Between August 9 and 10, 2016, participants from Bangladesh, India and Nepal met at the South Asian community radio conference organized by Association of Community Radio Broadcasters of Nepal (ACORAB) to discuss community broadcasting in the region [See the lead story]. The interactions were timely and an opportunity to take stock of Community Radio in the region. Suman Basnet provides an abridged account of his presentation.
Out of the eight countries that are officially classified as South Asian, five have some form of community broadcasting in place. Almost 19 years ago, Nepal became the first country to begin radio broadcasting from a non-governmental sector. Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh joined in, in the new millennium. Bhutan, having started community broadcasting just about a year ago, is the latest entry in the community-radio-club-of-South Asia. Now only three countries remain to allow community radios and these are Pakistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
The late Zane Ibrahim of Bush Radio famously said, “community radio is 90% about community and 10% about radio. He further said, “When setting up community stations, the first thing people start with is radio, which is the name of a technology. If you start with technology, before long there will be a huge gap between the radio and the community.”
In this context, a review of community broadcasting in South Asia needs to be made based on the success community radios may or may not have achieved in mainstreaming people’s voices on the airwaves. However, it will be a futile exercise should discussions focus only on community radio development vis-à-vis ‘developmental’ partnerships and activities.
Questions of equity, equal access, and restrictive legislation like a ban on broadcasting news remain concerns in many countries. There are also challenges within the sector related to infrastructure, community involvement, participatory content development and regulatory framework.
In 2010, the Asia-Pacific regional chapter of AMARC held its 2nd regional conference in Bangalore where an assembly of nearly 300 members recommended a 10-point agenda for the development of community radio in the region. Many of these recommendations remain relevant even today:
- Community radios will have to build active alliances with social movements like freedom of information, freedom of expression, food security, gender issues, issues of climate change and natural disaster.
- Community radios will have to strategically combine old and new communication technologies and develop mixed media models. Ways of listening to radio is changing rapidly. Online and digital platforms are expanding fast and community broadcasting must adapt to the changing atmosphere.
- There needs to be an active engagement among the different sections of broadcasting –commercial broadcasters have the listeners, public broadcasters have the reach, and community broadcasters have the local content. The synergy thus built can be of extra ordinary value high especially in areas like disaster risk reduction.
- Building linkages with academia and independent media development and research organizations can give rise to more research and impact assessment studies to track and evaluate performance of community radio stations and study their co-relation with factors that could influence their behavior such as political or commercial interests.
- Additional support is needed urgently for training in community radios and for developing a pool of country and regional resource persons that can undertake community radio capacity building.
- Country and regional level networks comprising of community radio practitioners, advocates and community media production groups are required to strengthen the case for legal reform, technology access and fund raising, to advocate for enabling environments and judicious legislation at the country levels.