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Vernacular radio - a positive economic impact?

02 Feb 2016

What is the impact of broadcasting in English and Kiswahili across a country with almost 70 languages? Or to flip the question, what happens when a Kenyan radio station begins broadcasting in a vernacular previously unheard on the nation's airwaves?

According to RISJ fellow Edwin Okoth, it’s creating more engaged citizens, who are better informed to improve their household economies, engage in political discourse and access information and entertainment. In a new research paper, Okoth, a business journalist at the Daily Nation in Kenya, traces the emergence and growth of vernacular radio in Kenya, and its economic impact on an audience previously excluded by language. Okoth uses the case study of Ramogi FM, which broadcasts in Dholuo language – against the grain of traditional broadcasters in the country, which historically limited their broadcasts to English and Kiswahili. With almost 70 languages spoken across the country, this was to the exclusion of many, particularly rural audiences with less access to education. The radio channel has grown from regional to national reach, and with online opportunities, is now widely available.

Okoth concludes that as vernacular media has grown to reach its often disparate audience, the impact on the household economy of its listeners has been positive in various ways. Previously excluded from news items, commercial advertising and other influential and informative programmes with the potential for positive change, the new wave of vernacular broadcasting means listeners are now part of a network.

As well as engaging new audiences, the rise in popularity of the radio stations has meant hundreds of new job opportunities for journalists who broadcast in vernacular languages, as well as producers, engineers and other station staff. “They are now becoming better citizens able to make informed choices,” says Okoth, describing the impact the growth has had on audiences. “They are also enabling them to make better economic decisions, expand businesses and generally raise standards of living; but the move is gradual because poor penetration of electricity still means that using dry cells is a new burden to keep the radios on.”

Read the full research paper here