During a recent visit to the University of Chittagong, I met Ahm Bazlur Rahman, a well-known community media activist in Bangladesh. I had not planned to visit any community radio station in Bangladesh. But after meeting Bazlur bhai, I felt I should visit a community radio station and requested him to help me get in touch with the nearest one. He introduced me to Mr. Shah Sultan Shamim, the Station Manager of Radio Sagor Giri, 99.2 FM. The following day, I visited the Sagor Giri, accompanied by Romana Akthar Shanta, a student of the Communication and Journalism Department at the University of Chittagong, who became my guide and translator.
Bidu Bhusan Dash (right) with Shah Sultan Shamim and Romana Shanta
Travelling around 50 kilometers from the city centre of Chittagong to Sitakunda by local transport was a South Asian experience! We reached the radio station premises at 9 AM in the morning and spent a couple of hours, interacting with a few persons from the parent organisation, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) and the station manager in the radio station. Although the objective was not to critically scrutinize the station, various dynamics were evident after a few conversations.
Sagor Giri started its first transmission in November 2011 and will soon complete seven successful years. The radio station was started after a baseline survey and an analysis of the needs of listeners. During the baseline survey, it was found that there are two major marginalised communities – the fisherfolk and the tribals, whose issues needed to be addressed. The station prioritized its issues accordingly and planned for the next five years. Even, the name of the station, Sagor (sea) Giri (hill) was determined to ensure the presence of these two communities.
The station covers a 17 kilometers radius, which include three sub-districts – Sitakunda, Sandwip and Mirsharai. It broadcasts for five hours every day. It starts from 3 PM and continues up to 8 PM.
“Both communities require information,” said the station manager and elaborated that “mostly, the station broadcasts programmes on rights, especially for women and children. People raise their voices and participate in the programmes.” He added, “People highlight their problems through their participation by voicing their concerns in the local Chittagonian dialect, which results in greater interest among the community.” Even, fisherfolks and tribals have their own dialects, which are neglected by the mainstream media but are used by the programme producers of Radio Sagor Giri.
As the area is sandwiched between the sagor and giri, local people are often challenged by cyclone, water logging, and landslide issues. Consequently, the station produces issue-based programmes raising awareness about these natural calamities. Programmes are produced using a series format, preparing people to cope with pre, during and post-situations. They also discuss how to lead a healthy life after the disasters. First-hand accounts and views of the volunteers and victims are always an integral part of the programme.
Sagor Giri also produces programmes on health issues such as diarrhoea, seasonal fever and malaria, which are common health problems in the region. The station connects with the physicians or people from the clinics which are run by the NGOs. These apart, the station also covers sanitation and water supply issues.
Unlike community radio stations in India, community radio stations in Bangladesh broadcast news and Sagor Giri is no exception. It produces local news. Referring to a recent workshop on fisheries, the station manager told us, “local people participated in the workshop. Hence, we broadcast the news on the eve of the event.” The station broadcasts Public Service Announcements as well. As per the guidelines, the station also regularly broadcasts policies and programmes of the Government of Bangladesh.
However, broadcasts are not only limited to informative programmes, but often include entertainment programmes – especially Bengali and local songs, as well as some Hindi and English songs (in keeping with the demand for the latter.) Given its motto to promote local culture, the station emphasizes the need to broadcast Bengali and local songs.
Sagor Giri has three staff including the station manager – one woman and two men. 20 regular volunteers manage the station supported by around 50 temporary volunteers. Permanent volunteers take on the role of co-producers and broadcast daily as co-producers. They also participate in training or skill-building programmes and are conversant with vox-pops and editing techniques. Temporary volunteers, however, participate only in training programmes. More than 50 percent of the volunteers are women.
Station Manager Shah Sultan Shamim, Radio Sagor Giri, 99.2 FM
The management committee comprises seven members including the station manager. Three members are women and the remaining are men. It calls for quarterly meetings ( at least thrice a year) where programmatic issues as well as other challenges such as problems faced by the station and sustainability are discussed. The station is financially sustained by donations from the local people, financial support from the parent organization, and development advertisements from the government, international NGOs and local NGOs.
In a bid to ensure community participation, Sagor Giri has also developed listeners’ clubs in the communities. People from different age groups are members of these clubs.
When I asked about community support for women volunteers, the station manager explained how the locality was full of conservative people, who did not allow women to work in the evening hours. According to him, it was also difficult for women to go out without a burqa. Besides, they had to prepare dinner for the entire family.
As women covered their faces, no one could take their photographs. The station manager emphasized that “spouses, guardians, even neighbours should be aware of superstitions and come out of their conservativeness.” However, the good news was that were several women are coming forward. Significantly they were also supported by their spouses and family members as well.
Bidu Bhusan Dash
Assistant Professor and Course Coordinator,
School of Mass Communication, KIIT University