The extent of mobile phone penetration to rural and urban areas, and the dynamism of interactive media programming in Zambia provided a vibrant and important case for investigating the use of ICTs in enhancing public accountability. Access to mobile phones has increased and the penetration of mobile telephony in the country now extends to the remotest districts. The frequency and popularity of phone-in and text-in radio and television programmes in the last 10-15 years show that due to new ICTs, such as mobile phones, the ‘poor and marginalised’ potentially can express their views and hold their government to account.
Interactive media and use of opinion polls characterised the watershed 2011 elections more than ever before. The dynamics around interactive media at this key moment in Zambia’s political history suggests the importance of accounting for the political and historical significance of these evolutions, as well as the legacies on citizen involvement in the mediated public sphere and on accountability practices. Citizen participation in radio and television discussions through the elections indicates a growing willingness to hold authorities to account on a number of development-oriented issues. However, at the time of the PiMA research, it remained unclear who exactly was participating in phone-in and text-in programmes, and the extent to which they represented the more marginalised.
Going inside radio and TV stations:
Ethnographic research and key informant interviews within the media houses formed a key part of research activities in Zambia, investigating the role of the media in collecting and representing ‘public opinion’. Research efforts focused on three media houses:
- Radio Phoenix, a private radio station broadcasting from Lusaka, which targets a broad age and class demographic. Its bi-weekly interactive show, ‘Let the People Talk’ is the longest running and historically the single most important interactive show on Zambian radio.
- Muvi TV a privately owned commercial television station. Its highly popular weekly current affairs show, The Assignment, is hosted by Muvi TV's general manager Costa Mwansa and provides for audience interaction primarily through SMS texts.
- Breeze FM, a commercial but community-oriented radio station based in Chipata that broadcasts throughout Eastern Province and is picked up in neighbouring Malawi and Mozambique. It has a range of interactive shows, including People's Views (previously Issue of the Day) and shows in Nyanja presented by the highly popular Gogo ('grandfather') Breeze.
In addition, the team studied particular shows of interest on ZNBC, Zambia’s national public radio and TV broadcaster and Yatsani Radio, a Catholic radio station broadcasting in Lusaka. Yatsani's interactive programming has included The Podium, a live community debate broadcast on the radio, sponsored by BBC Media Action.
The Zambia research team completed a randomised survey in Mandevu (Lusaka) and Chipangali (Eastern Province) constituencies, with the aim to better understand who participates in interactive media, and why. These constituencies represent largely low-income catchment areas of key radio and TV stations, which were also researched in-depth. Mandevu is mixed demographic constituency in Lusaka (mostly urban poor, but with wards that are also mid-high income) and is the most populous constituency in Zambia, while Chipangali constituency is a rural constituency located close to Chipata, where BreezeFM is located. As in Kenya, a multi-stage randomised sampling method was employed at constituency, ward, enumeration area, household and individual levels. The total sample size was 700 respondents distributed evenly between the two survey sites. Survey results and methodology are published as part of the PiMA Working Paper Series.