Community radio as public sphere: Integrating communities of Africa for social change?



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This field research conducted in the United Republic of Tanzania combines a survey with focus groups and in-depth interviews to examine the promise of community radio as ‘public sphere,’ and especially its influence in stimulating social change. The goal was to discover whether use of community radio led to higher levels of political participation and political efficacy among listeners. Managers of four radio stations (Sengeremaa, Afya, Sibuka, and Saut) and 307 listener/volunteer respondents participated in the study. This study finds community radio a useful platform for the rural communities of Tanzania, which given the country’s political development, never before had the opportunity of participating in the polity. The results indicate the community radio sector currently is providing public space for local culture, gender equality, individual productivity, human rights protections, social justice, skill building, and self-identity development. In fulfilling the information needs of the rural populace, the community radio sector in Tanzania is filling a void left for decades by commercial and public broadcasting services, and in this regard, is fulfilling the role of public broadcaster, informing the public at local levels, and representing their views. A key finding of this study is the contribution of community radio talk show to political participation and efficacy, suggesting that community radio could serve useful democratic functions in empowering citizens. Further analysis indicates strong audience support for the model’s program diversity and information value. Although community radio has not replaced private or public service stations, the sector is filling the void left by traditional media.



Community Radio, Public Sphere, Political Efficacy, Political Participation, Interpersonal Discussions