Paralympic Broadcasting in Sub-Saharan Africa: Sport, Media and Communication for Social Change

Dr. Jessica Noske Turner (LU London), Prof. Mufunanji Magalsi (UofMalawi), Jo Tacchi
Aug. 29, 2022

The purpose of this commentary is to discuss how Paralympic coverage in sub-Saharan Africa can be effectively mobilised to stimulate discursive and structural change around disability. Paralympic coverage has demonstrated its pedagogical power to engage public(s) and challenge stigma toward disability. Yet, the Global picture of Paralympic broadcasting is deeply uneven, with audiences in parts of the Global South afforded limited opportunities to watch the Games. Considering this, the International Paralympic Committee has begun to broadcast Paralympic coverage across sub-Saharan Africa with an explicit aim to challenge stigma toward disability.

In this article, we draw on examples from research to argue that ideas from the field of Communication for Social Change (CfSC) can add value towards this aim. We begin by providing a brief overview of CfSC before critically examining one of the field’s key concepts – Communicative (E)ecologies. Following this, we critically reflect on the potential of Paralympic broadcasting as a vehicle for social change and disability rights agendas in sub-Saharan Africa. We argue that thinking with CfSC concepts show the importance of a ‘decentred’ media approach that engages with disability community advocacy groups, localised communication activities and practices, and culturally specific disability narratives.

In parts of the Global North, the Paralympic Games receive extensive broadcast coverage on Free-to-Air (FTA) television. A growing number of studies have pointed to the concomitant impact of Paralympic coverage on shaping more progressive public discourses around disability (Bartsch et al., 2016; Coats & Vickerman, 2016; Hodges et al., 2015; Pullen et al., 2021). For the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), whose vision centers on Paralympic sport as a vehicle for disability equality and inclusivity, evidence of the societal impacts of Paralympic broadcasting on progressive disability attitudes in some parts of the Global North (e.g., United Kingdom, Canada, Northern Europe) has been a positive force in the continued development of the Paralympic movement.