IN SOUTH ASIA
Recommendations and Report
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Recommendations for the development of community radio in South Asia
South Asian community
radio practitioners and policy makers meeting in Kathmandu from
The meeting also considered that “community radio combined with modern information technology (ICT) could play a very positive role in bridging the digital gap currently in existence and help in the transfer of technology to the marginalised communities who are currently alienated from the benefits of such technologies”.
The Kathmandu meeting was organised by the Media South Asia project and Panos South Asia, with support from the Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists, AMARC, the international community radio association based in Montreal, and Voices, the Indian communication and development NGO. The meeting, which was the most representative gathering of community radio practitioners and policy makers held so far in the region, was attended by 45 delegates from 5 countries. These included representatives of UNESCO and UNICEF, senior civil servants with responsibility for broadcasting policy, representatives of the national broadcasters, leading community radio practitioners and a range of NGOs.
The meeting highlighted the shared historical experience of the different South Asian countries and their similar development problems. There was a consensus that the debate about community media had to be framed in terms of poverty alleviation and development as well as in terms of rights. The meeting took the view that the introduction of community radio in South Asia will become much easier if there is a definition of it which is accepted regionally. It proposed the following: Community radio is a broadcasting organisation established to provide communication support for the social, economic and cultural development of a community within a geographical location and owned and operated by the community on a non-profit basis.
The meeting recommended that licences to own and operate a community radio station should be granted ‘ as a matter of policy... when such requests come from... an organisation which represents the community living within a geographical area.’
It also recommended that “ in frequency planning, the licensing authority should take due note of the requirements of Community Radio broadcasting and reserve certain frequencies for such purposes” . The authority would also need to decide the procedure as well as the basis for the grant of licence “after careful examination of the purpose, objective and capacity to own and operate a low power transmitter which covers the location of the community”.
The meeting held that community radio stations should be required to work according to a code of practice, which would include the following stipulations:
The meeting looked at the various models already functioning in South Asia. The various independent radio models operating in Nepal included ownership by an NGO, by a cooperative and by local government authorities, as well as commercial models. There was also considerable interest in the Kothmale model, which functions within the state broadcasting system in Sri Lanka. The meeting endorsed the view that community radio is sustainable, though government also needs to provide a supportive policy framework.
As a matter of policy, the meeting supported a multiple-model approach to take account of diverse needs and circumstances. The crucial point was community endorsement of a particular model. It was agreed that sustainability was more a matter of organisation and human resources than finance. Community radio stations had to draw on social and human capital as well as physical and financial resources. They had to prove themselves as social entities first and foremost.
The meeting recommended a multi-pronged approach to resource development, which included fund-raising from individuals, share ownership, membership fees, sponsorship, social marketing, advertising, co-productions, networking with other stations, sales of cassettes and books, and use of community volunteers.
Within the South Asian context, the meeting supported the idea of a regional network to advance the cause of community radio, though different countries are at different stages of development and have different priorities.
It approved the development of the CM South Asia website : email@example.com
for this purpose and suggested that training materials and other information should be promoted through the internet.
Representatives from countries still seeking the introduction of community radio requested visits from practitioners from Nepal and Sri Lanka to increase knowledge of community radio and to overcome resistance to it. There was also an interest in the sharing of successful approaches to advocacy in other countries.
21 February 2002
0930-1030: VISIT TO RADIO SAGARMATHA
1130: Introduction to the workshop: David Page of the MEDIA SOUTH ASIA PROJECT, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University, UK.
After the Minister of Information and Communication, Mr. J.P.Gupta, had been welcomed and had lit the ceremonial lamp, David Page outlined the reasons for holding the workshop in Kathmandu. He said it was an extraordinary fact that for almost fifty years after independence from colonial rule, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the three largest countries in South Asia, with a population of 1.3 billion people and more diverse cultures than almost any other region of the world, had relied exclusively on a centralised system of state broadcasting and had not permitted any real media decentralisation or diversity. Even today, much that is called community radio is conducted under the auspices of national broadcasters or other national institutions.
Nepal is the only South Asian country that is a significant exception to this rule. In Nepal, independent local radio - both community radio and commercial radio - has grown dramatically in recent years. In the five years since the founding of Radio Sagarmatha, five other community radio stations have been started and there are now more than 20 independent FM stations.
The workshop was being held in Kathmandu to showcase what had been achieved by Radio Sagarmatha and by the other FM stations, to give radio practitioners and policy makers from other parts of the region a chance to study at first hand a number of alternatives to traditional national broadcasting.
David Page thanked a number of organisations for making the workshop possible. These included the Ford Foundation and AMARC for supporting the meeting financially, Panos South Asia, for its logistical support, and Voices, the Indian NGO based in Bangalore for its advice. Thanks were also due to NEFEJ, the NGO which runs Radio Sagarmatha, for its cooperation in hosting visits to its studios.
He concluded by saying that community radio is attracting new interest in South Asia as a means of strengthening local culture and empowering local communities in an era of increasing globalisation. The Pakistan government had recently announced that private television and private radio would now be permitted. The Indian minister for Information and Broadcasting had said she would be introducing legislation to widen the scope of community radio there. A number of opportunities were opening up and it was hoped the workshop would help the community radio movement to make creative use of them.
Inaugurating the workshop, the Chief Guest, The Hon’ble Jaya Prakash Gupta, Minister for Information and Communication, Government of Nepal, said the fact that such a workshop was being held in Kathmandu underlined the importance that Nepal had given to the effectiveness of Radio Broadcasting in educating and providing info-entertainment to its masses. The first FM operator licence was issued to a community radio broadcaster on 16 November 1995. Since then the total number of FM Radio Operators’ licences issued throughout the country had gone up to 25 and about 90% of them are already operational. 5 of them are community FM radio broadcasters.
The minister said community radio broadcasting can make a significant contribution to national life. It offers two-way communication within the community; it can result in the lessening of the impact of mis-guided, mis-informed, propaganda; it is a means of education and a help in broader national development; and its benefits can be spread through broadcast link technology from the locality to the regional and national level.
But apart from these advantages, he said there is also “some type of credibility gap in broadcasting. The opening of broadcasting in sensitive areas such as political communication, freedom of information, maintaining linguistic and cultural integrity has opened up new areas of debate and left some unanswered questions.” The minister also touched on the fact that the existing framework of broadcasting in Nepal makes no separate legal provision for community radio broadcasting. Community broadcasters are allowed to carry commercial and sponsorship programmes, like their commercial rivals, to sustain themselves. He said at the moment community radio broadcasters are “self-disciplinary regimes” but after a review of the Broadcasting Act and regulations, the government had decided to bring in amendments “ to reflect the need for... greater participation and investment by private sectors.” The minister said “sustainability is the central challenge for community radio” and he hoped the workshop would come up with practical suggestions and recommendations.
Saneeya Husain, the Director of PANOS SOUTH ASIA, thanked the minister for opening the workshop and welcomed the delegates. She said that Panos gives considerable importance to radio in its development work and has been supporting the creation of an FM Radio network in Nepal linking smaller independent radio stations using computer technology. She hoped the workshop would come up with new ideas for the development of community radio across the region.
1200: Opening session: COMMUNITY RADIO IN SOUTH ASIA: an overview
Chair: William Crawley, Media South Asia Project
Wijayananda Jayaweera of UNESCO
Kunda Dixit, Editor Nepali Times
Wijayananda Jayaweera of UNESCO offered an overview of the progress of community radio in Asia as a whole. So far there are only two countries in Asia with community radio legislation - Thailand and Indonesia - and interestingly there is no community radio in those countries and no movement for it.
Globally, the community radio movement is strongest in Latin America and Africa. In Latin America, where there is no public service broadcasting, community radio is used particularly for educational purposes. In Africa, it has taken on the character of a social movement. It has developed rapidly in the new South Africa and is now available in 13 African countries.
There are significant sources of resistance to community radio in some parts of the world. Professor Peter Lewis has identified opposition to it from commercial radio broadcasters who see it as a potential rival and try to marginalise it. Security considerations are also marshalled against it in South Asia and elsewhere. There are concerns that it will fall into the wrong hands and be used against the interests of the state and its stability.
Wijayananda Jayaweera said he had attempted in a recent article on www.thehoot.net to answer these security concerns. He made the point that state radio with its nation-building agenda had not really prevented the growth of dissidence in South Asian countries. In that sense, defending the existing broadcasting system was not entirely logical. He also noted that in areas of insurgency, where community radio does exist, insurgents do not attack community radio stations or try to use them for their own purposes. By and large, because they are run by the community, they are not seen as targets. Militants do not wish to alienate the community, so they tend to leave them alone.
Mr Jayaweera explained that UNESCO promotes community radio because of its potential to reinforce the participatory character of development. After a brief survey of development theory since the 1950s, taking in ‘modernisation theory’ and ‘dependency theory’, he said there is now a new understanding of development as a two-way process in which the community is not just at the receiving end but an active participant in the process. Community radio is a means of reinforcing this two way process.
In the early phase, most community radio stations were started by governments. The first in Asia was set up to serve settlers in the Mahaweli development scheme in Sri Lanka in 1980. However, national broadcasters are now everywhere in crisis, relying increasingly on advertising and losing their public service role. To this extent there is an increasing disjunction between Government and Community.
The first genuinely community-based radio was established in the Philippines, where there are now 22 such stations. Donors like UNESCO provided the initial capital but left the stations to manage their own finances after that. Government does not even provide guidelines and there are some stories of community tensions but by and large the stations are working well. They serve very small communities in clusters of villages and in some cases rely entirely on volunteers.
The next such station to be set up in Asia was Radio Sagarmatha in Nepal in 1997. This is more a public radio station than a community radio but it has fostered the community radio ideal. There are now 5 community radio stations in Nepal.
Of all the South Asian countries, India has the strongest civil society movement but progress towards the establishment of community radio has been slow. The Bangalore declaration of 1996 was the first concerted demand in India for community radio. Subsequently, following the Beijing Summit on the status of women, UNESCO supported two Asian community radio stations to be run and operated by women. One was in Cambodia, where the Women’s Media Centre is now operating a 10 kilowatt station in Phnom Penh. The other was in India, where UNESCO financed the establishment of a station by the Deccan Development Society at Pastapur in Andhra Pradesh. Unfortunately, this station has not yet begun broadcasting, though the transmitter and studios are built and ready for use, because the Indian government has refused to grant it a licence.
Elsewhere in Asia, community radio is making slow progress. In Thailand the first community radio station has now been set up at Chiang Mai and with legislation in place it is hoped that others will soon follow. Mongolia has recently set up its first community radio. Indonesia has nearly 1200 local radio stations but has not yet permitted community radio stations to be set up.
Mr Jayaweera concluded by saying that there is still resistance to community radio. Many people see radio as an instrument of power and do not wish to share it. But in his opinion the movement is catching on. ‘We are now in the acceleration phase of community radio in Asia ’ he said.
Kunda Dixit, Editor of the Nepali Times said nowadays there is a lot of talk in development circles of ‘leapfrogging’ - most often in connection with the use of information technology. But he said we should not lose sight of ‘good, old fashioned technologies’, particularly radio which has so much potential as a development tool and has not been used for this purpose.
South Asian governments had deregulated some of the newest communication technologies - like cellphones, the internet and FM radio - but not AM radio which has such reach and is so affordable. This may be because governments know it is too important to let go. Kunda Dixit said there is no reason why state-controlled radio should not provide interesting, independent and relevant radio, but in South Asia governments had “ used radio shamelessly as a public address system for government propaganda”.
There were probably “only five more years in which we can use AM effectively as a communication tool”. After that, “ as television reaches into the rural areas... there will be less and less listeners for its scratchy sound ”. The track record of FM in the urban areas had been disappointing, partly because of restrictions on licences, partly because people play safe. But there were creative exceptions. Radio Sagarmatha had been a pioneering broadcaster, whose news and current affairs had remained sharp and independent even in a time of national crisis.
Kunda Dixit argued in favour of a network of community stations which could exchange information, news and even entertainment programmes. He described this as “ the only model that will reflect and do justice to our cultural and linguistic diversity, our freedoms and pluralism.” Governments must understand that is not “ a form of rebellion” but something which will strengthen democracy by encouraging participation. “Participation can only happen with communication, and communication is only relevant if it is independent. Our democracy is working best at the grassroots, and that is where we need to decentralise and give more power to our community broadcasters” he concluded.
1400-1530 COMMUNITY RADIO IN NEPAL -SAGARMATHA -
LESSONS OF PROGRESS
Chair: Bharat Koirala
Mohan Bista, Station manager, Radio Sagarmatha : The achievements and the challenges
Ian Pringle: Sagarmatha in a world perspective
Mohan Bista’s presentation spelled out the history and development of the station since its inception in May 1997. As the first independent station in Nepal, RS sees its mandate as the coverage and discussion of public issues. It provides a forum to discuss local ideas and culture and it is actively involved in social change - working to create social awareness among its audience. It is also committed to promoting community broadcasting in other parts of Nepal. It now broadcasts 15 hours a day and more at the weekends. It has sixteen regular production staff, seventeen support staff and over 40 freelance contributors. It has twelve daily news bulletins on current affairs, sports and community activities. It carries regular discussion programmes and magazine programmes ‘ for policy makers and the intelligentsia’. It also broadcasts programmes in minority languages and on folk and contemporary music as well as programmes for women, children, and semi-urban listeners.
The station has a strong IT orientation, with its own interactive website and digital audio production facilities. After a slow start, by February 2002 twenty producers and presenters were using the internet daily for research and for digital audio production and four audio technicians had acquired professional competence. The station possesses state of the art hardware. It has 5 computers with internet facilities and 4 digital audio workstations with multitrack digital recording, mixing and editing. It is developing a digital archive on DAT. But its internet connection is still below par. It plans to establish a lease-line for more reliable internet connectivity and a high-speed internal network to connect studios, workstations and the archive.
Mohan Bista said the station’s strength is that it is seen as “trustworthy” and "pro-public”. Its weaknesses he listed under the headings: ‘ management skills, human resources, financial barriers and ownership problems’. Mohan Bista has been manager of the station for a year and his main challenge has been to improve the running of the station and to make it more cost-effective. He has been obliged to reduce the staff substantially. Sagarmatha still relies heavily on donors, though it has been trying to improve its marketing and to boost income from advertising.
Ian Pringle, who worked with Sagarmatha for two years before moving to India, spoke of the ‘want to’ motivation which had kept Sagarmatha going, despite the challenges. He said the staff were infected with what Raghu Mainali had called ‘ the virus of community radio’. Sunil Wijesinghe of Kothmale radio had made a similar point in speaking of the ‘Boddhisathva’ spirit which keeps these stations going - the will ‘ to do something extra’. Ian said that the Sagarmatha vision had focussed on journalism and it was commonly accepted that the station had expanded the public sphere in Kathmandu, particularly in the area of governance, though no research had been done on this and there was a need for a critical impact evaluation of the station. A large number of people had been brought into public dialogue through the station and the experience of Sagarmatha had established a precedent which had since been followed elsewhere in Nepal. The station had also established new and popular programmes in the public interest which had become benchmarks for commercial stations as well. There had been a great deal of programme creativity. It was important to recognise, however, that Sagarmatha was not ‘community -access’ radio or ‘activist’ radio. It was public radio rather than community radio. As to sustainability, Ian’s view was that rather than money, organisation and a ‘passion for radio’ were the critical factors. He was concerned that Sagarmatha might be ‘ falling into the trap of advertising - thinking it can control it and not fall prey to it.’
Bharat Koirala, who had been a founder member of the group of organisations which started Radio Sagarmatha, said it had been established in the capital to show its potential to policy makers. ‘Educating officials’ he said ‘ is more difficult than educating the people’. The aim was to convince officials that community radio could be promoted elsewhere in the country - and this had worked. As far as lobbying was concerned, after the People’s Revolution of 1990, the advocates of community radio had been able to ‘ smuggle a couple of people’ into the task force which drew up the National Broadcasting Bill. This had helped to prepare the ground for media liberalisation. Getting the first licence had not been easy; it had taken a huge amount of persuasion even though the law permitting independent radio was already on the statute book. But once Sagarmatha had been established, others followed. There were now five community radio stations in the country, though there were a further 25 licence applications pending with the government. In retrospect, the legislation had not gone far enough. It did not make any distinction between commercial and community radio - it only specified the fees. These are the same for commercial and for community radio- according to the power of the transmitter - and this puts community radio at a disadvantage.
Rajendra Sharma, the Director of Programmes at Radio Nepal, described Sagarmatha as ‘radio with a conscience’. It had extended debate on public issues and advanced the cause of radio pluralism. It had also provoked Radio Nepal into improving its own programming.
Mohammad Hannan from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in Bangladesh asked ‘ how the community participate’, how stations are accountable and why the issuing of licences had been delayed or refused.
Bharat Koirala said that unfortunately ‘ no South Asian country has a transparent licensing system’. The most open system he knew had been set up by the South African Regulatory authority - which provided application forms and criteria on its website and held public hearings in the communities themselves when making decisions. Bharat Koirala welcomed the commitment to community radio which the minister had made in his opening speech. He acknowledged that the transition from a government monopoly to freedom of the airwaves had raised security concerns. Bandana Mukhopadhyay referred to similar fears in India where officials were worried about the possible misuse of community radio. The answer to such fears, she said, was that community radio, in facing up to important local issues, was “a precaution against militancy”.
1545-1730 THE EXPERIENCE OF THE SMALLER STATIONS - SEARCHING FOR A VIABLE MODEL.
Chair: Ian Pringle
Bharat Bhoosal, Station manager, Radio Lumbini
Gunakar Aryal, Station manager, Radio Madanpokhara
Dadhi Ram Subedi, Chairman, Sworgadwari Communication Centre, Ghorahi, Dang. Bishnu Hari Dhakal, Managing Director, Saptakosi FM
Dev Chhetri, Managing Director, Machapuchhre FM
Bharat Bhoosal explained that Radio Lumbini, which began in 1998, operates on a cooperative model. The moving spirit behind it was a former MP, Ghana Shyam Bhoosal, who took advice from Radio Sagarmatha and then called a meeting of locals who decided to set it up. The cooperative system seemed the most suitable as they did not wish to be dependent either on donors or on business houses. The cooperative began with 69 members and has since expanded to 96. Joining members are now required to contribute 20,000 rupees to the station fund. There is an executive body which is elected for three years and meets monthly. There are also technical sub-committees. The station is self-reliant as far as running costs are concerned, though it accepts help from donors and sponsors for improving programmes and upgrading equipment. In 1999, DANIDA enabled the station to double its transmission time from six to twelve hours a day. UNESCO has provided equipment. “ We regard localness as the primary aspect of programmes” said Bharat Bhoosal. The schedule includes four local news bulletins a day and a range of programmes on health, agriculture, gender equality, children’s education and ‘ good governance’ . The station complains that it has to pay the same licence fee as the commercial stations. It is campaigning for a change of the law in this matter.
Gunakar Aryal, the station manager of the first village-based community radio at Madanpokhara in Tansen-Palpa district, explained that since the station went on the air in April 2000 it has become “ a trustworthy friend of the community”. He said it has helped “ to reduce domestic violence against women, to make local government and administration more responsible and transparent and to strengthen grass root democracy.”
The station is owned by the Madanpokhara Village Development Committee. There are 17 members on the managing board and 5 of these form a working committee for day to day management of the station. There is also an advisory board of 7 members headed by the local MP. The studio is situated in a small ground floor room of Gunakar Aryal’s own house. The equipment was given by UNESCO and much of the advice and training for setting up the station came from Radio Sagarmatha. The 100 watt transmitter can be heard in Palpa and 7 surrounding districts and the potential audience is some 400,000 people. Because of its growing popularity and wider than anticipated reach, the community plans to construct a purpose-built station in 2002, to erect a more powerful transmitter and to increase the daily broadcasts from the present 6 hours per day.
The station runs largely on volunteers from Madanpokhara and neighbourhood. Some are responsible for particular programmes; others work regularly as presenters. The station pays small amounts to its full-timers but much of the work is done voluntarily. The station is trying to build up a trust fund to cover capital expenses and to provide regular income. It mostly relies on donations from local VDCs and the Palpa DDC, funding from donors, and charges for social messages and some local advertising. It also charges for visits to the station. The station is managing without a telephone. Installing one would be very costly because of the distance from the powerlines but they hope to get one installed soon. Madanpokhara also hopes that the government will reform the fee systems to lessen the burden on community radios.
Gunakar Aryal says the station has been playing an active role in development, with programmes to improve farming and forestry and use of the environment, as well as working “ to eliminate social illusions, discriminations, injustice, superstitions and evil deeds.” He says the station has added to the self-respect and identity of rural people and should be replicated in other parts of the country.
Dadhi Ram Subedi is the chairman of Nepal’s most recently established community radio station - Radio Sworgadwari in Dang district in the mid-western part of Nepal. The station went on the air on 17 February just a few days before the workshop. It is the first station in western Nepal and broadcasts for six hours a day using a 100 watt transmitter. According to Dadhi Ram Subedi, the station has created an immediate interest in the locality. Local demand for FM radio sets has increased by thousands and the station is already receiving 200 letters per day.
The station has been funded by DANIDA, with professional support from the Community Radio Support Centre in Kathmandu and its director, Raghu Mainali. It has started a 15 minute programme in Tharu, the language of the indigenous people of Dang district. Other programmes cover local current affairs, agriculture, forest conservation and the environment.
The station runs on twenty volunteers and has a lot of training still to do. It is taking local advertisements and charging for announcements but so far income is only 10,000 rupees whereas expenses are three times that amount. It also need funds for capital equipment. The first priority is to buy back-up radio equipment in case of a breakdown. The station also needs computers, fax machines and telephone lines as well as transport.
Dev Chhetri, the managing director of Machapuchhre FM in Pokhara said the station had applied for a licence in 1999 and was now on the air 18 hours a day. Though it was a commercial station, it recognised that people wanted information. It was broadcasting in local languages as well as Nepali and a variety of programmes - for children, for women, on literature, IT and on Ayurvedic medicine. There was also a programme for tourists called “Namaste Pokhara”. The station depended on two experienced broadcasters and a lot of young local people. It relied on advertisements and was suffering from the economic slowdown. It was competing with two other commercial stations and one community radio station in Pokhara.
Samir Nepal, the owner, and Prateek Bandari, the station manager, spoke about progress at Manakamana FM, which had been the first commercial station to be set up outside the Kathmandu valley. It had started broadcasting in 2001 with a strong emphasis on local and regional news and current affairs. It was based in Hetauda and broadcasting to audiences in Bharatpur and Birgunj as well. It ran three local bulletins a day and a variety of programmes on local festivals and events, public health, sustainable agriculture, science and technology and good governance as well as lots of entertainment. Samir Nepal believes that Hetauda FM is serving the local community well - despite its dependence on advertising. It has a strong following in the area and is seen as playing a constructive role in community life.
There was some discussion of the costs of setting up and running a small radio station.
Michael David said that a good quality transmitter could be purchased for between 20 and 30,000 US dollars. For 2.5 million rupees ( approx 33,000 dollars) it should be possible to obtain a 1 kilowatt transmitter, two studios and back-up equipment. UK transmitters were good but expensive. Italian equipment was somewhat less expensive. Chinese equipment was much cheaper. Swargadhwari FM confirmed that it had paid 1.8 million rupees for its transmitter
( approximately 24,000 dollars). Another Nepali participant put the total cost of setting up his station at 10 million rupees (approx. 130,000 dollars). Running costs varied according to the scope of the programmes. Lumbini FM put them at 80,000 rupees per month, while Sworgadwari FM was hoping to keep them within 40,000 rupees.
Wijayananda Jayaweera of UNESCO said that it should be possible to run a station with a station manager and two or three paid staff. In the Philippines stations were being run entirely by volunteers. In his view, payment of staff can hinder community access to the stations. Similarly, very sophisticated equipment required trained staff and again reduced the volunteer element. On transmitters, Mr Jayaweera said that small Chinese transmitters were effective. The Chinese 100 watt transmitter, which could be purchased for 500 dollars, worked well, but beyond 100 watts they were less good. Michael David also warned of problems of spectrum interference in using cheap equipment.
Dr Pavarala of the DDS said he had been convinced by the Nepali presentations that a multi-model approach is what is required. Kumar Abeyasinghe said he thought it was important to define clearly what is meant by community radio. Otherwise, if everyone goes to the minister for permission, you will have an FM station in every house. It was also important to keep politics out of community radio. In Sri Lanka, party politics had destroyed the cooperative movement, which should be a lesson for community radio. Mr Jayaweera pointed to the South African licensing system as a model of transparency. Regulators hold public hearings in the places where the radio will be established so that the community view can be monitored. There is also scope for written submissions.
Raghu Mainali said the feedback from listeners should only be one component of an assessment of a radio station. There was also a need for academic appraisal and a professional assessment of the quality of programmes. Kumar Abeyasinghe said he thought it would be useful if the workshop could come up with a regionally acceptable definition of Community Radio and criteria and guidance for setting them up.
1800 SETTING UP GROUP DISCUSSIONS AROUND AGREED THEMES:
It was agreed to set up workshops on the following subjects:
Improving advocacy/networking for community radio
Different models and how to sustain them
The policy context for community radio.
22 February 2002
0800-0900 Visit to RADIO SAGARMATHA
0930-1100 :THE VIEW FROM GOVERNMENT
Chair : William Crawley, Media South Asia project, IDS, Sussex
Kumar Abeyasinghe, Secretary, Media Ministry, Sri Lanka
Mahommed Hannan, Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Bangladesh.
Prabhakar Adhikari, Officiating Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication, Nepal.
Kumar Abeyasinghe said that most problems of communication are due to the failure of governments to create a mechanism for people to voice their concerns. There was too much top-down communication, too much from the centre to the periphery, and nothing the other way. A former president of Sri Lanka had told him that one of his difficulties in government was that he was ‘ not able to understand the aspirations of youth’. One-way communication had contributed to this. Mr Abeyasinghe said there could be ‘ no deviation from the view that community radio is necessary to strengthen a vibrant democracy’. Unfortunately all governments are under financial pressure and community radio gets the lowest priority. ‘Privatisation fever has enveloped the broadcasting scene in all our countries’ said Mr Abeyasinghe. Sri Lanka has four or five TV and radio stations , all competing for survival, and now that the licence fee has been withdrawn national broadcasters are competing in the same market.
Originally community radio had been located in the state sector but there was a need to look for alternative models. ‘I feel’ said Mr Abeyasinghe’ that it should be a synthesis between government and community. There is a need for greater autonomy but I don’t think the government should wash its hands of it. Government should be an enabler.’ Kumar Abeyasinghe spoke of the fears that governments harbour about extending community radio. What will the stations do? Will they create dissension? Will they tread on the cultural sensitivities of the people? If community radio is to be extended, there would have to be a charter, a code of ethics, a set of articles to be observed, like the company articles which apply to businesses. Government has a responsibility to society to create a friction-free environment. But if this could be done, he saw an important role for community radio at the micro-level. There should be pioneer stations to train the necessary manpower. It was important to get away from the ‘ transfer mentality’ . Station managers had to be ‘Boddhisatvas’. There was also a need to get the mix of manpower and technology right, so that the digital gap could be bridged. Kothmale was showing what could be done in this area. So far, people were being kept on the fringes of technology and that had to be changed. Even the telephone was only experiencing limited expansion.
Mohammad Hannan outlined the problems which had been created in Bangladesh by long periods of martial law. Bangladesh was now a democracy but unfortunately there was a lack of consensus among the politicians on important areas of legislation. The legislation governing the media dated back to colonial times. After 1998, the government had taken some steps to allow private radio and TV but no new legislation had been passed by parliament. There was still political opposition to the diversification of the media. ‘ The man who occupies TV and Betar is the monarch and he can make the truth and we have not been able to forget this, even today’. In 1998, tenders were opened for the establishment of private radio stations. 26 applications were submitted but no clear decision had been made on most of them. There are plans for a Regulatory Commission of 12 persons but it is not yet working. There is also a draft regulation on the media but it has not yet been put before parliament. The regulation is in some ways unique. If it is passed it will pave the way for transmission towers ( T and T towers) in all the country’s 64 districts to be leased to community organisations. So far, no community has come forward - it is largely commercial interests and ngos who have applied - and there is confusion in government over whether to allow community radio or private radio.
Prabhakar Adhikari said in Nepal the legislation did not distinguish between community radio and independent radio. He acknowledged that there was a demand for community radio to be treated more favourably than commercial radio in terms of licence fees and he said the government would consider this. But he felt the existing system was working well. It was flexible enough for different sorts of stations to apply under the same umbrella. Government’s main concern was ‘ to maintain cultural integrity’ in the face of existing challenges. People needed to be well-informed, not ill-informed, and the government was considering whether the time had come to put some limits on content. Asked about the 25 applicants for licences who had not received replies from government, Mr Adhikari said that many of them had been withdrawn and others superseded. The number of viable applications which had not yet been decided was much smaller. He also mentioned that the government had recently issued several licences for uplinking of TV programmes and was considering proposals for private TV stations. They would also be issuing new licences for telecom operators.
After the presentations from officials, Bandana Mukhopadhyay provided a briefing on the situation in India, where public pressure for community radio has been growing in recent years. In the 1970s, AIR had set up 79 small radio stations in different districts but they had never been managed locally, though this was the original intention. The real push came in the 1990s with the growth of satellite television. As P.V.Satheesh of the Deccan Development Society had put it at that time: ‘ If foreigners can broadcast to us, why can’t we broadcast to us?’
In 1999, when the Government decided to establish commercial FM stations in forty cities, it made provision for one FM in each city for social purposes and asked the Indira Gandhi Open University to set them up. The first one became operational in 2001. However, the Convergence Bill, which is expected to come to parliament in 2002, makes no mention of a third tier of broadcasting or of community radio. This is a subject on which advocates of community radio are now lobbying the government. The government’s present thinking is that community radio can be permitted provided that there is a proper technical specification and a code of conduct. The minister is still deciding whether to establish a content code. Also to be decided is whether advertisements will be permitted. The advocates of community radio argue that certain sorts of advertisements should be permitted. In a recent interview, the minister, Sushma Swaraj, indicated that as a first step the government plans to permit educational institutions to use AIR transmitters for local broadcasting. Legislation is currently being drawn up to make this possible.
Amjad Rasheed of the Taraqee Trust in Quetta told the workshop that in Pakistan the government recently approved an ordinance which he expected to make community radio possible. There is to be a regulatory body - the Pakistan Electronic Media and Broadcasting Regulatory Authority ( PEMBRA) - which will supervise the new arrangements and issue licences to both private tv and radio stations. Amjad Rasheed described the ordinance as ‘ a turning point in the field of development and democracy in Pakistan’. But he said questions about the degree of control/level of autonomy for the new media still remained unanswered. So far 5 or 6 NGOs were interested in community radio licences.
Dr Sreedher of the Indira Gandhi Open University said that a code of conduct for broadcasters was necessary as well as some authority to interpret the code. Prabhakar Adhikari said in Nepal as a first step the government proposed to ask the radio stations to develop a code of conduct themselves.
1130-1315 COMMUNITY RADIO IN INDIA -
Chair :Bandana Mukhopadhyay
Dr Sreedher, Indira Gandhi Open University: “ Setting up 40 stations.”
Nandita Roy, National Foundation of India: “ NFI’s impact in Jharkhand.”
Ashish Sen, Voices of Bangalore: “ The Kolar initiative”
Dr Pavarala and ‘General’ Narsamma, Deccan Development Society: “ Still waiting for the OK.”
Dr Sreedher said that in the first phase of the programme 40 stations were being set up as part of the Gyan Vani programme. But in April 2002, IGNOU would begin the second phase under which the number would expand to 107 by 2004. The programme to set up the stations is an extension of the Open University’s educational remit. IGNOU runs a twenty four hour television channel called Gyan Darshan as well as a radio arm known as Gyan Vani. Gyan Vani works as a radio cooperative. The Open University looks for partners in educational institutions, and sets up the stations in these institutions, wherever possible using existing studio facilities. Where the audio-facilities are inadequate or do not exist, IGNOU is upgrading them or building new ones. There are to be four stations in the metros and 36 in other urban centres. All use existing AIR transmitters. IGNOU has budgeted for a team of three full timers to run each station, plus volunteers. The national service of Gyan Vani currently broadcasts 8 hours per day, which should be extended to 24 hours per day after one year. Initially, the forty stations will be allocated 3 hours for local broadcasting, of which one hour is to be earmarked for IGNOU programmes, one hour for programmes from partner organisations and one hour for interractive programming. The licence only permits educational broadcasting. There is a ban on both news and advertisements. The stations are to be managed on the basis of a memorandum of understanding to be signed by IGNOU and its partners. The aim is that after 5 years the stations will stand on their own. In response to questions from Indian NGOs, Dr Sreedher said he was encouraging NGOs to make use of the facilities. Though established in cities, they could be heard within a 30 kilometre radius. Some of them would be running rural development courses. In the longer term, he anticipated that 60% of the broadcasts would be devoted to ‘hard core education’ and the remainder to ‘ social purposes’.
Nandita Roy explained that the National Foundation for India had ventured into community radio as a means of “empowering communities to access media directly”. It is working with two other NGOs in forty five villages of Palamau district in the state of Jharkhand. Its role is to train the villagers to make programmes on social issues which are broadcast every Sunday evening on Daltonganj FM, one of All India Radio’s smaller stations.
In preparation for the programmes, NFI conducted a series of workshops to identify 14 village reporters (including 4 women) and the issues to be covered. These included child marriage, superstition, education, dowry, gender discrimination, village development, corruption and issues related to farming. The programmes have successfully raised awareness on some of these issues. But villagers still feel trapped by circumstances.
Palamau district is one of the most neglected parts of northern India, where 70% of the women are illiterate, many men have to migrate to get work, and most people live on the edge of poverty. The roads are poor, electricity is still non-existent in some villages, the public distribution system is irregular and ‘terrorist groups’ are well entrenched.
Given this backdrop, Nandita Roy said the weekly programme Chala Ho Gaon Mein had been very successful, drawing appreciation, excitement and curiosity from people in the region. Many of the people were seeing recorders for the first time and to participate in programmes and hear their own voices over the radio was a wholly new experience for them. At the same time, community participation was not easy to achieve. Women refused to participate in dramas if they had to act as someone else’s wife or even travel to a nearby village. Meticulous planning and meeting deadlines demanded a new kind of discipline from the village reporters. Capacity building was helping but these sorts of grassroot realities are difficult to change by radio programmes alone, said Nandita Roy. In order to be effective, community radio needs to be part of a more complete development strategy.
If listening is a measure of success, the programme is doing tremendously well. A recent internal impact study done in 374 villages showed that 98 per cent are regular listeners to the programme. 81 per cent feel the programme is very good, with the drama and folksong sections getting highest praise. In six months, the programme has received 200 letters and there are demands for more time on the air.
Nandita Roy said she thought the real measure of success would be “ when we make a qualitative impact in the lives of the people living in these villages. ” The challenge is to make people at the grassroots “ more autonomous and self-reliant”. Democracy and development had not actually empowered the rural poor but shifted the balance in favour of the state. They have “undermined the ability of the poor to organise and articulate agendas for their own betterment”. Nandita Roy said NFI’s aim is “to motive and empower the community... to create an alternative frame of reference for the people”. They believed that in this process there was a role for “ critical engagement”. Sometimes, she said, we overplay community participation and a bottoms-up approach without acknowledging or recognising the limitations of localism. She concluded: “We need to recognize that traditional societies are internally constrained both in terms of their commitment to democratic norms, and also in their ability to create opportunities for development. What is perhaps needed is a judicious mix of local initiatives and support from outside, institutions and individuals who have knowledge and resources that can benefit local people.”
Ashish Sen explained that Voices is currently involved in two community media projects outside Bangalore and one in the city itself. The city project is called Janagraha - the life force of the citizen - and its aim is to get the voice of the citizens heard in establishing priorities in the Bangalore city budget. The campaign is focussed on the state of footpaths and roads and the efforts of residents’ groups to get them improved by face to face meetings with their locally elected representatives. Voices has facilitated a 13 episode series of programmes on All India Radio in which residents bring their representative to the radio station and talk through their problems and how to solve them. Though initially reluctant, politicians are now keen to take part and the programmes are producing 90 letters a week.
Of the programmes outside Bangalore, one is situated at Kanakapura, where Voices has been working with visually challenged people and using community radio- in narrowcasting mode - to look at how they can be intregrated into rural development. The other programme is called ‘Namadh Vani’ - Our Voice - which is a community media experiment being carried out by Voices and other NGOs at Kolar on the Karnataka/Tamil Nadu border. It is an area where AIR does not have a station and where the mix of languages is not catered for by existing broadcasts.
The aim is to empower the local community, which is for the most part impoverished and illiterate, by helping them to make programmes about issues that concern them, including women’s health, education and access to credit. An AIR broadcaster from Bangalore has been doing the training in her spare time and the programmes are narrowcast on market days using loud speakers. The work is being done with the support of the local panchayat and is based in the reading room on the ground floor of the panchayat building. A low cost audio production centre was established there in 2001, with analogue equipment and field recorders. AIR Bangalore has also made programmes about the experiment and about the same issues, using material generated at Kolar.
Voices believes that the ultimate goal in community radio involves community ownership and management of the operations. However, pending a change in the present legal position, it pursues and advocates strategies which demonstrate community participation in radio. With the establishment of Gyan Vani, issues of ownership and management have become more palpable. They have been invited to collaborate with Gyan Vani but there is no AIR station in the Kolar area at the moment and in any case ‘it is not clear how democratic that process will be’. Ashish said they would prefer to set up a community radio station in Kolar and have applied to the government for a licence for Kolar and for Kanakapura, though they have not yet had a response.
Dr Vinod Pavarala described the efforts of the Deccan Development. Society( DDS) to start a community radio station at Pastapur in Andhra Pradesh. The plan had grown out of the long-standing commitment of DDS to the Dalit community in seventy five villages in a degraded agricultural tract on the AP/Karnaka border. After 16 years, DDS has 4000 members in these villages, and is working for the environment, gender justice and people’s knowledge. It has set up participatory structures, community grain stores and gene banks, and has been helping to restore the land and improve people’s livelihood. It did not begin as a media venture but the use of video and audio is now central to strategies for empowerment.
The idea of setting up a community radio station emerged from an encounter between James Bentley of UNESCO and the women of Pastapur in which they articulated very similar concerns to those put forward by the Toronto platform. Their concern with differences between ‘ our language’ and ‘their language’, with the preservation of marginalised grains and indigenous knowledge systems and their determination to fight dominant values by taking control of media technologies themselves ultimately persuaded UNESCO to provide the funds for a studio and a transmitter in Pastapur itself. The transmitter tower is 30 metres high and has the capacity to be heard over a range of 30 kilometres. The well-equipped studio is designed to reproduce the format of village sangam meetings. 3 young Dalit women have been trained to make recordings and to run the studios and recently DDS established a Community Media Trust and handed over the studio complex to the community. An application for a licence was made in August 2000, but so far, unfortunately, the Government of India has not responded positively, so they confine themselves to narrowcasting. Very often sangam meetings in the 75 villages include a 30 minute ‘transmission’ which includes interviews, music and useful information. Field workers record feedback on the ‘broadcast’ from the listeners to incorporate in future programmes. There are currently over 300 cassettes in the archive and they are beginning to work with CDs.
Asked what the reaction of the women had been to the government’s refusal to grant them a licence, ‘General’ Narsamma said they had been ‘ very sad’. The government had told them to work with other organisations, like AIR, but she said: ‘ We have our own way of doing things’. ‘ It is not just about radio’ she said, ‘ It is about our way of life’. What will they do now? ‘ In the absence of a licence, we will go to the studios and carry on as at present.’ And she added: ‘ If we meet with the minister directly, we hope she will change her mind. Let them give us a licence for two years and if we don’t use it properly then let them take it away.’
In the time for questions, Dr Sreedher said that AIR had 74 stations in the rural areas which often only broadcast four to six hours per day. It was a ‘wasted infrastructure’ which could be used for community broadcasting. Ashish Sen said unfortunately there were many areas where there were no transmitters. He was also not sure whether it was a good idea to put CR programmes on air dominated by other kinds of programmes. All the speakers agreed that there were long term issues of sustainability for community radio programmes which had not been resolved. Nandita Roy said the Ford Foundation was paying for NFI’s programmes in Daltongunj but after two years they would have to find other funds. Ashish Sen said that some funds were being generated in Kolar but not sufficient to bear the cost of the operation.
1400-1530 GROUP DISCUSSIONS
1600-1730: MAKING THE MOST OF THE INTERNET
Chair: Michael David, BBC World Service
Sunil Wijesinghe - Controller, Kothmale Internet Radio project, Sri Lanka
Gopal Guragain, Communication Corner, Kathmandu.
Gaurav Upadhyay, Nepal Computer Society.
Sunil Wijesinghe began with a story which illustrated how much can be done to promote enthusiasm for radio, even within the limitations of the current situation. Recently, he had encouraged schoolchildren in Anuradhapura in North Central province to run their own radio station from their school, with speakers both in the playground and , with the permission of the police and bus operators, at the bus stand nearby.
Kothmale Community Radio station in Sri Lanka is a station set up and managed by the national radio broadcaster, SLBC, but Sunil Wijesinghe says that it is ‘ truly under the control of the community with the minimum supervision.’ Asked how he had managed to achieve this special relationship with Colombo, Sunil said it was a matter of being ‘able to explain what you were doing’. There are seven SLBC staff members at Kothmale ( Controller, producer, chief announcer, two technicians and two general helpers) and the rest are relief workers and volunteers. The station began in an old tea factory in 1989 but from January 1999 it has been broadcasting from a new studio complex. SLBC gave the station the right to schedule its own programmes and this resulted in the launch of Tamil programmes in the mornings and at week-ends from the inception of the new station to serve the wider local community. The station has ‘a team of consultants within the community to guide it’ and there are plenty of examples of the station fighting for community rights and being supported by the community in its own difficulties.
The decision to install computers and to bring the internet into the new station has made Kothmale a model for bridging the digital divide in rural areas. The aim is to use the radio station as a centre for computer training and as a means of educating rural audiences about modern technology. UNESCO provided the capital costs and has recently donated additional computers. There were worries about whether the station would be able to meet the running costs and maintain the computers but with some difficulties it has managed to do so. Within the project period staff and volunteers successfully mastered the technology and local demand for computer training has been so great that two additional access points have been established in neighbouring municipalities - Gampola and Nawalapitiya.
An hour of airtime daily is devoted to programmes compiled from the net. There has been some internet browsing on air but after the initial excitement this has not been found to produce very good programmes. There has been keen demand from parents that their children should be trained in computer skills. Initially classes were organised in return for a small payment which was passed to volunteers. This raised administrative difficulties which were solved by preparing a 3 month course with paid trainers. The course operated in a multimedia environment. Training was given in print publication skills as well as in the electronic media.
The idea that English is necessary to get on the net has been to a large extent dispelled. The station has its own website at www. kothmale.net, with pages in Sinhala and English. Local people regularly use the internet to find information for their business or educational needs, with volunteers assisting in this process. One famous story is of a local undertaker who went to the USA for higher education after browsing the web at the station for centres of excellence in his profession. But there are technical and financial difficulties. The leaseline for the internet connection was at one stage down for a whole year. Despite its SLBC connection, the station has been required to raise more funds locally and to meet growing demands for entertainment. It has commercialised its morning transmissions and has found other innovative means of raising revenue. But it maintains the public service character of its evening programmes.
Over the past ten years, the station has produced some small qualitative changes, for example by promoting the adoption of new farming practices, but Sunil Wijesinghe says it could not be claimed that there has been a measurable change in the social or economic status of the surrounding area. Information was not the sole factor in achieving change. If Kothmale were to close people would be ‘sad’, but it was difficult to judge what premium to put on that.
Gopal Guragain of Communication Corner spoke about the networking of radio organisations in Nepal for programme distribution. CC is a private sector concern in Kathmandu which makes a number of programmes for Radio Nepal and for independent stations outside the Kathmandu valley. Its programme Haki Haki, which initiates development debates in the districts, has been broadcast on Radio Nepal for 4 years and is backed up by a strong network of 200 listeners’ clubs in 56 districts. Recently, with support from Panos South Asia, CC has been producing daily news digests for regional stations and acting as a clearing house for programmes generated by the smaller regional stations on local culture, music and other information about Nepal. The daily KayaKairan programme, which reviews the Kathmandu papers, is broadcast by four other stations before 7am, long before the papers reach their target areas. Programmes were initially distributed by bus but they are now mostly sent by telephone. Inadequate band width outside the Kathmandu valley makes the transmission of programmes through the internet unacceptably slow but Gopal Guragain anticipates that this method of delivery will improve within a year or two.
Gaurab Upadhya, a member of the Executive committee of the Nepal Computer society and the presenter of a programme on computers on Sagarmatha radio, gave an account of the growth of the internet in Nepal. There are 110,000 computers in Nepal, which are thought to serve half a million users. 30,000 people have e-mail connections, suggesting some 150,000 users. The potential for growth is limited. There are 230,000 fixed telephone lines in Nepal and it should be possible to access the internet in sixty districts but communication is often affected by weather conditions. There are only 12 cities with an ISP presence. No website offers information in Nepali. His experience as the presenter of the Sagarmatha programme on computers had demonstrated the narrow base of computer knowledge in the country. He had aimed to demystify technology and show how it could address personal needs but he had not been able to recruit a replacement presenter when he was not there. There were plenty of people interested to learn but few in a position to help. He had tried browsing the net during programmes to find answers to listeners’ questions but after some time dropped the idea. Many of the questions were the same and the programme improved with more time to sift through a greater selection of queries.
In response to a comment by Dr Pavarala on the absence of research on the impact of internet-based radio stations, Gopal Guragain said that there was regular research and feedback but only to develop programmes.
1730-1900: GROUP DISCUSSIONS CONTINUE
23 February 2002
0930-1100: A COUNTRY STRATEGY FOR INDIA
Chair: David Page
Ashish Sen of Voices, Bangalore, and Bandana Mukhopadhyay
Ashish Sen and Bandana Mukhopadhyay shared with the workshop some of the thinking which had gone into the development of a country strategy paper on community radio in India commissioned by AMARC. The paper had been put together by Voices, with Ian Pringle and Subbu Vincent making important contributions.
Bandana said there has been some liberalisation of broadcasting in India in recent years, but even now the social sector does not have a suitable space for broadcasting.
Though Cable radio might offer such space, Voices had not explored that possibility. According to Arun Mehta, an expert in this field, the technical quality is not sufficiently good at the moment. They had therefore concentrated on radio transmissions. Media development in India so far has an urban bias - and the poor and marginalised are not included. Community radio is a means of reaching out to the rural areas and of helping them to lift themselves out of poverty and ignorance.
Ashish Sen elaborated some of the ideas which had gone into the report. He put the case for community radio in the context of India’s social and economic condition, the urban/rural divide and worsening poverty indices. Even the government of India had now come to accept that its own statistics were wrong and the situation was worse than it had anticipated.
Improving communication was essential to give people the information to improve their condition. The right to information was increasingly recognised. 5 Indian states now had acts on their statute books. A freedom of information bill had also been tabled in the Indian parliament. The right to communicate is less well recognised, despite the existence of article 19 of the Indian constitution. No mass media organisation can deal adequately with the challenges of development unless it can communicate with people in their own language. Yet there are many linguistic communities in India, particularly among the poor and marginalised, whose linguistic needs are not being met.
The Pastapur declaration on community radio recommends a three tier approach to the broadcast media, including a third tier of ‘ community owned and managed stations’. All India radio has approximately 200 stations in different parts of the country but many of the 543 districts are not covered. Gyan Vani, the new venture launched by the Indira Gandhi Open University, is largely focussed on the urban areas and their peripheries. Commercial radio is again largely focussed on the urban areas.
In the legal field, the Supreme Court had declared in 1995 that the airwaves are ‘public property’ but the precise implications of this judgement had not yet been spelt out. There had been some legalisation of satellite broadcasting but no forward movement on the introduction of terrestrial broadcasting. Did the judgement mean that the public should claim ownership of the airwaves or would it be sufficient for the public to have a share of the existing system? Voices took the view that what was required was participatory communication because that could adapt to local circumstances in a way that national broadcasters could not.
In South Asia, they had looked at two main local radio models - All India Radio and the Kothmale station of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. As far as AIR was concerned, despite some pioneering ideas, ‘ by and large the network had remained insensitive to local needs’. No AIR station had played any significant role in social movements. Kothmale was a better model. It played a far larger role in the life of the community. Ashish Sen said: ‘Kothmale encourages us to think that ownership is not the key issue... Difference of attitude is the key thing’.
Looking at some of the narrowcasting experiments going on in India, Ashish said that they had already demonstrated the empowering character of radio. At Kolar, for example, a system to promote feedback from the community in the process of development had been set up, and it was clear that a station would accelerate this.
Bandana reviewed the suitability for Indian conditions of a number of community radio stations she had visited in other parts of the world. She thought the UNDP- backed CR project in the Philippines, using community radio towers, was focussing on too small a geographical area. She said they are ‘ flush with funds’ and are empowering people to write scripts and make their own broadcasts, but they only serve three or four villages, approximately 5000 people. She felt that the funds could have been used to greater effect if the transmitters covered a wider area.
She had been more impressed with community radio in El Salvador, where it had begun with almost no funding at all to be a voice for victims of war. The stations are now recognised as the voice of rural people and have been able to expand with international support. Young people are involved in the programmes as they grow up and the sizeable reach of the stations has helped them to sustain themselves. They also derive strength from linkages among some 20 local stations.
Voices has come up with a set of recommendations for the establishment of community radio in India. Their ultimate goal is direct access to broadcasting but in the meantime there is a need to use existing spaces and to develop capacities. One priority must be to increase levels of awareness and media skills of those campaigning for community radio and among practitioners. In the absence of a change in the law, spaces within AIR and Gyan Vani should be used and practitioners in those organisations won over. But a change in the law should be sought, using the refusal of the licence to DDS for the Pastapur station as a possible starting point. There is also a need to bring community radio into the mainstream of media studies and to interest students and teachers in it.
On the advocacy front, there was a need to constructively engage with the Government of India and state governments to persuade them to licence community radio stations. A seminar in Delhi to make the case and to deal with government concerns could be useful. There would also be value in developing a representative face - possibly a South Asia -wide body - to press the case nationally and regionally. Experience elsewhere could be useful in persuading governments that community radio was valuable and did not pose security problems. Finally, there was a need for better research and evaluation of existing activities to develop suitable models for South Asian conditions, and better networking to spread information to members of the community radio movement.
In the discussion, Dr Sreedher said he was not sure that Kothmale really was a community radio station. Was it very different from the smaller All India Radio stations? AIR Nagercoil had attempted something similar many years earlier under a remarkable station director. He wondered if it was a case of models or personalities. Kumar Abeyasinghe thought that community radio should be defined not in terms of models or station directors but in terms of the felt needs of the community. Dr Agarwal of IGNOU thought that partnerships between NGOs and local stations of AIR could work well and need not lead to identification with the radio. Bandana Mukhopadyay said one option the government had been considering was offering the panchayats a radio facility but the civil service had opposed it.
Commenting on the legal situation, Dr Pavarala said the Supreme Court judgement was not clear about the distinction between public and private. It talks of non-profit and not about public use. In his view, governments have distorted the meaning of the judgement. Subbu Vincent said that in the light of the Supreme Court judgement the government needed to be challenged on what was meant by public broadcasting. One problem was that India does not have much history of ‘participatory governance’. There is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ gulf between people and government which inhibits constructive engagement. How else could government represent Prasar Bharati as a public broadcaster and provoke so little discussion?
1115-1300: GROUP DISCUSSIONS CONTINUE
1400-1530 STRATEGIES FOR MAKING IT HAPPEN -
BANGLADESH, PAKISTAN and NEPAL
Chair: Bhim Subba of Panos South Asia
Kamrul Hassan Monju/ Mahbub ul Haque of Mass Line Media, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Amjad Rashid/Abid Rizvi of Taraqee Trust, Quetta, Pakistan
Murari Sivakoti, former President, NEFEJ.
Kamrul Hassan Monju described the work that Mass Line Media is doing among the people of the coastal areas of Bangladesh. The people may not be literate but they do listen to the radio, particularly for weather forecasts. However they have difficulty understanding standard Bengali; they have their own ‘Chittagonian’ dialect. Mass Line Media thought it would be helpful if they could have their own community radio using their own dialect and has applied to government for a licence. Since tenders were opened, 26 parties have applied for radio licences, 6 have been short listed, and Mass Line Media is the only one applying to run a CR station. They are still not sure if an NGO will be permitted to run a station but the new minister for Information and Broadcasting, Moin Khan, has been encouraging. They are hoping that permission will be forthcoming shortly.
Mahbub ul Haque of Mass Line Media explained how the organisation has been working with the local administration, local MPs and leaders to lobby for the licence. There is widespread local support for the station but some resistance by national politicians to the use of the local dialect, even though there have been instances where failure to understand Bangladesh Betar has meant that warnings of cyclones have not been heeded.
Amjad Rashid and Abid Rizvi explained that the Taraqee Trust had been started in 1993 and was working in the field of poverty alleviation and health in four districts of Baluchistan with a high incidence of poverty and illiteracy. The trust employed about 250 people in these districts. It had become interested in radio as a means of improving access to the people. It was already working with Radio Pakistan. It has its own production house, which makes development programmes for the national broadcaster, and it had also made programmes for Afghanistan’s Shariat Radio broadcast from Kabul. However, state radio had only been able to play a partial role in Taraqee’s plans; there was a clear need for radio to be closer to the people. Amjad Rashid said the trust hoped community radios would be established as part of the process of decentralisation and democratisation upon which the Musharraf government had embarked. Elections were being held at three levels - district, tehsil and union council - and the trust had supported some twenty or thirty candidates for election to these bodies. The government had passed an ordinance in January permitting the establishment of private television and radio but the precise specifications for radio had yet to be drawn up by the regulatory authority, PEMBRA. The Trust was arguing for a clear distinction between private and community radio and hoped to get the go-ahead very shortly.
Murari Sivakoti, a former President of NEFEJ and station manager of Sagarmatha radio in the pilot phase, ended the session with a fascinating blow by blow account of how the government of Nepal was persuaded to issue the licence for the country’s first independent station. It involved a sustained campaign by NEFEJ and its allies which had to be maintained through several changes of government. Establishing the legislation on the statute book was only the first step. That happened in 1993. Subsequently, regulations had to be drawn up and the licence actually issued, and at each stage different kinds of pressure had to be applied by civil society. The regulations took two years to emerge, and when they came out in 1995, it was discovered that in some ways they contradicted the spirit of the act. At the stage, Raghu Mainali of NEFEJ filed a suit in the Supreme Court and NEFEJ intensified its lobbying with teachers and journalists, politicians, ministers and even with ministers’ wives. In 1996, UNESCO provided the transmitters but permission was still not forthcoming to go on the air. So in 1997, NEFEJ decided to begin test transmissions and applied for a temporary frequency for this purpose. The letter went off to the ministry and was greeted by silence, so they decided, after consulting legal opinion, to interpret the silence as consent. They began test transmissions, using ‘ English music’, and they immediately got a threatening letter from the ministry. Among other things, the letter asked who had given permission? They stopped test transmissions after four days but they had established the principle. They then exerted maximum leverage to press for a start date in May 1997 in time for the local elections. They used articles in the press, donor pressure, diplomatic pressure from the American ambassador, and lobbying of politicians and their supporters in advance of the elections. At the same time, they launched plans to start the radio on 22 May and were willing to face the maximum sentence - one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 rupees. With a week to go, the government proposed a licence with 15 conditions. They replied: ‘ Whatever the conditions, give us the licence’. It was clearly better to get on the air and to argue about the conditions later. So on 17 May the licence was given and on 22nd, as planned, the station went on the air. Murari Sivakoti said that they had learnt a number of lessons in pressing for the licence. It was vital to mobilise a range of different pressure groups - teachers, politicians, and the print media - to build an alliance across civil society. It was also important to be ‘a little balanced’ , to know when to exert pressure and when to hold back.
1600-1730 FINAL SESSION - PRESENTATIONS BY THE GROUPS/ DISCUSSION OF FUTURE PLANS
Chair: Kumar Abeyasinghe, Secretary, Media Ministry, Sri Lanka
Rapporteurs from the different discussion groups:
Bandana Mukhopadhyay: Policy Context
Amjad Rashid : Advocacy and Networking
Rajendra Sharma: Sustainability
Group 1: Policy Context:
The following is the text produced by the policy context group:
Definition of Community Radio
Community radio is a broadcasting organisation established to provide communication support for the purpose of social, economic and cultural development of a community within a geographical location and owned and operated by the community on a non-profit basis.
Rationale for Ownership
In the light of the changes occurring in the broadcasting scene and as a consequence of the deregulation and liberalisation of media ownership, it is strongly felt that community radio has an important role to play in giving expression to the community’s needs and aspirations in order to make development efforts meaningful and relevant to the community. It is also felt that community radio combined with modern information technology (ICT) could play a very positive role in bridging the digital gap currently in existence and help in transfer of technology to the marginalised communities who are currently alienated from the benefits of such technologies.
We recommend to the state to accept as a matter of policy the need to grant a licence to own and operate community radio when such requests come from a community or an organisation which represents the community living within a geographical area. The licensing authority will decide the procedure as well as the basis for the grant of licence after careful examination of the purpose, objective and capacity to own and operate a low power transmitter which covers the location of the community.
The Community Radio station shall establish administrative /management structures which will ensure participation of and accountability to the specific geographical community it will serve.
In frequency planning, the licensing authority will take due note of the requirements of Community Radio broadcasting and reserve certain frequencies for such purposes .
Recommendations for Programme Content