techniques and business operations. The lack of communication with the outside is the key barrier preventing poverty-stricken areas from casting off poverty. In the process of economic and social development in the countryside, information asymmetry among farmers is one of the main factors contributing to their poverty.


Rural areas surrounding Lüliang Mountain in Shanxi Province were once revolutionary bases, and today they are part of the 11 regions with concentrated poverty that are supported by the government. In October 2017, researchers surveyed six natural villages—Lijiashan, Baijiashan, Chenjiageduo, Xiwan, Caijiaya and Guojiamao—in two typical counties—Linxian and Xingxian—in the region and randomly sampled more than 300 local residents to investigate their degree of media contact.


A total of 300 questionnaires were distributed with 216 valid ones collected. The effective response rate was 72 percent. And interviews were conducted in typical cases. The questionnaire involved personal information, channels to receive information, purposes of media contact and utilization of media information. The final sex ratio was 1:1, which was contingent for a random sampling survey.

 

Media contact
Media contact is the precondition of information transmission and reception. It is based on the need of the subject and the impression of media. With low social and cultural levels, most residents of impoverished rural areas receive information passively. Their habits determine their behavior of reception and selection of information.


In terms of the type of media they use, the survey shows that mobile phones accounted for 83.8 percent, followed by TV (81.5 percent), the internet (11.1 percent), newspaper (3.7 percent) and radio (1.4 percent). Moreover, 4.2 percent of the respondents reported no contact with any media.


It is not hard to find that TV as a kind of traditional media plays a significant role in poor areas of Lüliang Mountain. As information technology penetrates the countryside, new media forms like mobile phones and the internet are gradually radiating to impoverished rural areas. As the fifth form of media, mobile phones were more popular than TV among the respondents. The media contact of farmers in the region is also diversifying.


With the development of rural society, local farmers in mountainous areas of Lüliang use diverse forms of media. Nonetheless, TV continues to be the predominant channel by which the rural people access information, accounting for 59.3 percent of the samples. The type of media they choose largely depends on their education level. Visual and vivid TV programs are preferred by less-educated audiences. In addition, the TV set is more accessible, requiring lower costs and maintenance expenses.


It is worth noting that a fairly large number of the respondents said that they got information primarily by word of mouth. They accounted for 39.4 percent of all samples. Despite the swift development of information technology, residents of poor rural areas of Lüliang Mountain are most reliant on interpersonal communication pathways like opinion leaders and the market in the village to obtain information. No respondent showed interest in listening to the radio, and only two respondents reported regularly reading the newspaper, accounting for 0.9 percent.


Therefore, their information channels were simplex. Interpersonal and mass communication combined had a huge bearing on information selection and utilization among local farmers.
Amount of daily consumption of media is an indicator that can be used to measure the behavior of the audience, reflecting how much information rural residents receive, how close the relationship between the transmitter and the receiver is, and how dependent receivers are on media in production and life.


According to the survey, 46.3 percent of the respondents used media for one hour or less every day, 36.6 percent reported one to three hours, and less than 1 percent got in touch with media for 10 hours and longer. Hence short media contact is one of the reasons why rural residents in mountainous areas of Lüliang obtained little information.


Whether social functions of media can be realized is subject to the technological environment as well as the motive and purpose of the information receiver. The survey shows that films, TV programs and traditional Chinese operas comprised the main content of the media they consumed, accounting for 48.6 percent of the respondents. News information came next, accounting for 45.8 percent. It can be found that leisure and entertainment are the main purpose of local farmers.


Most respondents said they were concerned about state affairs, but received such information occasionally. In addition, 12.5 percent of the surveyed reported no media consumption, and 7.9 percent indicated no specific purpose in media consumption. Still some residents of the region held that it was not much of their business. They were not loyal to news programs. Only 11.3 percent of the respondents watched news programs regularly.


Utilization of media information
In the information age, information about society, politics, economy, science, technology, life and entertainment is transmitted to different regions through media. The information transmission function of media is object-oriented, interactive, compatible, technology-based and economical. It can realize the sharing of information all over society, advance the overall development of rural areas, improve farmers’ technological and cultural qualities and give media a great role to play in rural economic, cultural and social development of poverty-stricken areas.


During the investigation into how residents of impoverished, mountainous rural areas of Lüliang made judgments on and received such production materials as pesticides and chemical fertilizers, only 1.9 percent of the respondents said they made decisions in light of information from advertisements of media like TV, while 40.7 percent said they bought through the recommendation of dealers and 14.4 percent said they depended on the recommendation of fellow villagers. This suggests that the function of mass media has yet to be maximized in the lives of local farmers.


Furthermore, the survey shows that 96 percent of the respondents had never marketed their own agricultural products using online media because of inefficient information communication, underdeveloped transportation, high costs of delivery and low preservation technology of agricultural products.


When it comes to online shopping, 86 percent of the surveyed said they had never shopped online and only had a vague idea about it. The survey fully indicates that poor rural areas of Lüliang Mountain are rather uninformed. The development of new media has not brought profound impacts to the life of local residents.

 

Reducing poverty with information
Poverty reduction relies on the modern market system to a great extent and the building of globalized market systems mostly centers on economically developed regions or urban financial and industrial areas. Since residents of poor and remote rural areas are far away from modern markets, it is difficult to translate their distinctive resource and labor advantages into effective income, so they are mired in destitution.


According to the survey, 34.7 percent of the respondents regarded media as important in the process of poverty alleviation, yet 13.4 percent chose “unimportant.” Only 7.8 percent maintained that media information is “very important” to shaking off poverty, while 43.9 percent said they had no idea about the issue.


In fact, mass media can help to connect the markets of poor areas and transform resource endowments. However, if residents of poor rural areas have no sobering recognition of the fact, the role of media will be restricted in poverty reduction.


All in all, information reception is not only inseparable from the objective environment and social development, but also from the subject’s cognition of information transmission and its function. The occupation, educational background and income level are all important factors influencing the media contact of residents in poor rural areas.


The report to the 19th CPC National Congress called for efforts to win the battle against poverty, continue to implement targeted poverty reduction and alleviation measures, and help people increase confidence in their own ability to lift themselves out of poverty.


In the process of poverty relief and development, attention should be paid to effectively enhancing the media qualities of farmers in poor areas and providing conditions for their media contact.


To change the information communication landscape in rural areas, it is necessary to make up for the deficiencies of mass media in information transmission in poor regions by means of organizational and interpersonal communication like publicity of poverty reduction policies and peer-to-peer communication via WeChat. Efforts should also be made to transmit what people in areas of extreme poverty should know, want to know and do not know in a targeted fashion, thereby effectively promoting poverty reduction.

 

Guo Xiaoliang and Liu Qiang are from the School of Chinese Language and Literature and Journalism and Communications at Yan’an University in Shaanxi Province.

(edited by CHEN MIRONG)

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