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Learning from radio’s unique and resilient power to reach communities

Our local-language radio dramas, developed to curb Covid vaccine disinformation in Nigeria and Senegal, have proven the power of radio to bring the facts to offline communities denied basic reading skills.

“Video killed the radio star,” the song goes. But radio is far from dead. There’s been an explosion of newer mass media – TV, then the internet – since radio was the single option. But radio remains alive and well, and trusted.

Today’s audiences listen to audio content on streaming platforms, but radio still reaches many and continues to draw in listeners. This point is made in a 2017 conference paper by economist Bhaskar Samah and historian Sukmaya Lama of the Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University in India.

In developing countries, the authors say, radio is one of the most consumed media. It is possibly the most inclusive and accessible form of mass communication – and it’s free (save perhaps just the cost of a small set). Even before the Covid outbreak, radio listenership was rising in some of the most difficult-to-reach places, where electricity is limited.

All these factors make radio ideal for distance learning.

Interactive radio drama

In September 2021, Africa Check and the UK-based Theatre for a Change launched innovative fact-checking radio dramas in local languages in Nigeria and Senegal, with support from the Google News Initiative.

The dramas – On Top Di Matter in Nigerian Pidgin and Diisoo Ngir Aaru (Join Forces to Protect) in Senegal’s Wolof language – combatted Covid vaccine misinformation. They were aimed mostly at people without access to the internet, and people denied the opportunity to learn to read.

The shows used the interactive radio drama (IRD) format developed by Theatre for a Change. The stories, both informative and entertaining, were told in a relatable manner that helped audiences identify with the characters.

The project’s aim was not only to increase circulation and deepen understanding of Covid vaccine information. It also used fact-checking, expert radio interviews and media literacy to educate and empower people, encouraging behaviour and attitude change. 

Nothing lost in translation

Educational storytelling on radio was used long before the age of TV and the internet. It’s easy to spread propaganda on almost any platform, but radio tends to be more trusted to deliver authentic stories, and factual news and information.

It’s a proven and powerful vehicle for mass communication that changes behaviour, a power confirmed during the Covid pandemic.

Radio is especially important where there is a need to give culturally appropriate information in several languages. It’s readily available in local languages on several stations, which reduces the likelihood of key messages being lost in translation.

The IRD project has since wrapped up. But its concept has been proven: that local-language radio can educate people not only about health, but also about human rights, gender-based violence, voting and more.

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