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Change is in the air

Feb 13, 2012

Community radios are changing societies and giving a voice to those unheard.

New Delhi: Just last week Chinese Prime Minister We Jiabao pledged to ‘secure religious freedom and cultural protection for people in Tibet’. His comments came soon after the US-based broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that two Tibetan brothers had been shot dead by Chinese security forces for protesting against the Chinese rule. 

In India, the Banglaore-based Radio Active is expressing the concerns of sex workers, rag-pickers, disabled and HIV positive people through their informative radio programmes. The radio jockeys are a group of slum-dwellers, sex-workers and visually impaired people who broadcast relevant programmes about their community. The platform has impacted the lives of many already.

RFA has made a massive impact by bringing out the news and events from the conflict-ridden Tibetan region. At the same time, in India, Radio Active has transformed the lives of those who are forced by the society to spend their lives in seclusion. Through these and in myriad other ways, radio has been reaching out to and impacting the lives of a large number of people on the planet, considering that it is the only mass media that reaches the widest audience in the world.

To mark this vital medium of information dissemination, UNESCO celebrates the first World Radio Day on February 13, 2012. The day celebrates radio as a vector for education, freedom of expression and public debate as well as a source of vital information in times of natural disasters.   

Long road ahead

Radio has the ability to reach 75% of the world’s households, according to International Telecommunication Union. Inexpensive and relatively basic in technology, the radio can reach remote communities and marginalised groups. “Radio is a technology, hence it cannot die. It can only reinvent itself,” says Shaswati Goswami, Associate Professor – Radio at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi and adds: “But we need space for people-specific content. The potential is to be filled by Community Radio in India.”

Community radio, that is run and operated by communities, NGOs and universities to disseminate news and information on local issues, has greater impact in the countries of the South. "In a city like Bangalore where it is easy to lose your identity, a community radio station is one which provides a platform for secluded communities to express themselves. For my community, the radio station has succeeded in uniting us and bringing our issues into the mainstream media," says RJ Priyanka of Radio Active CR, who belongs to the LGBT community. 

On the other hand, the community radio movement still has a long way to go in a diverse country like India. Goswami says: “But this space of community radio is stifled by government policies or rather the lack of them and the lackadaisical approach of the civil society. At this juncture, the future of radio lies on activists and such activist organisations which would contexualise "Radio" in the specific space.”

To strengthen the mass medium of radio, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, is organising the second CR Sammelan from 18-20 February, 2012 in New Delhi. The meet will bring together 121 functional community radio stations from across the country, policy-makers from government departments like health, rural development, IT, agriculture, local self-governments and other stakeholders. Several national, international and UN organisations too will participate in the meet. The Ministry will confer national awards to community radio stations at the event.

Applauding the impact and reach of community radio, Archana Kapoor, Director of the north India-based Radio Mewat, says, “Even today, despite the high penetration of internet and television there are pockets, like Mewat, in the country where radio is the only way to reach out to the community,” Its simplicity, acceptability and portability is unmatched, she notes.

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