Picture courtesy: AMARC AP WIN Facebook page
As the fourth AMARC Asia-Pacific Regional Assembly takes place in Jogjakarta, November 16-19, 2018, here are some excerpts from an interview that was done by Ashish Sen with AMARC AP President, Ram Bhat, early October 2018, on some of the key issues which the assembly is addressing.
The fourth AMARC AP Regional Conference comes at a point when community radio for many countries in the region finds itself at the cross-roads. Freedom of Expression, Ethnicity and Identity, and Restrictive legislation are some of the front burner challenges that confront the sector. Paradoxically, many of these issues as well as others like Disaster relief and reconstruction and Gender violence have underscored the fundamental relevance of community radio more than ever before.
Many of these, as AMARC AP President, Ram Bhat affirmed, will take centre stage at Jogjakarta.
On Ethnic/Religious Extremism:
Based on caste, religion or ethnicity, there has been a rise in violence in many parts of the Asia Pacific region. Such movements are often majoritarian in nature and target minority communities. Women, children and other marginalised communities from the minorities suffer the most. As democracy threatens to unravel, we will explore the role that community broadcasting can play in historically examining the roots of prejudice, challenge the majoritarian discourse, inculcate civic culture and rally for social justice.
On Gender Violence:
Due to economic changes there has been a tremendous shift in relations between men and women. Patriarchy has been challenged to large extent as women have increased mobility, purchasing power and increasingly recognised as part of the workforce. Community broadcasters will discuss strategies to create programming around themes like, the loss of male authority, globalisation of culture, contestation over values and spaces etc. At the same time, we note with concern that there has been a drastic increase in violence against women and adolescents, even children. We will also try to encourage increased cross-border and cross-cultural cooperation and collaboration amongst women broadcasters to create pressure so as to prevent violence against women.
On Freedom of Expression:
All across the region, there have been worrying instances of censorship and harassment of academics, journalists, editors, artists, bloggers and activists. There have been many instances when fearless voices have been murdered with shocking impunity. While freedom of speech is a right, in reality it is only an aspiration for the majority. Most marginalised communities, because of economic or religious/ethnic, or gender inequality, are not in a position to express themselves freely. In the ‘marketplace of ideas’, there are structural problems such as monopoly big business controlling mainstream media. We will explore how community broadcasters can collectively champion the right to free speech, i.e. addressing the substantive and structural aspects of free speech.
Due to climate change and the pressures of global capitalism, the poorest countries in the world, become even more vulnerable. Natural disasters have had devastating impacts both on public culture and economy, but also individual and group well-being. Loss of property and life has debilitating effects on both individual and society. While disasters are natural, the long-standing policies damaging the environment, unregulated growth and inequitable distribution of resources and relief materials are all highly political issues. We will address how community broadcasters can create a communicative culture of preparedness, effective disaster management, and post-disaster rehabilitation – especially from the perspective of the most marginalised communities
The AMARC Asia – Pacific network:
In terms of regulation and policy, we have some countries (esp. in South Asia) which have already gained some experience in community broadcasting while other countries have just begun. A related issue is representative associations of community broadcasting and their role in policy and regulation. Together we seek to identify the best principles of community broadcasting in terms of regulation, and come up with practical advocacy strategies to get these principles implemented in our respective countries.
AMARC AP is at the crossroads for several reasons. On one level, community broadcasting through FM radio is in danger of being overwhelmed by digital technologies, the onslaught of digital radio even, because of spectrum saturation in commercial markets, and lack of advertising for radio in rural markets. On another level, development funding is reducing for community radio and indeed, the whole development approach itself has not been able to achieve societal change – anecdotal data notwithstanding. In light of these changes, both individual community broadcasters and a network of community broadcasters have to refashion our identities and roles anew. Through the regional assembly, we invite our members to part take in these conversations so that we can collective undertake a new vision for us and the societies we serve.