From the Studio to the Street: Cultivating Democratic Norms in Uganda (International Journal of Communication)

Communication interventions can make valuable contributions to the democratic development of citizens. This article reports on a nongovernmental organization’s (NGO’s) effort to leverage a television rap news program in Uganda to strengthen viewers’ democratic norms. Two different approaches addressing government failures and malfeasance are tested with an experiment conducted in six villages outside of Kampala. Results indicate that soft news segments can influence viewers’ perceived democratic norms and shape downstream behaviors as well. Beneficial effects were strongest when participants were exposed to stories that featured relatable citizens demonstrating desirable democratic attitudes and behaviors. Treatment effects were most pronounced among less politically sophisticated participants. Results suggest that media interventions are most likely to change perceived norms when they employ messages that depict individuals modeling the desired norms. Second, results show that entertainment news can be a genre used for communication interventions that employ theoretically grounded messages. These lessons are likely both transferable to interventions in other contexts.

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