Piracy Cultures| Participation, Citizenship, and Pirate Radio as Empowerment: The Case of Radio Dialogue in Zimbabwe
This article critically discusses audience participation and civic engagement in Radio Dialogue as a pirate radio station. As an illegal broadcaster, the station innovatively combines the use of ward committees and digital media technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones to create a participatory culture that is potentially organic, bottom-up, and democratic. While the democratic potential of participation and the digital media in pirate radio are acknowledged, they are seen as very much socially and historically contingent. While participation and the digital media are sometimes erroneously seen as synonymous with deliberative public spheres, I argue that they can also be used to support and legitimize authoritarian cultures that are embedded in the everyday, non-institutionalized forms of power. Participation is not always positive, as it can be top-down, mediated, regulated, and therefore exclusive and undemocratic. It can serve as a regime of endorsement and disapproval for political, economic and cultural power. Digital media can also be reconstructed to support undemocratic cultures that are not only embedded in radio’s organizational and institutional journalistic practices, but also in the power relations concealed by the rituals of how society communicates with itself. These norms ultimately determine whether it is the voices of men, women, youth, the poor, or the elite in the community that find expression through digital media.