Getting it right with Community Radio

BY Sushmita Malaviya| IN Community Media | 18/04/2007
Technology and specialised training of grassroots workers pave the way for relevant content creation.

Sushmita Malaviya

It has taken over a decade (February 1995 to November 2006) to get the Government of India to liberalize Community Radio to accommodate civil society organizations and ensure that 50 per cent of the content is generated by poor marginalized communities on issues that are of importance to them.  

Till recently, the practice for civil society organizations was to buy airtime from All India Radio or narrowcast success stories within communities. With Community Radio being liberalized, that scenario is set to change and there are already several successful experiments like the Kutch Mahila Sangh in Gujarat, the Deccan Development Society in Hyderabad, Voices in Bangalore to name a few.

Significantly, over the last year, there has been a strategic effort to introduce small and large civil society organizations (CSOs) in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to smarter and more efficient ways of communicating their work both for dissemination and advocacy purposes.

 As part of their communication capacity building, various levels of functionaries like animators, project staff and chiefs from CSOs of the Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) were provided inputs on new trends in communication like presentations on emerging trends, visits to development communication agencies, communication strategy meetings, selection of training and follow-up of communication training.

Hemlata Tiwari, the assistant coordinator of Mahila Jagriti Manch, Chhattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, says, ?Over the years, our organization has been using group discussions and one-to-one interactions with self help groups to communicate about government schemes and important information.?

Afterr attending a training programme by One World South Asia (OWSA) on Community Radio, Internet and Advocacy organized by PACS for its organizations, Hemlata feels that she and her team are much more confident of taking issues to the grassroots.

Since radio is an integral part of ICT, OWSA has especially been focusing on community radio for the past three years and has been part of the struggle to give more voice to communities.

 Some PACS CSOs also visited OWSA¿s New Delhi studios in January 2006, and in a recent follow-up training programme on Information Communication and Technology (ICT) for advocacy, OWSA translated their mandate of advocating the use of ICT for marginalized communities straight to people who were working in rural areas.

The tie-up between PACS and OWSA was a coming together of empowered CSOs who have a good grassroots base and OWSA which over the last few years has strongly advocated the need for rural communities to use ICTs.

 With the ground set for NGOs being able to apply for community radio licences, training programmes such as these are the need of the hour,? says Geeta Malhotra, head of OWSA Grassroots Communications, ICT Advocacy and Capacity Building.

While in Bhopal to train CSOs in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, she stressed this was the opportune time for CSOs to make the best use of ICTs in the development sector.  ?There is also a need for networking among organizations in relation to sharing of content, using facilities and airing of programmes,? she says. 

Anxiety and interest

The liberalization of the Community Radio policy has created both anxiety and interest in civil society.

With mainstream media not being able to cover rural issues, Geeta hopes that capacity building of grassroots organizations on the use and convergence of ICT tools will help them provide content to mainstream media in the future. 

 Since PACS CSOs work for marginalized rural communities the training will facilitate the harnessing of local voices too,? she says. Over the five days of training, nearly 35 participants underwent perspective building on Community Radio, Internet and Advocacy followed by hands-on training. The objective was to build communications opportunities in rural communities so that they were able to express themselves using media tools like radio, computer or the print media. The training also helped the CSOs to learn to network with each other and with distant communities too via the Internet.

Geeta stresses that the focus of the training is on a convergence of traditional and new media - print media, radio and the Internet - in a community friendly package. ?Through a web-based technology Open ENrich, voices that have never been heard before, will surface not only at the regional and State level but at the national and international level. This will be easy for CSOs as the software supports Hindi,? she explains.

 The training endeavoured to give CSOs a step-by-step exercise on how to prepare and set up their own communication channels and also their own radio stations.  With follow-up support and additional training, the trainees are expected to become grassroots broadcasters who will be able to focus on community issues and information needs of development.

All this will help CSOs work towards obtaining 50 per cent content from the community for community radio, which will focus on the day-to-day needs of community. PACS partners who attended this training workshop were from Raisen, Hoshangabad, Chhindwara, Betul, Balaghat, Tikamgarh, Lalitpur, Chhattarpur and also from Chhattisgarh.

During the five days of training, they learned various radio programme production processes and recorded their first programme in a studio. On the Internet they learned how to update a website besides basic skills of typing in Unicode Hindi, using Internet and e-mails for communication.

Getting on the wavelength! 

The experience gave many of the trainees a very different perspective. Deveswari, an animator with Gramin Vikas Mandal (GVM), Balaghat community, who has been working for just a year in the development sector says, ?I did not know how we could use radio for communication within the community. With the help of all this training we can exchange news, record community voices, let others listen to the successes of some groups. All this will help us motivate newly formed groups so that they too can achieve success.? Deveswari has since returned to work in Balaghat.  

Betul-based Satpura Integrated Rural Development Institution`s (SIRDI) Malti Kumbre who has been working in the development sector for the past 10 years says that she has finally been able to understand the meaning of ICTs. ?Earlier, I thought ICT was not for people like me who work in the field. I now understand that we too can use these tools to foster dialogue and move forward,? she says enthusiastically.      

Illustrating with an example, Jamuna, an animator with GVM Balaghat, says that in Sukri panchayat of her village, she has been trying to encourage the Saathi Samoh in Karata to become as empowered as Pooja Self Help Group(SHG). She explains that the women of the Pooja SHG were providing the mid-day meal in the village and they were doing a good job. ?Soon the women realised that they could also grow their own vegetables which would help them with their mid-day meals too,? she added. With radio, she says she will now be able to share this achievement with more people. ?When I tell some groups that others have done well, they may not believe me. But when they hear women like themselves talk about their work, they will be motivated to at least try.

Broadcast avenues 

For OWSA in Delhi, the radio programmes that have been made by NGOs have been aired on FM Rainbow 102.6. Until recently, programmes made by OWSA were also being aired in Shimla and Haryana. By establishing their website things have become even more easier now. ?People only have to access the website to listen to something of their interest,? says Geeta.In OWSA project areas, the other mode of broadcasting has been to narrowcast the programmes among the community, where CDs and cassettes are played to a captive audience.  

Another spin-off of these training programmes has been the linkages that CSOs have been able to make at the district level. Charles Amin from the Community Development Centre (CDC), Balaghat, says, ?After the training, we got a Compact Disc(CD) on the National Rural Employment Gurantee Scheme (NREGS) that was produced by the PACS Communication Resource Organization Write Solutions. When we returned to Balaghat and spoke to people about the training we were directed to All India Radio (AIR).¿¿  

Things have moved ahead since January 2006, when CDC functionaries first attended the training. They have already been invited by AIR for a programme on how civil society works, the sound bites of the NREGS CD have been used in AIR programmes and CDC has been encouraged to contribute to more development programmes too. ?The long term planning now with AIR is to work on a series on AIDS,? adds Amin.  

The OWSA training in February 2007 took another organization, the Bhopal Yuva Paravaran Shikshan Avam Samajik Sanastha (BYPASS) in Raisen, straight into discussion with Gyanvani in Bhopal for a year-long series of environment.


Challenges ahead 

However, Geeta cautions that the task ahead is not easy. She recalls that it has been hard to make people understand the importance of liberalization of the community radio at the policy level. ?There are gaps between ground realities and the need for capacity enhancement of communities for which the policy was designed,? she explains. 

She adds that the Community Radio Forum that was launched in New Delhi on February 1, 2007, has set up task forces on coordination, capacity building, care and management of ICTs to tackle the challenges. She adds that there is an urgent need for multi-stake holder partnerships at all levels - grassroots, civil society networking and government - to understand the Community Radio policy.

Union government initiatives are already on for setting up of community service centres where Internet connectivity will be available.    

She cautions that CSOs have to understand that once they are given the licence under the Community Radio policy they will have only three months time to show that their studios are up and running otherwise the licenses could be cancelled. Ground preparations are extremely important as there are also issues of geographical constraints - one license per geographical area.  

There is also a need for community-friendly software, which will help reduce the digital dividenot only between rural and urban communities but also at the rural level to ensure better networking, coordination and sharing of content. Apart from this, capacities of grassroots communities have to be built to write stories and to pass stories to mainstream media. Unless these tools are promoted and convergence takes place, grassroots organizations will not be able to achieve this. 

Further, civil society should come forward and join hands with like-minded organizations to promote programmes on capacity building, content management and sharing and also startbrainstorming how to make community radio a reality.Geeta emphasizes that low-cost technology commercial players too should come forward withlow-cost technology for communities so that they can participate in the liberalization of the community radio and they should be confident of running and sustaining it in the future.


A beginning has been made.The efforts in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are of significance mainly because they are both empowered action group (EAG) States.After the training, NIWCYD¿s Kishore Chandakar, says the communications capacity building training that has been supported by PACS over the last year has helped CSO workers to learnhow to develop their communication material. He adds that he was finding it difficult to writeout stories from his field area and this training had helped him immensely. 

Confident that his organization has all the paraphernalia - computers, audio recording etc. - and that he would be supported in his endeavours, he was very positive about how he will use the training Kamal Satkar from the Parivartan Project in Ambicapur, Chhattisgarh, said that the two-day module on radio had helped him learn about script writing. ?I would also like to take up video recording in the future,? he says. 

Navjeewan¿s Kanta says that she was keen to take the training forward. ?I was happy to learn voice modulation and I now know the various formats of radio programmes like interviews, drama and message and how and when to use them in the field.?  

Back in Chhattarpur, Mahila Jagriti Manch¿s Hemlata has got down to business. Keen to use radio and Internet to help motivate self-help groups perform better, she explains that after returning from the training, she has identified people who could help her record voices and music free of cost. She has also trained some village animators like Archana Awasti and Ratna Diwedi to contribute to the radio programmes. 

Indcare¿s Tanveer Beg has been motivated by the training and has already downloaded the programme that his group made during the training and has made his community listen to it.Charles Amin has the last word. When asked if the training had helped his organization (Community Development Centre, Balaghat), he says emphatically, ?When we began working in the development sector, we never thought that our voice would be heard on the radio. Today that has happened!?  


NIWCYD : Nagpur based NGO National Institute of Women, Child and Youth Development (NIWCYD) is one of the 66 partners through which PACS works in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

NREGS :  National Rural Employment Gurantee Scheme

OWSA - One World South Asia, New Delhi.  OWSA is the South Asian arm of One World, London which advocates the use of new media for development. In India OWSA has launched several Information Communication Technology (ICT)-based interventions for farmers in the Bundelkhand region, knowledge kiosks etc ( Apart from this OWSA recently launched its ek duniya radio channel on the Internet and all the stories produced here are about community initiatives.gram sabhas etc

Further Links
Community Radio(CR)  Policy 

Three frequencies have been set aside for community radio (wherever possible) and we are informed that 4000 licenses could be given for setting up CR stations.   

-Public Notice inviting applications for setting up Community
Radio stations:  

-Application Form for Grant of Permission for Setting up
Community Radio Stations(FM):

-CR Policy Guidelines:


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