The Power of the “Audience-Public”: Interactive Radio in Africa

30 May 2018

The convergence of newer digital communication technologies with more established radio and television broadcasts is shifting opportunities for news media to impact upon citizen-state relations. These nascent possibilities are pronounced on the African continent, where mobile telephony and increasingly plural media landscapes have given rise to popular and widespread interactive talk shows. The involvement of audience voices alters the nature of the media space where political communication happens. This paper focuses on how and why interactive broadcast media intervene into relations between citizens and authorities in new and powerful ways. Through a comparative study of interactive shows in Zambia and Kenya, this paper interrogates what audience participation means for the political nature and possibilities of the interactive radio and TV broadcast. In so doing, it shows how the indeterminate audience is the basis for competing imaginaries about power, authority and belonging among the different participants in the show, including politicians, media professionals and audience members. The political significance of the ‘audience-public’, brought into being through the interactive broadcast, it is argued, lies in the very fact that multiple and competing imaginaries are at play, which are invested in by actors pursuing diverse ends and thereby have tangible political effects.