The inability of mainstream media to provide a space for an alternative discourse on critical social, political and economic issues exacerbates the dismal situation for media freedoms and diversity in the country. Community Media, although hamstrung by policy provisions that limit its scope by curtailing news and restricting eligibility, continue to play a critical role in being an important space where marginalised voices and the concerns of disenfranchised communities can be raised.

By producing radio programmes that encourage community members to actively take part in discussions related to issues existing in their immediate contexts and those that are of immediate concern to them, several community radio stations are creating the much needed voice equity in the country. In some cases this leads to advocacy for transparency and accountability within local elected bodies. In other cases it enables communities to preserve their oral cultures and traditions.

However, the role of community radio is still not fully understood in the overall media landscape of the country. This is also because there is very little by way of documentation and active engagement with the public at large of the role that community radio stations are playing and have the potential to play in the years to come. In order to address this gap, Ideosync Media Combine designed ‘Our Practice’ an innovative initiative, supported by UNESCO’s IPDC program, to build capacities of Community Radio stations across the country to reflect on and document their daily practice.

A total of 119 Community Radio reporters and volunteers from 14 community radio (CR) stations across the country have been trained so far. All the training sessions were held on-site at the respective CR stations in the period between November 2015 and May 2016.

An extensive training curriculum was designed to introduce CR stations to the key ideas of freedom of expression and its safeguards in the Indian constitution as well as the critical role of media in a democracy.

A key question for participants at the trainings was to review their work and reflect on how the CR station is fulfilling its mandate of being a voice for the most marginalized. The capacity building program also equipped CR practitioners with technical skills to produce quality audio and video diaries using mobile phones and innovating with participatory story telling techniques to document local narratives. A freeware mobile application was used to train participants in editing the video diaries on their mobile phones.

The initiative is seeing the production of several inspiring video diaries and short films: From a Mubeena in Alfaaz e Mewat, Haryana who has emerged from the shadows of the Burqa and learnt to be vocal about her ideas about women to a Beela Devi in Tilonia Radio, Rajasthan who persisted in taking her fight for her pension onto the airwaves and inspired many others to stand up for their rights; From documenting the role of differently abled community members in the daily broadcasts at Waqt Ki Awaaz, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and Radio Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh to bringing alive the songs of the Dalit Punjabi minority community in Assam on Radio Jnan Tarang; From the angry voices of tea garden communities that stake their claim on Radio Brahmaputra, as a defiance against local government apathy during the annual floods to a widow in Bihar who found a new livelihood through her songs that played on Radio Siwan.

This is the first time CR stations have used video to document their radio practices. The use of mobile phones for shooting and editing makes the process accessible and the Community Media Manch platform enables community radio stations to share this body of work with each other and with other national and global communities. Over 40 video diaries have been produced by the CR stations as part of the Our Practice initiative.

Venu Arora
Jaimini Luharia
Ideosync Media Combine