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Community radio has given a voice to rural India

08 February 2013

Rahul Kumar/OneWorld South Asia

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The decade-old community radio movement in India has a lot to learn from the countries in Africa which had begun to establish and run their radio stations in the nineties.

The community radio (CR) movement that began in India just ten years back has broken the barriers of traditional communication and created journalists even in rural areas. “It has broken the monopoly of media that was concentrated in a few hands. Voices are coming forward from far flung areas,” said Supriya Sahu, joint secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB), Government of India.

She was speaking at a consultation on community radio organised by the Ford Foundation and OneWorld Foundation India in New Delhi over issues of regulation and licensing. She said that the sustainability of  community radio stations and the prohibition of news and current affairs are the two big challenges for community radio movement in the country.

Talking about how the CR movement has grown in the country, the joint secretary said that a select group of people is looking at the community radio policy. “The policy of 2013 should be dynamic, should be drafted by the people and reflect the true aspirations of the people in the community radio. The community radio stations will give a lot of inputs in the revised policy,” Sahu said.

Programme officer at the Ford Foundation Dr Ravina Aggarwal said: “The enthusiasm in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting regarding the community radio has given us a big boost. Our work falls within the community radio framework of the Government of India. We are trying to respond to the government’s focus on universal access and civil society voices.” She added that though not everything is as yet defined in their area and the community radio policy is still evolving in the country.

The one-day consultation saw interesting experiences from experts from Africa and the Philippines. Sharing experiences from Kenya, Grace Githaiga from the Kenya ICT Action Network said that she worked for almost 10 years pushing for community radio in the country. Some of the challenges that Kenya faces in the CR movement include competition from commercial radio stations and the capture of CR stations by politicians. Githaiga said: “Some politicians have captured the community radio stations by giving a cheque to support certain programmes. Even the companies do it by sponsoring some programmes on CR.”
She highlighted an interesting aspect of environmental pollution caused by the CR stations. “Everyone was putting up stations therefore issues related to the environmental effects of transmitters came up. Now one has to demonstrate before the regulator as to how environmental issues will be dealt with,” Githaiga said.
The African experience with community radio is richer and longer than India’s. With 4,000-5,000 community radio stations in the continent, radio in looked upon as the media for Africa as it transcends boundaries and communities. The CR world is very diverse with stations based on gender, faith, rural and urban communities. Alymana Bathily, Coordinator, AMARC Africa, said that there were two sources of inspiration for community radio in Africa. The CR movement was need-based and there was the human rights approach also.
Despite the vibrant CR movement, there are issues like stations being taken over by politicians, growing hunger among private sector operators for frequencies, switching over from analogue to digital, convergence of technology, content creation remains an uphill task, funding and sustainance and one of the most powerful countries Nigeria does not allow community radio as yet, said Bathily.

The issues in the Philippines were entirely different from those faced by the community radio practitioners in India and Africa. Broadcaster Lucio N. Tabing from the Philippines said: “The Philippines still has bedlam and anarchy on community radio. Of the 800-900 radio stations in our country, 75 per cent are commercial, around 10 per cent are government-owned, then there are some for extension and educational services.” He added that though the Philippines may be the freest media country in the world, it may not be one of the role models to learn community radio practices from.

Director, OneWorld Foundation India, Rajiv Tikoo said that the community radio movement in India has come a long way, “but we have a longer way to go. The ministry has done a lot like setting up a facilitation centre and making a one-window clearance.” He added that this consultation as well as the three-day Community Radio Sammelan that begins from February 9, 2013, will provide inputs to the Govenrment of India’s community radio review.
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