Projet Radio Madagascar: A ‘new’ model of development?

27 Feb
listening group
Radio is a widespread form of communication in Africa and was one of the first main technologies to be used for development communication in the continent.
Projet Radio on the island of Madagascar is a contemporary example of instigating ‘modern’ social change in rural communities using radio communication based in the Global South. These development projects have introduced a level of participatory involvement, distinguishing themselves from the modernisation development attempts of the early twentieth century – but how much are people on the ground actually involved? Is the West still using techniques that development communication supposedly moved away from decades ago?

Literacy

Madagascar, which gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960, has not yet achieved any of its UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and is “off track” on gender equality and maternal heath. The island has a literacy rate of about 69%, but only 25% in rural areas so radio is a practical media technology.

projet radio statsSet up in 1999 as part of the Andrew Lees Trust (ALT), Project Radio broadcasts programmes which are distributed through working with 38 local stations, covering agriculture, healthcare, education and AIDS.

Indigenous communities assist Western journalists’ research though ‘listening groups’ enabling locals to share their experiences and establish their needs.

Culture barriers

Radios are given free to village ‘responsibles’ who head the groups, 68% of which are women. This empowerment gives women control over radio access. But this promotion of gender equality was also a practical decision because women are more likely to be in the village during daytime hours.

The Madagascan culture and tradition caused problems in the project’s early days according to director, Yvonne Orengo, who said listening groups could be “quite problematic due to the hierarchies and male dominance in the villages”.

Language is also a culture barrier when imposing Western models of journalism, but Projet Radio embraced the aural culture of the otherwise isolated Tulear and Fianarantsoa provinces before it launched its service and broadcasts in ‘easy to understand’ dialects like Antandroy and Antanosy.

Programmes giving advice on HIV and AIDS prevention also have to battle with the traditional Malagasy belief that such illnesses are caused by spirit possession, so horizontal contact with people on the ground floor is crucial.

Western model

The ALT is registered charity in England and although it does have a Malagasy branch, it is run from the UK and works with the notion that education can be “a single alleviating factor in a family’s ability to overcome the effects of poverty”. It has made positive contributions towards Madagascar’s MDGs and its participatory intention to empower indigenous populations cannot be denied.

Funded from various sources, including the European Commission, UNICEF and the British and American embassies, it enforces the idea that this is a Western ‘approved’ project working very much within what resonates the former ‘Modernisation’ model.

The format and content of the devised radio programmes is largely determined by Western partners and local radio stations, which also control the production and airing of principally ‘solution-orientated’ broadcasts.

NGOs and partners provide equipment to local radio stations on the condition that their programmes are broadcast and out outreach workers are trained to make programmes promoting their specialist topics, rather than training the radio broadcasters to produce programmes on unfamiliar subjects which makes us question To what extent are the programme themes actually taken from what people have said on the ground and what partners involved feel it should be.

More participation?

Projet Radio production studio in Ambovombe

Projet Radio production studio in Ambovombe

Most production members involved in the programmes are Malagasy, so local cultural nuances are identified and understood, but with a lack of producers who are actually trained journalists (Evans, 2002) and only 5% of listening groups actually involved in actual recordings, the participation element of ‘village voices’ can be minimal.

In some respects, Projet Radio is an evolved development initiative and can be seen as taking a participative and empowering approach, but it also shows that modernisation approaches are still present. With its practicalities, radio also comes with limitations – would ‘Projet Online’ allow for a wider perspective?

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