Exploring the Sustainability of Proximity Media Sustainability

CAMECO set up an expert panel to establish empirical evidence

The issue of sustainability is a key factor in media development assistance, which must be substantiated in funding applications and must be considered in evaluations. In a sense, it is the ultimate goal of most of the assistance provided to partners in the Global South and of the support given to their capacity building. Although it is a frequently explored research topic, the drivers of sustainability have rarely been systematically researched, especially in the field of proximity media that are thriving in the so-called “ Global South”. Together with three outstanding experts – Birgitte Jallov, Christoph Spurk and Michel Leroy – CAMECO has embarked on a research project to find empirical evidence of the drivers that make local radio stations sustainable. Thus, it is intended to contribute to the production of knowledge of practical relevance to the sector, which lacks information about what works and what does not. Based on the findings of this research project, further tools may be developed to support radio stations to work on the most relevant shortcomings in achieving sustainability. The research project assumes that radio remains the most important mass medium and a prominent platform for information and debate (Girard, 2007; Jallov, 2012) especially for the poorest and most marginalised, regardless of the level of illiteracy, even though recent studies have started to discuss this supremacy.

Included in the research will be so-called “proximity radios”, i.e. radios that reach the majority of their audience in a limited geographical area (50km/100km) (i.e. not nationwide) with a public service function – in the broadest sense of this notion – producing their own programming (not exclusively retransmitting a programme from a national or international broadcaster) as, for example, community radio – stations owned by a community or respective association, religious radio – stations owned by religious organisations (Christian churches, Islamic organisations, other religious groups), commercial private radio, stations owned by businesspeople, governing entities, and public radio as well as online media with an audio component.


Four pillars of sustainability were identified from a pragmatic point of view, reflecting day-to-day experiences of proximity radio stations:  

  • Economic sustainability: the station can generate sufficient funds to operate.
  • Technical sustainability: sufficient technical facilities are functioning properly to broadcast to its potential audience; its signal is accessible interference-free.
  • Organisational sustainability: the radio as an organisation is internally well set up.
  • Social sustainability: The audience appreciates the radio station and its programming, hence the latter is highly acknowledged externally.

These four pillars of sustainability look at different aspects of the radio station. The research has not predefined any priorities amongst those four but will examine the interrelations between them.


Factors leading to sustainability

From theory, practice and lessons learned from media development, various factors were isolated by the research team, which are hypothesized to contribute to those sustainabilities defined above. Some factors may lead to more than one sustainability. Those factors are for example:

  • Presence of a fundraising or income generating strategy
  • Existence of an advertising unit/post within the radio station
  • Existence of an accounting unit
  • Quality of content (news and programmes)
  • Interaction with the radio by the audience
  • Ownership Type
  • Audience trust in the radio station
  • Use of local languages in radio broadcasting
  • Leadership style of radio management
  • Availability and use of audience research data

The research will collect data on those factors, potentially identify others, and it intends to ascertain which ones have an influence on sustainability and which ones have not. So, the research process tests hypotheses, trying to rule out any previous pre-judgements or assumptions taken for granted.


Context influences sustainability

Every radio station operates in a specific context, which adds another tier of factors affecting sustainabilities: Political and legal framework, the overall economic situation, press freedom, the space for civil society, and the cultural setting. Also, the specific local media system (in particular the competition among radio stations) may play a role.



The model presented here will be consulted by researchers and practitioners from the field. After its revision, additional funding is sought to conduct a pilot study in Tanzania to test the research design, its scope and methodology, and gain first insights. The pilot project will intentionally be operated in just one country, so that the overall context is the same for all radio stations, and the research team can investigate a large sample of radio stations with a limited set of the above-mentioned factors. Based on the findings from the pilot, the research is planned to be conducted in further countries on different continents.

Tanzania was chosen because it has a vibrant proximity radio landscape, including various Catholic stations, and for practical reasons, because several studies have already been published or are available to provide elements relevant to the analysis of media sustainability.

The research team will cooperate with local experts in each country, the data collection itself will be realised by local teams and in local languages.



Data collection will be primarily carried out through semi-structured interviews with radio station staff and managers and key informants, focus group discussions with various listener and non-listener groups. In addition, quantitative content analyses and audience surveys will be conducted, funds permitting.

For further information on the research project, please contact

Michel Leroy/Christoph Spurk/Birgitte Jallov / Sofie Jannusch