Picture courtesy: Google
Financial sustainability constitutes a major challenge faced by many community radios in India. Despite the impact that community radio stations have been able to make in the sphere of community engagement and information dissemination in rural areas, the danger posed by their financial instability cannot be overlooked. Sangham Radio is a case in point.
Sangham Radio is India’s first community radio station that is owned and operated by Dalit women, most of them semi-literate or illiterate agricultural workers from the socio-economic margins of Machanoor village in Sangareddy district of Telangana. The radio station is an initiative of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a local grassroots organisation that works through the Sanghams (women’s collectives) of underprivileged rural women.
Sangham Radio received the licence to broadcast in 2008 with programme content that is generated entirely by the Dalit women. Over the years, the station has earned the trust and respect of the community and has created a space for the community to discuss their lives and the issues associated with them. October 15th 2018 will mark the 10 year anniversary of Sangham Radio. Unfortunately the anniversary is overshadowed by the threat of the station’s closure.
According to DDS, the station requires at least Rs.10 lakh to replace its existing transmitters, update it to the latest technology and also pay salaries to its employees. The transmitters that had been donated by UNESCO and subsequently bought with some local contributions from a Dahanu based company has almost ceased to operate. The broadcast, which is supposed to reach a radius of 30 kilometres, now barely covers a three kilometre radius. This is deplorable considering the fact that around 50 villages surrounding the station tune in to Sangham Radio.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in India has strict rules that community radios cannot be supported by international funders, other than multilateral agencies. This meant that community radio stations like Sangham Radio have had to depend on advertising revenue. But neither the local nor big advertisers have shown any interest in airing their advertisements on the radio. The Government of India had commissioned Sangham Radio to advertise their schemes on air but they have failed to clear their dues over the last three years.
The members of the DDS sanghams have been regularly contributing to the day to day running of their radio, although it adds a crippling burden on their already fragile household economy. The Central Government’s dues that has totalled up to Rs.3.25 lakhs is too much of a staggering amount for the poor women to pay.
Various organisations have come forward to gather funds for the station, with DDS, the parent organisation, crowdsourcing their funds from Milaap-India’s largest crowd-funding site. Till the end of September they have been able to raise over Rs. 6 lakh for keeping the station afloat. Although this amount will help with the finance of the station for now, new methods of sustainability have to be looked at to keep alive the spirit of community radio in India. The voice of the poor and the marginalised cannot be left to disappear and the welfare of these stations must be at the forefront of the Government’s efforts.
Archana K Shaji