From the onset of the post-World War II international campaign for the development of the Third World, much attention has been paid to the role of various media forms in the process of making Africa modern. In the discourses of many state officials, development agencies, Western economists, sociologists, and political scientists, development was defined in terms of a country's ability to urbanize, industrialize, and democratize. What was needed for development to occur in Africa, and in the rest of the Third World for that matter, was a transformation of societies from traditional to modern.
As channels for the dissemination of modern ideas and practices, mass media were seen as integral to the very process of social transformation. In the view of those working within this dominant modernization paradigm, a modern mass media system—radio, newspapers, television, and cinema—once established, would serve to prepare developing countries for modernity by transforming the values, attitudes, and behaviors of traditional society (Golding 1974; Fair 1989, 131). The mass media's role in the national development process, then, was to act as innovators and mobilizers of transformation, changing old habits and fostering a new ethic.
Essential to the modernization perspective was the assumption that backward societies remained mired in their traditional ways as a result of ignorance of the outside world and of the inarguable benefits of modernity. Sociologist Daniel Lerner, referring to the Middle East expressed the underlying sentiment of the role of the media in the national development process as well as anyone when he wrote, “what is required there to ‘motivate’ the isolated and illiterate peasants and tribesmen who compose the bulk of the area's population is to provide them with clues as to what the better things in life might be” (1958 411).