Media: Pay or not pay?

There is an ongoing, murmuring issue in health communication - do you pay for media time or not? The issues are difficult and interesting. Where do you stand and why?

In favour of paying is the argument that if you wish your media and communication products to be seen and heard, absorbed, discussed and have influence, then it is important to reach and engage the people you want through the channels and in the time slots that best meet your health communication goals. If that means, for example, paying Channel X or Radio Station Y for 30 minutes of prime time for your entertainment, news, current affairs, childrens, cartoon, music or whatever “show”, then so be it. That is just the cost of effective health communication.

The arguments against paying relate to both effective health communication and media development in a country.

From the health communication perspective, does paying for media time undermine the requirement for that health communication production to be high quality, resonant with the local context, generating of its own substantive audience and therefore attractive to the media company and possible advertisers. Those elements are a test of the relevance and quality of the health communication products themselves. Does paying undermine these elements or short-cut them in an undesirable way?

Related to media development the argument is that (a) the organizations that can pay are mainly the richer international orgs so they distort the market for local agencies and (b) rather than local media being responsive to and resonant with local and national voices, interests, themes, priorities, styles the payment process distorts and undercuts these really important elements of national media development.

1. Are there are other factors and issues at play?
2. What have you been doing and why?
3. Where do you stand on these issues?

Thanks - Warren



Media and Development Agency Partnership is the way to go.

Hi Everyone,

I have been following the thread of discussinos on "Media: Pay or Not Pay?" with interest. I would like to share with the group some of my personal experiences over the last 30 plus years on this issue in a number of countries. But before I begin, let me also remind everyone of the old adage (?) "There is no such thing as a free lunch"

Back in the 1980s, as a young UNICEF Communication Officer in India, I was involved with advocating with All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan (India's national TV broadcaster) in producing and broadcasting radio PSAs, radio soap operas and TV PSAs and "Edutainment" soap operas. UNICEF partnered with the two national media broadcasters as well as the State Departments of Social Welfare to jointly produce the media products and to train "animators" who would facilitate discussions in the women's radio clubs. Being government owned media broadcasters, they had to (and still do) produce and broadcast social development programs as part of their mandate. So AIR and Doordarshan saw the value of the partnership in providing techincal input assistance to the radio and TV programs. UNICEF did not pay for the production and broadcasting of the programs but funded the training of animators and production of supporting IEC materials used in the women radio clubs. By the time I left India in 1990, there were more than 35,000 women radio clubs in over a dozen States in the country.

While in Nepal in the mid 1990s, I negotiated with Nepal TV (NTV) to produce and telecast a 100 parts TV soap opera serial incorporating the issues of MCH, girls education, children's rights, sex trafficking and prevention of HIV, WASH etc. The weekly serial was telecast by NTV free of cost. However, UNICEF helped fund the producation at cost - not at the private producer's rates but at the regular government production rates. My question to and offer to the Director General of NTV was, "how much does it cost your station to produce a 15 - 20 min program using your regular staff and artists? UNICEF will reimburse this cost if you will produce and telecast the serial." The entire 100 parts weekly serial cost less than USD $75K to produce!

In Myanmar in the late '90s and early 2000, a similar strategy was used for negotiating with the Myanmar Radio & TV (MRTV) that owned both radio and TV broadcasting. Here, UNICEF provided 2 professional broadcast Umatic video recorders that were dedicated to producing the health and educational TV programs. UNICEF then produced a number of animated TV PSAs highlight the CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child) issues and NTV telecast them free of cost despite the military government's allergy to the word "Rights". That's another story as the animation did not actually use the word "Rights" but alluded to it as the "rights of children to health, education, love and protection" etc.

In conclusion, as I mentioned, there is "no such thing as a free lunch". "Volunteers" can't feed themselves and their families on love and fresh air and dedication to humanitarian services alone. As mentioned by a number of discussants, the media stations need funds to continue operating. While the actual broadcasting cost is only the payment of electricity consumption for the duration of the broadcast, funds are needed to operate and maintain the equipment, pay salaries of the operators and producers, etc. Perhaps, with the increase in the thrust of major companies giving back to society through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program/funding, development NGOs can and should tap such commercial enterprises to help them realise their CSR. This will be a win-win situation for the coporate company, NGO and media houses.

I hope that my experience will help trigger your thoughts and actions.

Need to pay for media to deliver our messages effectively

May I take this opportunity to register my appreciation concerning the health debate going on concerning paying or not paying for media.

My opinion is that we need to pay for media in order for the selected channels to deliver our messages effectively. This is more so given that most of the media houses are private thus they are required by different states to meet tax obligations especially for organizations that are not tax exempted.

We all know that paying for airtime through media houses is exorbitant/expensive. However, this can be managed if one goes through the corporate social responsibility departments. The CSR has an obligation to the targeted audiences and will help in waiving some costs. We are running a radio campaign at the moment, but it proved so expensive at the beginning until we almost gave up. The price quotations that we received were inhibitive. For example running a one week activation programme of about 30 minutes for per day was going for Kshs. 300,000 (USD 2,970)

However, I personally approached one of the CEO of a local radio station who went through our program profile and realized that by airing our materials, his audience will gain more and in return they will also become aware of his station more. What I am trying to say is that we need to put on the table our goals and objectives and outline the most important benefits to for example the three partners i.e. audience, channel and organization. I did this and now the USD 2,970 will help us run our radio campaigns for 4 months. The amount will be used by the station for logistics only without factoring in the profits. They have also allowed us to tune in all scheduled times to ensure that our clips are aired efficiently. In addition, they have waived the production costs.

Negotiations pay.

Best regards,
Mr. Julius Richard
SBCC Expert/Private Consultant,

Always need to develop strong sustainability strategies

Dear Julius,

I agree with you, "negotiations pay" but sometimes it is not the case especially when dealing with private media houses. SBCC radio programs can surely be costly especially if the program is meant to run for long period of time. For example radio soap operas usually have high production costs and broadcast costs. So, there is always need to develop strong sustainability strategies right at the conception stage.


Negotiating with media

Dear Ggahandak

This is a healthy exchange. That is still true negotiations pay. However, we need to negotiate with media houses with all documents on the table (proposal, budgets, target audiences, benefits both to the media house and the audiences etc). Another possible way around this is engaging relatively new stations that are still unknown. An organization can whip up listenership to a particular radio station while carrying out its field activities for example through the community health volunteers. This can then be translated into monetary costs meaning as an organization you will have played a role in spreading the word about the station which must now factor this into the cost of airing your messages.


Mr. Julius Richard Onyango

I'm particularly intrigued by

I'm particularly intrigued by this part of your comment: "Another possible way around this is engaging relatively new stations that are still unknown. An organization can whip up listenership to a particular radio station while carrying out its field activities for example through the community health volunteers." I think it is certainly something to consider and test out. I think once again context matters and media mix available to the target audience as well. Nowadays, depending on where you are working, there may be a lot of competition for attention because of increased access to various forms of media and increased options, particularly as you get into more urban and peri-urban areas. I think what you're suggesting could work with very intense efforts from community health volunteers and lots of obvious reminders and cues to tune in within the local area.

Full and partial payment

Dear Julius,

I support full payment for media on political communications, partial payment for media communications for health related communication.

Ensuring quality

Dear Okon,

I agree with you Okon on the health related communications. However, the catchy bit will be ensuring quality, consistency and the right message. There is studio production for example that requires financial inputs. For you to be on the safe side, I still find the corporate social responsibility department to be helpfu.


Mr. Julius Richard Onyango


ok. how

Government and donor agencies have fund to pay for the space

Dear  all 

In 2012 I did a study how best we could involve media in spreading health information and get into constructive social discussion. All shown a lot of interest and expressed their eagerness to participate in this social effort. However at the end of the day, they all said the same thing —- government and donor agencies have fund to pay for the space in their print media and air time which is their business.  If Government / donor agencies pay for space / air time surely they will be participate in the program. So the bottom line is to involve private media  we should be ready for paying them .

Those who are interested in more details  of the study could read Chapter 7 “Priority of press: a content analysis of social and development issues covered by newspapers” by Isha Bhatnagar and M.E. Khan  and Chapter 8 “ Media perspective on target behaviors  and possibility in partnering in a communication strategy by M.E.Khan and Isha Bhatnagar” in Shapping demand and practices to improve family health outcomes: Designing a behavior change communication strategy in India  Eds. M.E.Khan , France Donnay, Usha Kiran Tarigopula and Deepika Ganju , 2012 Sage Publications

M.E Khan

Private media

I totally agree with Khan. Media houses especially private ones that are out to eke profits from what they do will not be readily willing to air your messages for free. However, CSR and being open to the managers of the media houses about our budgets does the trick

Mr. Julius Richard Onyango

Pay or don't pay

To Pay or not to pay that is the question. Wether it is nobler to hang out for a fair fee or suffer the slings and arrows of outrageos charging.

In theatre and theatre based C4D programmes for the media, TV or radio the principle should hold that you should not pay for access . To support this side of the discussion I would hold out for payment directed to the artists who generate this content. I suppose the more engageing and high quality the content is the more lkely that it will attract a fee paid to the artist/ producer. If the idea is that this programme has been developed for broadcast and has been pre funded by the development organisation, charity, or "not for profit" agency then maybe a fee can be waived. Remember this is good stuff we are delivering. This is not an advert where direct profit is made from engageing with it.

Presumaby the content will help people live a happier , healthier lives and in many cases promote the saving of life so is this not a public service and as such there should be free access to braodcast if the programming criyerion allow.

Being aware of our C4D principles and being creative surely we should find acces to the concience of our nation whereever in the world we may be.

I think the question of

I think the question of paying vs not paying as you present it, depends on the context. Let's say we're talking about a rural community radio station that serves an area where the population is a captive audience- i.e. this is the main radio station they have access to and/or find relevant and acceptable. Then, since the community is responsible for producing the content, we can potentially appeal to their conscience and community spirit and hope they will contribute their voices, their acting talent, their studio and their airtime to produce and broadcast content that would benefit their community. In practice, this has not necessarily been the case. As part of our sustainability plan, we planned to partner with a community radio station (still a somewhat new thing in my country, Nigeria) to host a live phone-in program about sustainable agricultural development along with a radio drama which already was produced.

The reality is that the community radio station still wanted and needed us to provide financial support so that they could be viable enough to air the program- so that they could fuel the generator to power the station, and get enough to pay the studio people a stipend. And the fact is, they're supposed to be able to get local commercial sponsorship, but how many people listen to their radio station and local commerce sees that and so they stay underfunded. So, I agree in theory that in an ideal world, we should be able to produce and broadcast our beneficial programming at minimal cost since we're not making profit from it.

But in practice this is often not the case. Especially when you want to make the most impact with your program and reach the most people through the most popular channels- that often takes payment and radio stations are rarely willing to displace what could be lucrative primetime commercial airtime free-of-charge even for social good.

Equal Access comment on 'pay or don't pay'

At Equal Access we use a mix of strategies on this issue, and though our main body of work is not currently on health, I believe the same factors apply to this as to our focus areas of peacebuilding, governance and women's and girls' rights.

Ideally we'd offer content, training, mentoring, coaching and equipment in return for airtime, as it seems to set a bad precedent to pay for airtime when the development issues being tackled are for the benefit of those very audiences.  If the national or local governments can support the airtime then all the better - it's good that they are invested in their own development, and of course it reduces costs to the programs.  If the broadcaster is a state-owned broadcaster then they really should not require airtime costs.  However, the reality almost everywhere is that broadcasters prefer to be paid - who doesn't?  So it's always a negotiation, and if you have something valuable to offer from that menu above, or perhaps also audience research data, then you might not pay, or you'll pay less.

Having said all that, we appreciate our media partners enormously and would not be able to work without them at all.  So we don't enter every project with the express aim of not paying them.  Rather we look at their situation, and see what is reasonable.  It's hard to tell a community radio station in the Far North of Cameroon that you can't afford to pay them $100 per month when they know you really can, and they have the audience, and not you.

David Wood

VP of Programs

Equal Access

How would you adapt in our situation?

I think your stance is fair and it's something my organization used to do in Nigeria where we work in the past (about 10-15 years ago). As outlined, we would offer computers, recorders, training, internet service etc in exchange for airtime. So bartering capacity enhancement with broadcast fees.

In recent times, we've had real issues doing that because the government-owned stations are just as commercial (read: often cutthroat expensive) as private ones and often because of the bureaucracy in getting their funding from the government, they're quite adamant about collecting their fees so that they can stay on air. They feel like they have the equipment but they don't have the running costs so as you say, like anyone would, they prefer the money.

One thing that sometimes forces the hand of the government stations to provide free or heavily-discounted rates for broadcast is if there is political support/government backing for the program. What you can most likely get is free radio spots and jingles and possibly a few live appearances here and there. Rarely, you may get a commitment to air you 13 episodes or 26 episodes of radio drama. However, in these cases, you often sacrifice consistency and primetime for delinquency and anytime. So what may happen is, you program is always the first to get shafted, or there's "no electricity" when it's time for your program to go on, or you get the absolute worst broadcast time possible and you may not get the same time every week. My question to you is do you see this trend happening in Cameroon?

How would you adapt in our situation? What would be your next steps if the trend in Cameroon went in this direction I've described?

Thanks in advance!

Cannot be addressed by a blanket policy

Like many aspects of development, this is a contextual issue which cannot be addressed by a blanket policy. Depending on the medium, it may realistically not have sufficient funds to absorb a lengthy interview or whatever. Thus, while not as exciting or generally useful, the medium continues with --perhaps--boring or simply entertainment programmes that are cheap. In other contexts, just like in any other sector, knowing the right people in particular media can gain one some free time.

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