advocacyin the context of radio is when the radio station/broadcaster takes up a position on behalf of listeners. It then conducts a campaign on their behalf, or for their benefit, to improve their environment, their health and welfare, their living conditions and circumstances. It is championing a cause.
Jesus showed us how. He provided a practical, working model during his three years of public ministry. He showed us how to engage the outcasts, lift up the fallen, heal the sick and showed great respect for women. By so doing he challenged many of the social norms of his day – things that were out-of-line with the Kingdom of God. He is also our advocate with the Father.
The underlying concerns are for justice on the one hand and compassion on the other. When we combine these two we find a place for advocacy among the many roles of the Christian broadcaster.
Community or local radio in particular lends itself to advocacy in social development. It is a natural fit and can do much to remove prejudice through thoughtful research and strong persuasion.
But what is advocacy in practical terms? An advocate according to the dictionary (OED) is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.” How can radio programming be used for this?
There is so much injustice and poverty around that we don't need to look far to find things that need to be changed for the good of the community. We might begin by asking what issues are of concern in the community. Is it safe water? Or refuse/rubbish disposal? AIDS/HIV? Drugs? Teenage pregnancy? Alcohol abuse? Road safety? Unemployment? We could make a very long list of possibilities. What is the hot issue that people are talking about?
Very often these issues will affect the poor rather than the middle class. But the poor don’t normally have a voice nor do they have the influence or contacts to make their concerns known. Radio can give them that voice. More than that, those who are affected can also be encouraged to make their own programs.
Radio programming can be used to heighten awareness of the issue, by talking to people who are suffering from its effects. The program can be used to first explore the nature of the problem – and how well is it understood. What are its causes? People will share various opinions. Get them talking. But also include those who have the power to bring about changes and put solutions into action. Radio can provide the forum for these kinds of public discussions.
There is a great need for alternative media to give minorities a voice, addressing issues of relevance to them that may not be covered in mainstream or official media. Another function is to produce programs that bring such concerns to the attention of authorities and decision-makers. In different parts of the world, this has successfully been achieved through participatory production strategies.
Participatory production encourages broadcasters to “give the microphone away” by encouraging listeners to speak for themselves and even produce their own programs.
Public service broadcasters have a great potential for providing strategic information. Why? Because they are an alternative to state-owned or commercial media, impartial and yet concerned for the whole person.
Secular media are unlikely to be interested in much of what interests us. Programs relating to new ideas, social movements and issues, politics, development or emerging trends, will facilitate the listeners' access to information, broaden their horizons and empower them to act.
Where governments still exercise tight controls it may not be so easy to speak out on social issues but the trend is for greater openness and interaction.
On local stations, and in practical terms, advocacy might be used as a radio component in a community health program, showing people how to adopt new remedies, or medicines. Or it may provide the community a voice in helping get clean water, or in regular garbage collection. It may be used to help in creating HIV/AIDS awareness among young people, or in helping reduce the number of adults smoking. For many having a radio campaign raises awareness and also adds credibility, especially when endorsed by well-known personalities.
Advocacy is more than just being a channel for grievances. If it were that, then the loudest, most frequent, most articulate complainer would have everyone's ear. Advocacy includes speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. Advocacy also involves building a strong persuasive case, and that means thoughtful research. Advocacy need not be overt or heavy. Advocacy can be aimed at specific policy makers, or it can aim at changing wider attitudes.
Advocacy takes on new dimensions in the aftermath of natural disasters. Under such circumstances where the need for accurate and timely information is paramount radio is able to respond quickly. It also provides opportunity for the people of the community to be heard. See how First Response is putting this into practice.
Chapter 4 on Incarnational Radio addresses radio's usefulness in Community Development and includes further insights into the use of advocacy in social change.
Last updated 16 July 2010
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