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Media study for RVHP
Brett Davidson, Idasa
June 2006 (direct link to 4 page pdf file)

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Executive summary

This study was commissioned with the aim of providing the Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP) with current, incisive information about media opportunities to support delivery of the RHVP Communication Strategy.

Media arrangements, use and impact at regional level

There is a general lack of detailed media audience research in the countries of the region, but broad-stroke information has been gathered from a range of surveys. Notable amongst these are the Gender Links Southern African Gender and Media Audience Study conducted in 2004 and 2005 and the regular Afrobarometer survey on attitudes to democracy conducted in fifteen African countries.

Radio is by far the most accessible and most used medium in the region and remains the most important source of news for 51% of southern Africans. Radio is also most likely to reach audiences in their own language. Television comes second, with 34% relying on it as their primary news source. Only 14% of southern Africans turn to newspapers first for news and information, while Internet use is negligible except among elites (1%).

The media sector in the region is undergoing change. The power of television is growing, and in recent years there has been a rapid increase in the number of television sets in several countries. However television is still the medium most likely to be subject to strict government controls. Digital satellite television has gained widespread currency among elites. The past decade has seen community radio take on increasing importance. Community radio stations, while often under-resourced, have the advantage of being close to their audiences both physically and culturally, and broadcast in local languages and dialects. There are notable differences between urban and rural dwellers. While rural folk are overwhelmingly dependant on radio and often only have access to the state broadcaster, urban dwellers have access to, and use, a wider variety of media.

Guidelines for developing or implementing media activity

There are essentially two options facing any organisation seeking media exposure - gaining free coverage by strategically engaging the news media on the one hand, or paying for content in the form of advertising and advertorials - sponsorship of tailor-made educational/entertainment programming on radio and television - on the other.

The generation of free publicity and exposure requires a modest budget, while paying for media space is far more expensive. Free publicity carries an additional advantage besides being relatively inexpensive - it often carries far greater credibility as it is perceived to come from neutral or objective sources.

In order to gain free media exposure, it is necessary for an organisation to understand how the news media operate and how issues move through the media. Key techniques are:

  • making press calls,
  • distributing press releases,
  • holding press conferences,
  • staging newsworthy events,
  • participating in radio and TV talk shows,
  • placing opinion articles in newspapers, and
  • providing background information and briefings to journalists.

Regular events and annual dates can be used effectively as 'hooks' for gaining media attention.

It is important to think carefully about the best medium and outlet to target, depending on the desired audience, as well as the aim of the communication. It is also important to bear in mind that each type of medium has different characteristics. Radio is immediate and interactive, television has great visual and emotional impact, and print is the medium of record and can be kept as reference material.

It is important to bear in mind that the media should not be utilised simply to convey information or persuasion from the RHVP to 'target audiences', in a one-way process. The media can be effectively used in order to stimulate debate and discussion, and to gather information and opinions from key stakeholders.

Practical proposals for RHVP activity

Based on the existing Communication and Advocacy (C&A) strategy, the following initial objectives are suggested:

  • Establish awareness of RHVP and its objectives,
  • Create awareness of the problem: that traditional humanitarian responses to hunger have not addressed the underlying causes of vulnerability,
  • Increase the quality and quantity of journalism with respect to issues of hunger and vulnerability, and begin to build public 'literacy' with respect to these issues,
  • Begin to stimulate and facilitate public debate and deliberation (in the media) around the issues of hunger and vulnerability, food aid and its alternatives (such as cash transfers),
  • Begin to get the voices, perspectives and concerns of vulnerable groups into the media, and thus into debates/deliberations on the issues.

Key messages should be linked directly with the communication objectives.

Messaging suggestions are provided based on the objectives proposed above. These are:

Create awareness:

  • Media launches to introduce the programme in each country.
  • A conference or one-day workshop with high profile guests/speakers.
  • Persuade sympathetic government officials/ministers to address the issue in their speeches and public appearances.
  • Hold small media briefings for selected groups of influential journalists.
  • Issue press releases linking your issues to key events and issues already in the news.
  • Use thematic days to begin to draw attention to RHVP's concerns.

Increase the quality and quantity of journalism:

Through interpersonal interaction, emails and short seminars/panel discussions, RHVP staff should aim to persuade editors why:

  • Hunger and vulnerability deserve increased coverage, when so much else is competing for attention.
  • Hunger and vulnerability are likely to be of interest to their target audiences (along with some ideas on how to make these topics interesting).

Journalists can be educated on the issues through briefings, seminars and workshops, and plain language 'toolkits'.

Stimulate and facilitate public debate and deliberation:

Here the aim is to create the 'space' in the media for public discussion. There are a number of techniques that could be used to achieve this objective:

  • Submit articles to editorial pages of newspapers.
  • Write letters to the editor drawing attention to the issue, in response to news reports.
  • Call in to discussion programmes on radio and television and raise key issues where relevant.
  • Persuade radio and television stations to hold discussion programmes on issues of hunger and vulnerability and the best way to address these.
  • Work with one or two community radio stations in each country to hold a series of deliberative discussion/call-in programmes. This can be done in conjunction with the use of listener groups guided by discussion booklets.

It is important to monitor whether communication objectives are being met. This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Subscribe to a range of media, and monitor available websites of newspapers and broadcasters. Keep cuttings or print-outs of articles relating to your key issues, or quoting RHVP spokespeople and documentation.
  • Request copies of radio and television interviews and programmes where RHVP is covered or represented, or make recordings of these when aware of them ahead of time.
  • Hold focus group discussions with listeners of local radio stations to assess their levels of information and attitudes.
  • Commission an organisation such as the Media Monitoring Project (MMP) to monitor media coverage of your issue or to help you set up your own media monitoring capability.

Case studies and contact lists

The study provides several brief case study examples organised under the following themes:

  • setting the agenda and getting into the news,
  • edutainment,
  • educating audiences and building media capacity,
  • educating journalists.

Links to sources of further information are provided. The study also provides several recommendations for potential partner organisations and a detailed list of key media contacts is appended.

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