Why radio is essential in Africa

Why radio is essential in Africa

Is the radio a medium of the past? At least not in Africa: radio is as popular as ever almost everywhere on the continent, despite the Internet and social media. A search for clues to World Radio Day 2020.

It’s lunchtime in Mali’s capital Bamako. Radio Kledu, Mali’s largest private radio station, is running a special show on the nationwide teacher strike. Moderator Oumou Dembélé lets the unions and strikers have their say, and a little later the government side is also allowed to present their version of things. It is quite normal, emphasize the journalists in the editorial office. Because at Radio Kledu everyone should express their opinion. 

Not a very simple mission in a country that is ranked 116th in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and in which terrorist groups often also target journalists. “We often have problems doing our job as we see it,” says Oumou Dembélé in an interview with DW. Access to certain regions is often made more difficult for her and her colleagues. “But we’re struggling.”

Radio is Africa’s most important source of information

For quite a few people in Mali, the work of dedicated radio journalists like Dembélé is practically indispensable. Because like in many African countries, radio is the most important medium in Mali. Especially in rural regions, where there is hardly a stable power supply, let alone access to the Internet, people rely on battery-powered radio devices as a source of information.

Transmission masts in Morocco (picture-alliance / blickwinkel / WG Allgoewer)Transmitter masts in Morocco: where the cell phone network coverage is sparse, radio waves pass on

“Radio reaches far more people than any other media on the continent,” emphasizes the South African media scientist Franz Krüger. Even in relatively well-developed media markets like South Africa, more than 90 percent of people would listen to the radio. For Krüger, the advantages of the medium are obvious: “Radio can be produced cheaply, is cheap and easy to receive and thus reaches those who are otherwise disadvantaged in the media landscape,” says Krüger, who is the journalism faculty at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.

Radio stations tune into social media

The usage figures for Deutsche Welle’s Africa programs also speak a clear language: although DW’s TV, online and social media offerings are also becoming increasingly popular in sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of the radio programs still do so entire DW reach in Africa. Franz Krüger also confirms the continuing popularity of radio in times of digital change in Africa: “The figures show that radio has hardly lost any audience due to the growth of social media.”

This also contributed to the fact that many people would now be listening to the radio on their cell phones – not via the Internet, however, but via built-in FM receivers, which are often standard equipment for cell phones in Africa. In addition, many stations have now recognized the signs of the times: “Many radio stations have adjusted to the digital change and can now reach their listeners via Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms,” ​​said Krüger.

Citizen radio studio of Voice of Sinoe FM in Liberia (picture-alliance / AP Images)Citizen radio studio of “Voice of Sinoe FM” in Liberia: a trend towards more program diversity

While podcasts and other audio-on-demand formats have become increasingly important in Europe and North America in recent years, the classic linear radio program still dominates in Africa, says Krüger. On the one hand, this has to do with the high prices for mobile data in African countries, but on the other hand, it also has to do with listening habits: “Linear radio works better than other media in the background and therefore has a permanent place in people’s everyday lives.”

Authoritarian regimes hinder further development

For Franz Krüger, the radio medium has far from reached its full potential in Africa. In many places, authoritarian governments would prevent radio waves from being opened to private providers, and it would also often be difficult for non-commercial citizen radio stations. In some countries, such as Zimbabwe and Uganda, there has been a tentative liberalization of the market. However, the broadcasting licenses were often issued to people close to the government – with negative consequences for the diversity of opinion and democracy.

On the other hand, where the media landscapes are already freer, such as in South Africa, Krüger sees a trend towards more program diversity – also thanks to new, digital broadcasting technologies such as DAB and DAB +. “I think there will be more niche offers in the future that appeals to smaller target groups.” The media scientist certifies that audio providers in Africa have a great future – if they manage to remain flexible and use new technologies and platforms. “The audience will no doubt move and the broadcasters will have to follow him,” said Krüger.

World Radio Day 2020 in the name of diversity

“Radio is one of the media of the future,” predicts UNESCO Secretary-General Audrey Azoulay. For World Radio Day on February 13, she particularly emphasizes the emancipatory potential of the medium. “Without the radio, the world would be less free and there would be less cultural diversity,” said Azoulay in an audio message.

And at Radio Kledu in Bamako, journalist Mahamadou Kane also praises the radio: “Whether you’re showering or driving, no matter what you do, you can listen to the radio on the side. That is what makes radio so charming, which is why we love radio And that’s why we fight every day to inform our listeners all over the world. “

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