The democratic functions and dysfunctions of political talk radio: the case of Uganda | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 1, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2040-199X
  • E-ISSN: 1751-7974


This article explores the promise and limits of Ugandan radio political talk shows as avenues of citizen participation and political competition. In particular, it examines the democratic functions and dysfunctions of political talk shows based on interpretive interrogation of data from content analysis, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with content producers and audiences. The results appear to suggest that these programmes constitute a public sphere(s) where citizens seek and acquire information, carry out dialogue and debate on collective public problems and policy, challenge holders of official power into public accountability, send feedback upward to the political system, or simply let off steam. At another level, the government, political groups and other organised interests also use the talk shows to gauge public opinion. These political elites also use these programmes as platforms for political mobilisation, campaigning and advocacy. In other words, the civic space facilitated by talk radio is open to political groups and other organised interests as well as private citizens. However, it is not all bliss in the electronic public sphere. Political talk radio also appears to peddle misinformation and distortions; to invite adulterated debate that excites and inflames rather than informs; to give the public the illusion of influence; and, arguably, to lead to political inertia. At the group level, talk radio may have created an illusion of competition to the extent that it provided voice to oppositional political groups that were otherwise not fully free to participate in the political process. What we have, then, is an imperfect public sphere but a sort of public sphere nonetheless. Implications of these developments for democratic transitions in Africa are discussed.


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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): Africa; democracy; political participation; public sphere; Talk radio; Uganda
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