Case Study

Public Interest Media for Government Accountability

How can informed public dialogue improve the accountability of government spending?

NDSA_Nigeria_Edo_Rivers_map

Public interest media can serve as an important enabler of government reform, drawing scrutiny to issues of public concern and raising the political stakes for unresponsive officials. In Nigeria, public officials, like their counterparts elsewhere, are sensitive to their public profile. But media coverage of government performance is often shallow, unprofessional, and lacking in popular appeal, limiting its ability to pressure officials toward greater accountability.

In 2011, AIM Media launched Nigeria Info, the country’s first all-news talk radio station, with an eye toward growing the market for public interest media. Recognizing the station’s potential to animate informed public dialogue and incentivize government reform, Reboot invested in co-developing a weekly program about public spending.

Titled “The Portal” and focused on education issues, a topic of great popular appeal and political relevance in our targeted state, the program quickly won a dedicated audience. Within six months of launch, the media partnership had secured public commitments to address performance issues in public spending, which are now being operationalized through various state initiatives, including collaboration with civil society groups. After the conclusion of the eight-month, donor-funded pilot, AIM Media continued to independently produce The Portal, demonstrating the potential for a sustainable, commercially viable model of public interest media in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s broadcast media market was exclusively government-controlled until 1992. Despite over two decades of liberalization and an increasingly vibrant media landscape, quality broadcast journalism and news programming remains limited. In 2011, AIM Media, a major media conglomerate and owner of two popular entertainment-focused radio stations, launched Nigeria Info, the country’s first all-news talk radio station. In a broadcast market dominated by entertainment-oriented content, a news talk-only station was a gamble. The viability of Nigeria Info also faced staff with varying, and sometimes quite low, levels of editorial and production experience, in addition to the absence of cohesive marketing and engagement strategies to grow and maintain its audience.

Despite these challenges, Nigeria Info held great potential to animate a public debate on the performance of government and increase pressure on governments to fulfill their obligations to citizens. Recognizing this potential, Reboot managed a grant to the station to grow its capacity to produce credible reporting on government spending and garner government interest in response to its broadcasts. In particular, Reboot aimed to co-develop and pilot a weekly radio program, The Portal, focused on education issues, a topic of greater popular appeal and political relevance to our target administration. The program sought to encourage audiences to engage both as clients of public services and as citizens with rights to quality education for themselves and their children.