Community radio practitioners and advocates met at University of Hyderabad on October 16, 2018 under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair on Community Media and resolved to rededicate themselves to what was termed ‘the spirit of Pastapur’ and work towards reinvigorating the CR sector in India. Pastapur in Sangareddy district of Telangana was the site of the Pastapur Declaration in July 2000, through which activists, advocates, and academics had articulated the right of communities to have a media of their own and demanded, for the first time, the creation of a third-tier of broadcasting in the country outside of the state and the market.
On the previous day, October 15, 2018, the 20 participants visited Pastapur to attend the 10th anniversary celebrations of Sangham Radio, which was India’s first civil society-led community radio station, Sangham Radio established by the Deccan Development Society (see separate story). At a Roundtable discussion, Prof. Kanchan K. Malik, Faculty Fellow, UNESCO Chair on Community Media presented key milestones of the past 15 years since the formulation of the community radio policy in India, including various national and regional level consultations, capacity-building efforts of different organizations, and the setting up of about 240 CR stations in the country. Participants took stock of the state of community radio in the country in light of the recent amendments to the Community Radio Policy Guidelines announced by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (see separate analysis). Sajan Venniyoor, former Secretary of the Community Radio Forum, and others expressed their alarm at what many of them perceived to be a gradual erosion of the autonomy of community radio stations. The revised policy guidelines would make it more difficult for civil society organizations to obtain a license, they noted. The President of the Community Radio Association of India (CRA), N.A. Shah Ansari suggested the building of a cadre of grassroots media advocates, who will not only engage with policy issues, but also inculcate the core values of community radio among operational stations. This could possibly be done through a fellowship programme, he said. Referring to the recent celebration of the National Nutrition Month (Poshan Maah) by promoting relevant programming in about 100 stations across the country, Arti Jaiman of Gurgaon ki Awaaz and Pooja Murada of Alfaaz-e-Mewat were of the opinion that, in the face of sustainability problems, there is no harm is accessing state funds without losing one’s editorial independence.
N. Ramakrishnan of Ideosync Media Combine urged all community radio stakeholders to join and take active part in the recently initiated Community Radio Consortium so that issues and problems facing the sector could be represented as a single collective. Venu Arora of Ideosync suggested that the task of setting up an autonomous Community Radio Support Fund (CRSF), before it was transformed into a government scheme, be taken up independently by various civil society stakeholders. General Narsamma of Sangham Radioexpressed her scepticism about stations run by agricultural universities and extension centres (KVKs) being called community radios because they promote only the dominant views by scientists and experts and ignore people’s knowledge. It was pointed out by the participants that a recent study commissioned by the Ministry of I&B was, in fact, quite critical of stations run by educational institutions and agricultural extension centres. Ashish Sen, former President of AMARC Asia-Pacific, called upon all key CR stakeholders to return to the spirit of a movement, with a strict adherence to the core philosophy and ideals of community radio. Prof. Vinod Pavarala emphasized the need for undertaking a nation-wide community-centred research project on the successes and failures of community radio in India from the ground-up. This could be a multi-agency effort involving different organisations in the country, he said.
Al Amin Yusuph, the Information & Communication Advisor for South Asia, UNESCO, Anirban Sarma, the National Programme Officer of UNESCO New Delhi, and Dr. Shahid Rasool, Director, Commonwealth Educational Media Centre in Asia (CEMCA) offered continued support from their respective organisations to the sustainability of community radio stations and to facilitate efforts by the civil society to return to first principles and strengthen the community radio movement.
CR News Bureau