Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Othering" and "Others" in Religious Radio Broadcasts in Tanzania: Cases from Radio Maria Tanzania and Radio Imaan

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Othering" and "Others" in Religious Radio Broadcasts in Tanzania: Cases from Radio Maria Tanzania and Radio Imaan

Article excerpt


Advances in communication and media technologies are remarkably altering and redefining social interactions, which include ways of being religious and doing religion. This is particularly so in Africa, where technologies are breaching and bridging boundaries and creating new religious subjects. Electronic media, particularly radio, have the capability to reach a wide population, both literate and illiterate. Radio, being cheaper and mobile, is a reliable medium preferred in Africa for news and entertainment as well as education, as we shall see in the course of this article.

According to the results of a media consumption survey conducted by Cynthia English in twenty-three countries of sub-Saharan Africa, radio is the most important medium for 59% of the population (English 2008). Similarly, a report by the Media Council of Tanzania in 2010 indicated that 66% of Tanzanians rely on radio as their main source of news (see Tambwe 2009). These studies increasingly point to the pivotal role which radio as a medium of social communication and mobilization continues to play in the lives of many African communities as well as individuals. Even in the era of the Internet, especially social media and global television, the effect of radio media is still massive.

Apart from their numerous advantages rooted in the nature of their functions and operations, however, the media also have negative effects that include fuelling conflicts and wars in society, like the case of pre-genocide media reportage in Rwanda in 1994. Kellow and Steeves (1998, 117) have documented how radio was the catalyst behind the Rwandan genocide since it was a highly efficient means of reaching large numbers of people at the same moment with the same item of news. Moreover, radio, like other media, through its functions and operations has an excluding tendency which sometimes causes or accelerates divisions and even conflicts among audiences. However, the excluding tendency of the media, especially radio and television, seems absurd to Hoover (2006, 46), who argues that the media, when in operation, "are open and available beyond a restricted audience ..., they are public and open." What Hoover tries to establish is based on the all-encompassing nature of the media, which offers little possibility to exclude someone from the media culture and, in our case, from the waves of radio broadcasts. He calls this phenomenon "the pervasiveness of media" (2006, 114).

In the 1990s Tanzania changed to "political liberalization and commercialization" as Meyer and Moors (2006, 6) describe. This phenomenon opened the gates to private investments. The processes of liberalization of Tanzania's political economy "run parallel to the decline of the state's power to dominate the media, to assign a place for religion in the sphere of private media" (6). As a result of the liberalization, as of July 2011 the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) had registered seventy-five radio stations, twenty-six of which were owned by religious organizations. Among these religious radio stations are Radio Maria Tanzania and Radio Imaan, which have country-wide coverage and are accessible online.

The findings from the ongoing research show that in their broadcasting activities Radio Maria Tanzania and Radio Imaan employ different "othering" strategies to create and consolidate socioreligious identities among audiences in Tanzania. Generally, othering is viewed as a normal phenomenon in day-to-day social and religious activities. In the words of Lister (2004, 101) "othering" is a "process of differentiation and demarcation, by which the line is drawn between 'us' and 'them', between the more and less powerful and through which social distance is established and maintained." In religion, it is a means of attaching importance to faith-related issues as it creates a boundary which an intending devotee has to cross. It is also a means of determining the genuineness of the faith of the intending devotee, and in this way it constitutes a significant share of his or her self-concept and guarantees members of a social or religious group (insiders) rights in accordance with their obligations (Tajfel and Turner 1986). …

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