Workshop on
‘Community broadcasting for addressing grass root informational gaps’

October 18, 2008

By Gaurang Sharma

The workshop session was chaired by Dr R. Sreedhar, Director, Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA), Commonwealth of Learning (CoL), New Delhi and Mr Alonso Aznar, Consultant, Communication and Information, UNESCO. The moderators for the session were Mr Rajan Varada and Mr. Sajan Venniyoor. Mr Alonso from UNESCO explained the meaning of community radio and also its importance in the society. He described community radio as a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting material that is popular to a local audience but is overlooked by more powerful broadcast groups.

Further explaining the position, he said that a community radio is a technological conversion to promote democracy and transparency in the administrative system. According to him, it was a plight that till now community radios is run by NGOs and they produce programmes with only handful of experts and it is the much felt need of the hour that the involvement of local people must be done in this process. The vast talent that the youth possess should be utilised in this channel my means of campus community radios. The first step in this regard will be to identify a community for which community radio broadcasting should be done. Identification of core groups for working, production and management should be identified from the youths.

 UNESCO has devised a methodology called ‘cooperation of intellectual policy maker’ methodology in this behalf. The content over the community radio should be clear and interactive. It should not be an income generating activity. Content on economic and social oriental activities, agricultural, business and marketing of local products should be encouraged.

Dr. Sreedhar of CEMCA explained three fields where community radios are successfully running:  Campus community radio, Agricultural Institutions, and Civil Society.

He informed that the Government of India is planning to have more than 4000 community radios in India. According to him Community Radio is a voice for the voiceless. He pointed out many examples of countries where community radios are successfully running, namely Africa, Latin America, Canada, etc. In these countries the community radios are taken over by the community itself and they even manage the finances of the radio station.

A question was raised about the sustainability of the Community radio since it was not an income generating activity. The answer came from the chairperson that people should come forward within community to invest in the community radios. The Indian situation was explained by Dr. Sreedhar. As on 16 November 2006, the Government of India notified a new Community Radio Policy which permits NGOs and other civil society organizations to own and operate community radio stations. About 6,000 community radio licenses are on offer across India. Under the new policy, any not-for-profit ‘legal entity’ – except individuals, political parties and their affiliates, criminal and banned organizations – can apply for a Community Radio license. Central funding is not available for such stations, and there are stringent restrictions on fundraising from other sources. Only organisations that have been registered for a minimum of three years and with a ‘proven’ track record of local community service can apply. License conditions implicitly favour well-funded stations as against inexpensive low power operations, several of which (e.g. Mana Radio in Andhra and Raghav FM in Bihar) ran successfully on shoe-string budgets before the imposition of any community radio policy. Community radio stations are expected to produce at least 50% of their programmes locally, as far as possible in the local language or dialect. The stress is on developmental programming, though there is no explicit ban on entertainment.

Mr Pawan Prakash Upreti of Equal Access, Nepal, demonstrated how his efforts have enabled him to start a local community radio in Nepal. The motto of his organization is ‘bridging the gap between poverty and opportunity’. The Equal Access Mission is to create positive change for millions of underserved people in the developing world by providing critically needed information and education.  One can truly say that radio has come ahead of any other source of entertainment or information gathering device in Nepal.

Mr Mustafa Zaki from, Bangladesh, explained how his project is working as an internet based community radio channel in Bangladesh where presently no single community radio channel is functioning., the first Bangladeshi net cast radio channel hopes to reach all corners of the Bangladesh through thousands of telecentres sprinkled across rural areas. It is a youth community radio that is Internet based. Development focused entertainment through radio can help bring issues closer to the poor, feels the team behind the initiative.

The presentation by Mrs Ratna Devi of Barefoot College Tilonia in Rajasthan showed what social awakening of a class is. Barefoot College is located in Tilonia, 100 km from Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; the project covers 82,349 sq km with 110 villages and 100,000 inhabitants. Barefoot College1, the centre has trained two generations of villagers without any formal paper qualifications to become health-care workers, solar engineers, hand-pump mechanics and teachers in their communities. Thanks largely to its efforts, over 100,000 people in 110 villages now have access to safe drinking water, education, health and employment. Rural youth once regarded as “unemployable” install and maintain solar electricity systems, hand pumps and tanks for drinking water. The project’s achievement includes provision of quality water for human and livestock – 1,317 hand pumps, 184 underground storage tanks, piped water in six districts, deepening of 175 ponds; effective training, installation and use of solar energy units for night schools and for lighting homes; promotion of literacy – establishment of 83 night schools and 48 day schools; establishment of Village Education Committees; over 3,000 school children exposed to environmental awareness through the school curriculum;  poverty alleviation – job creation for close to 7,000 people including youth, women, technicians and artisans;  provision of new markets for rural women and artisans; income generated from sales of fodder and fuel wood from reclaimed wastelands. Questions were raised about the sustainability of the project to which she replied that Barefoot was funded 40% by the State Government, 40% by international donors and 20% by its own activities.

The presentations and discussions over them led to various recommendations. They are as follows:
 Keeping the recorded content in the libraries for open access to all the people
 Emergency community radio schemes in times of natural disasters.
 Technology to be user friendly
 Accessibility over the content for people with disabilities.

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