Poised for take off

Now that community radio policy has been reformed, now that licenses have been approved, now that channels are being set up… now what?
Piya Kochar and Frederick Noronha report separately on a Bangalore meeting to chart the way forward.

 A New Chapter, A New Voice


 Piya Kochhar


Community radio is on the brink of a revolution here in India. This seemed to be the consensus at the Community Radio Forum’s conference held in Bangalore last week. The ministry of Information and Broadcasting has already received 65 new CR applications in the past six months, and applications from campuses and NGOs across India are going to keep coming in.


This means we’re about to see an increasing number of community radio channels cropping up all over the country in the next few years. But nobody, including the experts, knows how it will all play out. Till now, pushing for policy reform has been the main focus of the community radio movement here. It wasn’t until November 2006 that the government even allowed for NGOs and nonprofits to apply for CR licenses. That’s why this next chapter is new terrain for radio buffs and government officials alike. Now that policy has been reformed, now that licenses have been approved, now that channels are being set up… now what?


One major concern is in distinguishing the line between "Community Radio" and "NGO Radio". Community Radio is for the people by the people, and NGO Radio is about propagating the NGO’s mission, feels P.V. Satheesth of the Deccan Development Society, an NGO that works with underprivileged women in Andhra Pradesh.


"We need to hear the margazinalized voices that are silenced," said Satheesh, whose NGO sponsors community radio and TV channels. Satheesh warns that it’s easy for an NGO’s philosophy and mission to homogenize and take away from the authenticity of community voice. "If you are telling a community how to speak then you are destroying their ability to speak. During your training you have to be careful not to build clones of yourself."


"If you’re a big NGO wanting to set up 10 stations, then you’re building a conglomerate not community radio and sorry, you don’t belong here," added Stalin K, from Drishti, whose NGO uses media as a way to engage marginalized communities in social movements that matter to them.


Both Satheesh and Stalin acknowledged that NGOs do play an important role in setting up community radio stations; after all they’re the ones who have to apply for the license and train communities on how to run a station. "We’re not saying NGOs are bad, we ourselves belong to an NGO--but we all have to be very careful going forward about the level of involvement we continue to have in the radio station," said Stalin.


It’s important for community members to do more than just sing, dance, and anchor programs, he feels. They need to be involved in all aspects of the station—from production and editing, to management and policy, to deciding editorial content. Also, NGOs need to have a very clear exit policy for when they’re going to hand over the station to the community after it’s been set up.


Doing so will have far-reaching benefits, feels Satheesh. In the past few years India has lost 2000 languages, but radio can play a pivotal role in preserving local dialect and folklore. The problem with most NGOs and media is that they have universal missions that club everyone under one roof, but community radio is about covering small geographies and can therefore create a new paradigm for current journalism.


"Broadcast is dominated by experts. We want to reverse this trend and base it on the knowledge of the people. If you’re doing a story on agriculture--don’t talk to scientists, talk to the farmers who deal with the issue each day. You might actually learn something new."




Piya Kochhar is co-founder of News Radio India





Taking radio to grassroots, tackling phobia and obstacles


 Frederick Noronha


(IANS) A law for community radios is in place and now the challenge is to overcome the fear of technology and make it freely available to the masses at the grassroots, its campaigners say.


Supporters who long lobbied for the opening up of community radio in India finally succeeded last year when licences were handed out to not-for-profit organisations, starting with just a few and moving slowly. Now they are working to spread skills that make broadcasts at the grassroots possible and easy.


"Don¿t wait for (newer and better) technology to arrive. Muddy your hands with whatever technology is available," Faridabad-based Ideosync Media Combine¿s N. Ramakrishnan told a two-day "technology for radio" consultation here. Ramakrishnan together with former journalist Hemant Babu, a self-taught techie, introduced transmitters and basic electronics to grassroots campaigners, who want to benefit from the new community radio broadcast policy.


The United Nations Development Programme and Unesco, along with the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC, by its French initials), sponsored a technology-for-radio consultation at Benson Town here earlier this week.


The UN, grassroots campaigners and a number of others ranging from global fund raisers to activists, believe that radio has immense power in democratising communication, given its low-cost nature and easy-to-use solutions.


But given the fact that radio has been tightly government-controlled and out of the hands of most in this country, it¿s a learning-from-the-start that is taking place here right now.


"Sunil is from Ahmednagar (in Maharashtra) and came to our workshops six months back. Of six groups working to build micro-transmitters, five got it right, and Sunil¿s group did so first," said Babu, explaining that a brief refresher on high-school electronics and physics is all that is often needed.


Babu argues that community radio should not just generate content "democratically", but its technology should also be "democratised" and placed in the hands of those who run it.


"This phobia about technology has to be wiped out. Let everyone understand what¿s happening behind the electronics," Babu said at the meet.


A young man called Sunil, speaking in Marathi and Hindi, explained confidently how his electronics repairs background helps him learn to create transmitters without any difficulties.


At the meet, a technical manual on all aspects of broadcasting was released. Grassroots media campaigners from Nepal, which despite its political challenges has far more experience in community radio, were also present. Engineers also attended the sessions to try to understand lower cost alternatives, to reduce price barriers to make grassroots rural broadcasting a reality.


Unesco, New Delhi, has also released a technical manual on radio use at the grassroots. Besides, the focus was also on radio programme production technology, building affordable studios, low cost transmitters, archiving software for radio programmes, and FM transmitter options available from firms like WEBEL from West Bengal.


Steve Buckley, president of AMARC, was also present. AMARC said that India has a great potential for community radio, given its diversity, multiplicity of languages, and skills built at the grassroots.





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