Strengthening Media, Developing Democracy

The DRC has a challenging history, marked by colonial impact and influence, post-independence conflicts, and ongoing struggles for political stability and economic development. On-going rebel attacks and insurgency activity seek to undermine political stability in the DRC while corruption and slow infrastructure development hinder economic prosperity.

As a catalyst to address the complex challenges in government, the economy and society, the media is an essential tool in developing democracy by sharing information, uncovering truths, telling stories and amplifying the voice of ordinary citizens.

Commencing in July 2019 the Media Sector Development Activity (MSDA) has systematically enhanced and developed the media sector in the DRC. MSDA’s capacity-building strategies have been pivotal in strengthening the skills and capabilities of media professionals in the DRC. With a core group of 77 community radio stations and three on-line media organisations, the training and capacity building initiatives have provided support to 670 media outlets, trained 2,278 media professionals, and supported the production of 1,589 media stories on local governance, electoral process, health, education, environment, gender equality, GBV, human trafficking and the COVID-19 pandemic. MSDA has also promoted the local and national democratic debate between journalists, civil society and local authorities and government on key public interest issues supporting 91 media roundtables. 38 grants have been awarded to strengthen viability and business development. The impact of the MSDA lives in the media organisations that have become more sustainable and the communities who benefit from improved media services.

Increased Listener Engagement Through Solar

As part of the objectives set out in the MSDA to make media organisations more independent and professional, technical capacity of community radio facilities were enhanced. Studio equipment as well as solar kits were procured and installed. This investment has created better quality for audiences as well as more reliable services as community radios are less susceptible to equipment failure or power cuts.

Situated in the eastern part of the DRC in the South Kivu province, Radio Mwana is a station that has grown audience engagement by roughly 20% because of increased broadcast hours and more regular programming, due to solar installed in 2023. Prior to their technical improvements the station used to receive an average of zero to eight text messages or phone calls during their programming. They now average ten phone calls and fifteen text messages in the same programming timeslots. The station directly attributes this increased participation and listenership to their solar infrastructure. The growth in engagement is due to more reliable broadcast services provided by the station, with higher periods of “up-time” Radio Mwana’s listeners now listen more frequently and for longer periods of time.

With increased listening time and engagement comes increased feedback. Radio Mwana has noted more suggestions on topics and content due to the higher instance of listening and direct engagement from their audience. This helps the station plan their programming activities and topics. The station has started to rebroadcast programmes on request of the audience, who aren’t always able to listen to the original broadcast and also source expert guests who contribute to discussions requested by the audience.

Solar Reduces Monthly Costs, Improves Profitability

Operational running costs of community radio are often characterised by high fuel expenditure for generators. Eliminating this cost has a direct impact on planning and profitability.

Set-up in 2009, Radio Télé Uélé, located in the town of Bondo in Bas-Uélé province and is run exclusively by volunteer staff. As part of the MSDA the station received a solar installation in 2023 and the impact on running costs and profitability was immediately felt. The average fuel cost, per month, was $430 and these funds could be reutilised for other operational purposes. Their fuel savings in a year is $5230.

In addition to the savings, profitability also increased by 20% and the audience has grown by 12,5%, as a direct result of the solar installation. With longer broadcast hours and more regular transmission the station is selling more advertising and airtime. The $250 raised in profits, monthly, has allowed the station to incentivise staff with a bonus scheme which was previously not possible.

Technical Stability Improves Sustainability & Participation

Radio signal is reliant on a good broadcast value chain with the transmitter being the final piece of equipment distributing the signal. Damaged or underpowered transmitters serve a smaller geographic area with less quality and clarity.

Benefitting from an MSDA transmitter upgrade, Radio Bandundu FM has increased their reach to a previously underserved rural area in Kwilu province. Th stations previous transmitter covered a much smaller geographic area, with the new transmitter the footprint has improved with a 50km radius and the station receives regular messages from communities that weren’t previously served.  Based on geographic calculations using their old, and now improved signal coverage, Radio Bandundu FM estimates an increase in audience from 650 000 to 1 00 000 people.

Robust talk shows hosted on community radios in the DRC stimulate democratic debate between civil society, local government and journalists on public interest issues.

The essence of community radio lies in the heart of the people they serve.

Under the MSDA, community radio stations have received training in content creation, radio programmes, script writing, news production as well as broadcasting skills and technique.

Using the new skills and techniques learnt in their training and mentorship, Radio Bandundu FM have been able to adapt programming priorities to be far more locally focussed. Incorporating new listeners and communities into their broadcasts, Radio Bandundu FM have been able to promote health information around measles and has led social cohesion discussions between communities that were previously at loggerheads with each other.

Improved broadcast services have resulted in more community programme proposals being received and an increase in participation by local organisations and structures, like schools and women’s organisations. Listener Clubs in some villages have also led to an increase in direct feedback to local stations while in some instances community members gather in the evening to discuss newsworthy events broadcast on their local station.

A radio listening club tuned into Radio Nyunzu, DRC.

Enhanced Business Capabilities and Operations

Training, mentorship and the honing of new skills has not only been limited to news and content teams. Business capabilities have also been improved, leading to better financial performance, increased advertising opportunities and alternative revenue streams.

Community participation extends beyond listening and content engagement. The improved product offering has also resulted in an increase in advertising revenue. With better content and more listeners, local businesses have seen the value of advertising and marketing their businesses and products. Under the MSDA several engagements between media operators and local businesses were held, the purpose of these engagements was to establish relationships and introduce media platforms to local entrepreneurs and business owners.

Alternative Revenue Schemes

As part of creating more sustainable media organisations, the MSDA also embarked on training to create alternative revenue streams within partner organisations. Through a process of ideation and marketplace analysis partner organisations were given an opportunity to develop business plans for alternative revenue generation. Successful applicants were awarded grants to invest into their business plan.

Training, mentorship and capacity building were key elements in creating more sustainable media organisations.

Transportation Meets Media: Radiotélévision Fraternité (RTF) Bwena Muntu was awarded a grant after they pitched motorbike transportation as their alternative revenue proposal. These motorbikes offer local transportation, a service that was inadequate in the community before. The bikes actively generate daily revenue and provide paid employment for their drivers. As part of the sustainability planning, a percentage of the revue is kept aside for future expansion and the purchase of more motorbikes in 2024.

The initial grant was $2500, and the revenue generated by the two motorbikes is used to pay the salaries of the media staff. On average the staff salaries have improved by 3% and there is an increase in staff morale as well as production output. It is a win -win situation, because the improved quality and production value has also improved platform advertising.

Cyber Café Success: In January 2022, Radio/Télévision Rwanzururu in Beni launched a Cyber Café to diversify its income sources and enhance independence. Since March 2023, the station’s monthly income has risen to between $1200 and $1500, compared to less than $900 before December 2022.

Following a media business training on creating business plans and generating alternative revenue, the station identified a need for a technology hub. The Cyber Café was launched and equipped with 10 computers and dedicated internet. With the high cost of data and erratic service at times, the Cyber Café serves as both a browsing centre and a training hub, offering courses in various computer skills. Around 150 young people from the community have been trained in the Cyber Café and this is an extension of the community service offered by the Rwanzururu.

Services, such as internet access and training, generate income for the station, funding equipment purchases, and salary increases. The revenue boost has also enabled the station to double its staff compliment since 2010. The station now employs twenty staff and is a conduit to creating job opportunities for local youth.

Stories of MSDA Media sustainability success.

Recharge & Revenue: Business training was held from mid-2020 to 2022 with Management from Radio le Messager du Peuple. Through this on-going media business intervention, the team received regular coaching and mentoring, and this enabled them to apply for a grant under the MSDA Open Media Fund.

Being awarded $5000, the station purchased a solar panel kit and launched a recharge service for laptops and smart phones. The service generates a revenue of $450 per month and the initial investment was recouped in less than twelve months. With these humble business beginnings the station has also extended their service to include a laptop and printer and offer a public secretariat, a service previously unavailable to the public.

Programming For Good:

In the MSDA radio was used as a key tool for local advocacy and community mobilisation, playing a vital role in communicating local development projects and civic education. Local authorities are able to share information on how citizens can actively participate in local initiatives and projects while regular radio shows highlight issues in communities and put pressure on those who are able to act or make decisions. In the MSDA civil society leaders noted that the broadcasts accelerated provincial authorities’ involvement in the process of engagement and action.

In November 2022, Canal Mont Sion, a community radio station in Boya, a mining village in Miabi, began airing two weekly programs: “Echo de la société civile” and “Mabi ki wetu.” The first focused on the rights and obligations of local institutions and the SACIM diamond mining company, while the second covered civic education on self-help and managing mining resources for local development. Boya’s main road was impassable due to erosion, causing high living costs for the community as vehicles couldn’t supply the village with food. To address this, Canal Mont Sion aired programmes urging local authorities to advocate for road repairs and mobilise community efforts. The community responded by filling potholes with sandbags, making the road usable again. This initiative not only improved the village’s livelihood but also showcased the power of community action and the radio station’s significant role.

Improved reporting and story quality helps create more viable on-air programmes.  Here a local journalist interviews a community member,