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PiMA Working Paper #6

Let's be responsible citizens! Contesting the agenda of a sponsored call-in radio programme 
Alastair Fraser (Centre of Governance and Human Rights, University of Cambridge)

PiMA Working Paper #6
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This working paper considers in detail how the hosts of and listeners to one call-in radio programme in Zambia were influenced by, resisted and co-opted the agendas of the sponsor that paid for its production. It develops a detailed case-study covering fifteen episodes of, ‘Let’s Be Responsible Citizens’, broadcast on Phoenix FM in Lusaka in late 2011 and right through 2012. It shows how the original aspirations of the show’s sponsor, Lusaka City Council, can be understood in terms of nurturing popular subjectivities that might enable the state to impose market solutions to the provision of social goods. The Council hoped that this might in turn have enabled them to survey and bring a particular kind of order to the unruly spaces of the capital city. The Council also aimed to evangelise a model of city governance that shifts power away from the dense networks of representative political structures that exist in the city towards consensus-oriented, technocratic modes of assessing social needs and distributing resources. However, the programme struggled to attract audience participation in episodes framed in these ways and, in accepting that they needed to bring the show closer to the concerns of the listeners, the Council enabled the host and callers to ‘Let’s Be Responsible Citizens’ to subvert the show’s original intentions. Negotiations over the show’s agenda provide a window on how debates about political accountability, legitimate authority and who has the responsibility to meet social needs play out in increasingly media-saturated societies.