From mouthpiece to public service: donor support to radio broadcasters in new democracies

The radio can help to stimulate better governance. However, state-run broadcasting organisations in the South are usually ill-prepared for their public-service role in new democracies. They are often poorly funded compared to their new, commercial rivals and often still bound by the same ‘rules of the game’ that governed them prior to the democratic era. Broadcasters typically remain accountable to government and not to their listeners, and promote the interests and agendas of the political elite. This paper focuses on the experiences of DFID support to a radio programme in northern Nigeria that sought to improve communication and debate between the government and the electorate. It argues that there are legitimate circumstances for development partners to engage with state-controlled media outlets, not least in rural areas where commercial broadcasters lack the financial incentive to establish stations and provide programming that has relevance to the poor. The authors critically examine the lessons learned from DFID’s support and identify measures that could assist similar initiatives in the future