Not surprisingly, community has emerged as a critical player in the battle to vanquish COVID-19 and the coronavirus. While a cure remains elusive, community awareness, community preparedness and community participation have emerged as the key catalysts to combat the pandemic. These, however, are easier articulated than addressed when viewed in the context of a sub-continent as diverse as South Asia. Rich-poor, literate-non literate, rural-urban, inclusion-exclusion – just a few of the baffling array of binaries, contrasts, complexities, and cultures exhibited in the region that pose formidable challenges in terms of access, equity, and participation. It is here that the importance of the community radio (CR) comes in.
Despite challenges of infrastructure and sustainability, the community radio sector in South Asia has been leading from the front. Because of its intimate relationship with the community, it has emerged as a credible and vital link between government and grassroots. In many ways, the crisis has also seen the sector re-energizing itself and re-imagining ways and means to reach out to its audiences. These augur well for the future. As CR News’s lead story (Combatting coronavirus in India, the CR way) points out, many community radio stations have been quick to get off the ground in the wake of the pandemic. Their role during the outbreak has gone far beyond just producing information dissemination-based programmes. They have emerged as a trustworthy platform for fact-checking and countering fake news.
Several community radio stations have also developed mixed media models combining the internet with terrestrial broadcasting to ensure that their stories are heard and go to scale. Many of the reports and audio stories featured in this issue are testimony to these efforts. On another level, the crisis has also underlined the importance of networking. As this edition gets underway, AMARC Asia Pacific has just launched its campaign against COVID -19 (http://amarc-ap.org/COVID-10)
As the first cases of COVID-19 were still emerging in the sub-continent, CR News was tracking other events and developments, which dominated the sector’s landscape in early months of 2020. These included the World Radio Day (WRD) with its theme of ‘Radio and Diversity’ and the Radio Festival held annually in New Delhi. Glimpses of both are substantially featured in this issue along with other CR activities in the region.
Even as this issue goes to press (online) in these tough times of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are receiving several positive news reports showcasing the outcomes of the work that community radio stations have been doing. These are a testimony to the fact that community radio stations have been contributing in combating this challenge, every step of the way.
Radio Dhimsa has been collaborating with the South Orissa Voluntary Action (SOVA) to reach out to vulnerable families during the lockdown through making public announcements, distribution of dry ration, and counselling on handwashing and social distancing. Alfaz-e-Mewat was one of the first stations to start airing awareness plug-ins about the coronavirus outbreak in India, and Pantnagar Janvani has kept up its 12-hour broadcast schedule during the lockdown period and worked as a link between people and the district administration. The community connect of community radio stations is also obvious as many stations such as Waqt ki Awaz, Radio Namaskar, Radio Active, Mann Deshi Tarang, Nityananda Janavani, Gurgaon Ki Awaz, and others are tackling sensitive issues such as misinformation, quarantine, stigma, plight of the migrants, and difficulties faced by the health workers as part of their usual programme mix.
These, and many more such sparkling narratives of community radio’s role in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic will be included in the next special issue of the CR News. We are not sure at this juncture what exactly awaits us on the other side of this crisis. However, with community radio doing its part, we can surely look forward to some good news, and an even more resilient and vibrant CR sector in the region. Till then, take care and stay safe.
Kanchan K. Malik