Radio Koch FM – Advocacy journalism

by Nina Eneroth on October 6, 2013

Hellen “Shiko” Wanjiku was one of ten young kenyan enthusiasts in Korogochos slum in Nairobi, Kenya, who started the first community radio station in a slum area in Kenya, Radio Koch FM. In this video she discusses how Koch FM changed the situation in Korogocho by giving a voice to the community. Koch FM has programmes on health, youth and women and focuses on concrete social issues, such as lack of medical care. Koch FM is an interesting example of how community media can contribute to strengthening a sense of collective identity in a community.

Auli Harju argues in her article Citizens participation and local public spheres: an agency and identity focused approach to the Tampere postal services conflict, that citizenship or a collective identity in contemporary societies can be born in a process where people engage in urban movements or other community organizations. Auli Harju view media as strongly linked to the development of citizenship and mean that media has the ability to provide people with the skills and information needed to participate in the political debate. Auli Harju however believe that this ability rarely is used to it’s maximum. She argues that the professional code of journalism that stresses impartiality prevents journalists from presenting citizens as serious actors and instead reproduce the legitimacy of elite actors. A common angle in mainstream media is the one of the angry “little people” with a brave but hopeless struggle against authorities. An angle that Auli Harju believes hinders the potential emergence of a positive dialogue between participants in a conflict. (2007:95-103)

Radio Koch FM can be seen as a type of advocacy journalism as Koch FM view themselves as part of the community. The aim of Koch FM is  to create awareness of human rights among people in Korogocho and encourage the community to come together and create positive change. One of the success stories of Koch FM is according to Hellen that the radio station managed to stifle corruption of funding from the government to Korogocho. Funds that usually ended up in someone’s pockets was made available to the community after Koch FM created awareness of the funds and people came together and started demanding that they be used to the benefit of the community.

Koch FM and its activism journalism can be seen as an attempt to create a more democratic public sphere. Thomas Tufte argues in his article Communication for Social Change – Struggles for Visibility and Voice, Culture and Diversity, that social scientists should rethink the role of media and communication and address how media can serve genuine citizen concerns and promote empowerment of the people, democracy and public service. The key communication challenges are according to Tufte to; address issues of human rights, challenge the issues of unequal power relations, better understand how the increasingly mediated and globalized public sphere works and being culturally sensitive and culturally appropriate. (2005: 3)

Koch FM has stated clearly that their purpose is to serve the interests of the people in Korogocho and promote empowerment. Is this the role of community media in the public sphere? And do community media always serve the interest of the community? A problem that Hellen brings up is the funding of Koch FM. As many community media outlets Koch FM is dependent on donors who often have interests in what should be broadcasted. The question of funding and ownership of community media is something we will discuss further on our blog.

//Nina Eneroth


Auli Harju, Citizens participation and local public spheres: an agency and identity focused approach to the Tampere postal services conflict, in Carpentier, N. in Cammaerts, B. and Carpentier, N. (eds) (2007) Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles. Intellect: Bristol, UK.

Tufte, Thomas, 2005, Communication for Social Change – Struggles for Visibility and Voice, Culture and Diversity, Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 2005 Annual Meeting, New York, NY, p1-15, 15p.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Gillian Rose October 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Nina, great blog on Koch FM. As I discovered while researching various funding models for community radio the story is almost always the same: heavy dependence on volunteerism and regularly facing funding challenges. I know from my experience in Malawi that sometimes a community radio service is started by a donor but when that donor moves on to other projects, the organizers find it hard to raise further funds. Also, as you mention in this piece, the influence from donors on what should be broadcast is a real issue. This ripples through all forms of media but community radio is particularly susceptible. I work in public broadcasting in the USA and there is a perception issue at the moment where a high profile and generous donor to public television also happens to have extremely right wing views that allegedly include not believing in climate change. There have been protests that someone like this be associated with public television and yet his money is readily accepted. The firewall between editorial and donors and sponsors is extremely strong, but the perception of influence lingers.


Nina Eneroth October 23, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Relating to your comment about climate change there is an interesting comment from Helen in the video clip. She mentions that some organization has a theme that they want the radio to air and that one time this was climate change. A subject that I personally think is highly relevant but Koch FM felt that it was more pressing for them to talk about issues such as children not going to school and domestic violence. So even if a donor would request an angle that they believe will benefit the community it might end up resulting in the opposite if they don’t have a dialogue and listen to the needs of the community.


Angela Gillian Rose October 22, 2013 at 9:52 pm

All credit to Hellen for starting the community radio station in the Nairobi slum. No easy task. I wonder if they have Listening Clubs there as they do in other parts of Africa? It is an interesting concept, perhaps a little like the book clubs we know today, where a group of friends (usually women) get together to discuss issues. In this case they would listen to one of the programs mentioned on say, health, or education, and then discuss it as a community. In Reclaiming the Media, the author says that not only does media raise issues “that have considerable importance in people’s everyday life but they also take part in forming our understanding .. of civic participation.” (2011 Lievrouw p.98) Sounds to me as though this is exactly what Hellen and her team at Radio Koch FM is achieving.


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