Like a Bell that Calls: Participatory Youth Radio in Ethiopia
By: jesikah maria ross and Esther Obdam
Published: December 11, 2008
Left: jesikah maria ross, Right: Esther Obdam
Here’s a youth media challenge: create participatory youth radio in a country where the government controls the media and cultural norms discourage youth self-expression.
Most youth media projects we’ve been involved with include a cast of characters—media educators, organizational partners, community media outlets—who all fundamentally support the idea of young people using media as a tool to explore, analyze, and create change in their worlds. This wasn’t the case on our last project, where UNICEF Ethiopia asked us to create a participatory radio project which brought Youth Dialogue groups and professional radio producers together to create compelling youth-oriented radio programming dealing with sensitive social issues. This task was all the more challenging because we had to accomplish this in a country where community media channels don’t really exist and where media makers are concerned about making missteps, not helping young people gain access to the medium.
It is vital in countries like Ethiopia to nurture relationships with media gatekeepers. It’s these relationships that result in young people gaining greater access to larger platforms, carving out a space for youth-produced radio on state-run channels country where young people are expected to do as they are told. This requires building rapport with adult media partners and finding creative ways to overcome their reluctance of letting go of ingrained production norms and control over the end result. In this article, we share the lessons we learned about building youth-adult media collaborations in a difficult environment in hopes that it will inform youth media educators how to open a channel with media professionals and gatekeepers in the U.S.