CR News is in its seventh year of publication. During this fascinating journey, there have might have been instances of anxieties related to production funding, but never has the editorial team faced any dearth of articles and news. The CR sector in India and South Asia, in all these years, has been buzzing with stories of policy decisions, new licenses, events, trainings, workshops, conferences, and most important of all, voices and activities of CR stations from the field. For us at CR News, that has been one of the signs of the vibrant growth of the sector and an indication that it is alive and kicking.
This issue of CR News has been somewhat different. While we received good stories, especially from the South Asian perspective, we were a wee bit disappointed because not many of them are related to programming or to community engagement. There are no stories about innovative content or community involvement, and not many voices from the field to speak of in the issue.
It is not that we at CR News are soliciting ‘breaking news’ or looking to publish success stories only, but there appears to be an awkward lull in the news coming in about community radio activities on the ground from the region as a whole, and especially from India.
Is the reason behind this, what Venu Arora and Jaimini Luharia state in their article: “there is very little by way of documentation [by stations] and active engagement with the public at large on the role that community radio stations are playing and have the potential to play in the years to come.” (Click here for story). Or is this an indication of a general reduction of fervour within the sector? Are these warning signs alerting us to the need for rebooting and bringing back the vibrancy of voices and the colours of diversity that symbolise the sector?
It is not that the Government of India or the policy makers and organisations in South Asia are not making an effort. Our lead story in this issue outlines that endeavours that are sought to be put in place for furthering community radio by several countries within the SAARC region. Suman Basnet’s article on AMARC (page 9), the interview with Bazlur Rahman of BNNRC (Click here for story) and the news of IIMC’s vision to be a capacity building hub (Click here for story) give us some hope that community radio has become a key focus at institutional and executive levels in many South Asian countries, including India.
In India, there are also discussions around making CR viable as a tool for participatory development through association with agendas of different ministries. Proposals for enhancing its role in disaster management, for climate change, and in the health sector, etc. are aplenty. Special provisions for technology support to organisations wishing to set up or upgrade their stations are also being mooted and promoted.
Yet, the CR sector in India appears to have plateaued. It is neither growing nor prospering. While there is recognition and acceptance of its potential in the upper echelons of administration, it looks as if there is a decline in buy-in from grassroots practitioners and communities in India. With the exception of a few well-endowed CR stations, most of them are encountering serious issues of financial as well as social sustainability.
As we close in on the 10 years of an inclusive CR policy in India this November, there is a need to both celebrate and introspect. Two pioneering NGO sector CR stations, Sangham Radio and Radio Bundelkhand, celebrate eight years of their existence this October. Campus-based community radio stations had a head start in India and Pinky Chandran’s poem on page 5 is an ode to the nine years of her station. However, even as these provide cause for cheer, we do need to ask ourselves: Why is the community radio sector in India starting to lose its lustre?
Are there no genuine takers left? Has the faith in CR’s potential dwindled or are the challenges of setting up and running them too cumbersome? If not, then, where are the new stations, innovative programming, stakeholder meetings, capacity building workshops, awareness campaigns, civic engagement events, grassroots trainings, policy reforms seminars and people’s voices?
Kanchan K. Malik