At BBC Media Action we’ve been talking a lot about sustainability
and our commitment to supporting change that lasts beyond the lifetime of an
individual project.

One of the best ways we can contribute to lasting change is by
working with local media partners to improve the quality and sustainability of
their programming and of their organisations.

Powerful partnerships

So for example, we’ve recently been working with community radio
stations in Zambia to strengthen their ability to produce political discussion
programmes. The result has been low-cost programmes, editorially steered by our
partners which meet the needs of local audiences. These programmes have become
part of the stations’ schedules and continue to be broadcast after donor support
has ended. 

Looking back further, in 2005-6 we worked in Russian prisons
developing radio programming on rights and health.  Radio stations were established in six
prisons and prisoners and prison officers were trained in programme-making.
Three of these stations are still operating today and four more have been set
up in other prisons.

And our work can also have an influence beyond the partners we
work with directly.

Since Open Jirga, the debate programme we make with Radio
Television Afghanistan, went on air, other networks are now producing more political
programmes and altered the formats of existing debate shows, giving audiences additional
opportunities to question panel members. We’ll be watching to see whether these
changes take hold and what impact they have on accountability in the country.

Long-term funding

Often though, it can be difficult for partners to sustain high-quality
media programming once project funding ends.

Our team in Nepal, for example, explain that “stations do try to
continue running the programmes, but they are expensive due to the cost of
travel, salaries and fuel for the generator. Once the partnership ceases and
without proper funding from other agencies, the stations can’t maintain the
programmes up to standard or serve as many locations.” 

So to address such challenges we also provide business development
support to many of our partners, working with them to grow audiences and advertising
revenue and to secure additional funding.

In Sierra Leone, for example, we’ve been working closely with the
board and management team at Radio Bankasoka in the north of the country to
help them develop a business plan.

An agreement has now been signed between the station and their district
council, providing funding while also protecting the station’s public service
remit and editorial independence. This is a first in the country.

Building local support

For other partners, supporting the development of relationships
with local leaders has been very important. This can involve building awareness
among local government officials to build their awareness of how public service
broadcasting functions.  

In Tanzania we have supported partner radio stations to hold open
days bringing together different stakeholders.

Robust debates about editorial standards, corruption and
independence have ensued and our partner stations have reported improved
relationships with local government as a result.

In Angola we convened meetings where media practitioners, civil
society organisations and donors could meet government officials responsible
for media policy. This enabled them to express their needs and opinions and
give feedback on changes to media regulation.

The sustainability challenge

Despite these positive stories, we recognise that financial and
institutional sustainability remains a very real challenge for many of our

Whilst capacity strengthening efforts can make an important
contribution, media independence can be compromised by political interference
unless closely protected. 

And economic underdevelopment, weak advertising markets and
limited opportunities for apolitical public funding make financial
sustainability problematic. 

In these difficult circumstances, we remain committed to
supporting our partners while also recognising the importance of continued
public or donor subsidy if media is to meet important public needs in the long term.

We’re pursuing other promising ways to prolong the impact of our
work – for instance by working to develop skills within government agencies such as health or disaster preparedness ministries. And I’ll be blogging more about that work


Related links 

Follow @carolinesugg

Follow BBC Media Action on Twitter and

Go back to BBC
Media Action