In the 1980s there was a definite change in communication theories in Latin America as a direct result of many countries moving from dictatorships to democracies.  These new theories are based on ‘culture’ and using culture to more effectively implement media development strategies (Murphy/Rodriguez 2006). This was the beginning of cultural communication as an integral part in development work. Indeed culture is not an easy word to define and academics have toiled with numerous definitions. See Eskamp/Swart 1991 for an interesting debate about its many meanings from a way of life to a way of co-operating. It has finally been realised that there must be an understanding of culture as rooted in an imperialist past if communication strategies are to be successful in today’s society.

And what about the video? A whole host of new types of small-scale media have come in to play as a facilitators for development – song, dance, music, popular theatre – but at the same time keeping the cultural identity of the local area intact. This type of media is used to explore local themes and inform. Themes include anything from lack of fertilizer and water to the disruption of polygamy. Local issues that affect local people.

The use of video tapes in Peru is a powerful success story and an example of this new paradigm. Unlike the mediums of print, radio and television, which are notoriously top-down, one way and imperialist forms of communication often controlled by governments or professionals (Baraldi 2006), video creates a horizontal communication flow and promotes dialogue within and between communities. Crucially it is participatory and a form of self-media where the interests of the programmes are centred on the receiver as a real person rather than just a ‘receiver’ or a statistic.

In addition, its different from television, (which is notoriously used to carry political propaganda and incite commercial concerns) because production costs are low, equipment is highly portable, it is technically easy, and allows immediate play back and thus immediate results. It is an autonomous form of media and thus is self empowering. (See Agunga 1990).

In Peru this paradigm was used to facilitate rural development and agriculture. ‘Campesinos’ turned development theories upside down and used video to educate development workers about their needs and lives. This was then used by the government to inform agricultural reform. This development project trained native technicians in how to use video to reflect the problems in rural Peru. See Epskamp/Swart 1991 for more on this. A holistic range of programmes were subsequently made and focused on the salient issues of agricultural production techniques and problems affecting the rural communities; from irrigation, potato cultivation, cattle husbandry, environmental protection to how to take better care of llamas and alpacas to improve quality of the wool. There were even courses in farm bookkeeping to help farmers improve their management skills.

So why did this scheme work where many others have failed in Latin America? The answer lies in the way that the video tape was used as a channel of bottom up communication about agricultural issues. The result is that there’s now a more integrated rural development policy and the government was forced to listen to the needs of the rural people. The government’s view of agriculture shifted. Whereas before it’s interest in farming was purely economic with a view of more production for the good of urban populations, it’s now accepted that farming is a way of life, the environment must be protected and sustainability is a serious concern. This shift in discourse was forced by campesinos who drive their own development.

This success in Peru in the 1980s has been been employed in other countries throughout South America. Emphasis is now on working with rural communities and building up a relationship of trust. ‘In order to believe that person he must trust him.’ Since the 1980s, video is regularly used as a feedback and evaluation technique with emphasis upon developing more effective agricultural policy. It’s now a tool for people without a voice to speak out.