Fifteen years of civil society movement, 10 years of policy, four national Consultations along with Sammelans, several awareness workshops, many independent creative interventions, and setting up of 170 CR stations later, community radio sector in India seems to be making waves not just in the social sector but also in the echelons of the government. Everybody, who wants to be somebody openly supporting freedom of expression, democratic communication forms, and meaningful use of media, cannot ignore community radio. However, whether it is the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, other social welfare ministries, multilateral agencies, development organisations, media collectives, CR advocates, or researchers – all seem now to be concerned with fundamental questions such as – Is CR fulfilling the mandate for which it came into existence? And at a more ideological level – Is the CR  sector as a whole sticking to and internalising the core principles that characterise its essence and purpose? If yes, then how? And if no, what are the encumbrances leading to non-performance?

In this issue, the TRAI consultation piece by Vinod Pavarala highlights some of these anxieties and the responses from stakeholders on the different issues facing the CR sector. TRAI would soon come up with its recommendations for CR policy reform that could open opportunities to make the sector more effective and vibrant. Rukmini Vemraju’s write-up talks about how different organisations and groups such as CEMCA, UNICEF, UNESCO,
UNESCO Chair on Community Media, CRA, CRF, and others are collaborating with the government to ensure that while the CR sector remains autonomous and participatory in its approach, there ought to be a mechanism in place to make it accountable to its own peers and community. This would usher in continuous learning and improvement of CR stations.

Ashish Sen reiterates that the role of CR during disaster must not be overlooked, while Suman Basnet flags the need for CR to work in synergy with other social movements, a proposition that has also been underscored in previous issues of CR News. While the sustainability conundrum still needs to be addressed by CR stations as Venu Arora’s project is seeking to understand, another research article by the Ideosync Media Combine team points towards the importance of how programme making process can become a means of engagement with and by the community. Other than the focus on India, this issue also has updates from the CR sector in South Asia and a serialised story about the free radios in Germany.

Many of the subjects discussed in the present issue of CR News also find a place in the agenda of the IAMCR pre-conference that is being organised by UNESCO Chair on Community Media in collaboration with the Community Communications working group of the IAMCR at the University of Hyderabad on July 13-14, 2014. The conference is bringing together scholars and practitioners, academics and activists working with community, citizen and alternative media to explore how these diverse media platforms facilitate the building of communities and in shaping change. On the sidelines of the pre-conference on community media, the UNESCO Chair on Community Media is also organising a one-day Roundtable Consultation on “Towards a South Asia Network for Community Media” in Hyderabad on July 12, 2014 with a select group of participants from the South Asia region to deliberate on the need for a regional network among community media practitioners and advocates.

All the efforts articulated above are directed toward strengthening the movement for communities’ access to airwaves in India and the South Asian region. They signify a need not only for an enabling and equitable environment for community radio in the region, but also for a sector commensurate with international standards of community media practices so that we have community radio stations not just in numbers but those that matter in the struggle for free and
open people’s media.

Kanchan K. Malik