Community Radio for Rural Advancement
Arpita Sharma     
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India’s agricultural system, the largest in the world caters to the technology needs of more than 100 million farm families. Its normal task of transferring and disseminating appropriate technologies and agronomic practices would not be sufficient for the empowerment of farming community. In this regard, Community radio (CR) caters to location specific need of farming community. Defined as the radio owned by community and airs programs designed and produced by it for its own developmental needs. CR is a significant departure from the primary centralised radio broadcasting paradigm that India has been following for decades.

Potentialities of Community Radio (CR) Indian Agricultural Research Institute (ICAR)

It is expected that the next leap of ICT will be in agriculture sector, together with traditional inputs & interventions farmers.
Radio plays a vital role in passing on information to farming community as quickly as possible. Among various modes of radio broadcasting, Community Radio (CR) is a powerful medium for education and development. CR is ‘characterised as a mouthpiece for socially, economically, politically and culturally marginalised people & as a tool for development of society improved input for agriculture, education and would encourage members of the community to associate together to design, produce and air programmes’ (Srivastava, 2007).
The experience of a number of developing countries in using community radio for such purposes has clearly demonstrated its tremendous potential for strengthening grass-roots democracy.

Community Radio: Specific Initiatives in India Indian Agricultural Research Institute (ICAR)

CR, owing to its multifarious responsibilities to the farming community on agriculture production, information on rural development schemes, credit facility, education, health, sanitation, cooperatives etc., it is becoming very popular in the developing countries including India. The country’s first community radio station has been operational since 1st February 2004 at Anna University, Chennai. Some of the important examples of community radio projects and audio initiatives working in India are:

The Deccan Development Society (DDS) Audio Initiative at Pastapur (AP)
Namma Dhwani, the VOICES initiatives in Budikote, Karnataka
Chala Ho Gaon Mein By AID – Bihar
Kunjal Panchchi KutchJi, Bhuj
Mana Radio
CRS in UAS, Dharwad

Use of Community Radio

Community Radio can in fact start a revolution if used effectively. It can be used for education, farming and livelihood generation by broadcasting programs in coordination with the local communities in their own languages and dialects, on following themes:

Development of effective innovative education approaches to translate knowledge gained from science into public health and community applications
Dedicating the farmers and seasonal farm workers in rural areas, organic farming, and livelihood generation
Innovative educational programs intended to motivate biomedical and other health science students to pursue cancer/HIV/AIDS related careers;
Short courses to update in new scientific methods, technologies and findings
Training of health care clinicians and community health care providers
Better informing and motivating Indian masses with regard to priority HIV/AIDS interventions and services; supporting and reinforcing positive HIV/AIDS behaviors; improving HIV/AIDS information on the radio;
Training and counseling to women who are socially and economically disadvantaged,
Counseling and technical assistance in the areas of finance, management, procurement, and marketing to the rural masses,
Helping communities to get reward for their talent in the ethnic field such as Madhubani Paintings, Warli paintings, Phad Paintings, Thanga Paintings, various forms of murals, sculptures etc.
Health, hygiene, drug abuse, vaccination, child care etc.


Social Impact on Community Radio

Frampton et al. (2007) reported that the power of community radio to mobilise groups and bring change to societies is well recognised. This power can, however, also be manipulated and used to spread hate and violence, as was the case in Rwanda in 1994.5 Cautioning against the negative potential of community radio, Carole Frampton of Search for Common Ground demonstrated how her organisation relied on community radio to prevent the spillover of violence from Rwanda to Burundi by focusing on bringing people together and fostering dialogue and peace. By bringing journalists from each of the two ethnic groups that were in conflict and building on their collaboration, Search for Common Ground helped establish the first independent radio production studio—Studio Ijambo—in Burundi, she said. Eleven independent radio stations followed. According to Frampton, not only did this small and grass-roots effort show that ethnic collaboration and finding solutions based on dialogue was possible, it also helped develop new standards and balanced reporting skills, representing all the voices of the community that other radio stations later emulated. After the initial objective of creating dialogue was successfully achieved, Frampton said, Search for Common Ground’s focus shifted from the core of the conflict to capacity-building through skills training and providing direct assistance. The stations also helped improve the level of the public’s media literacy, as people could “compare the good stations to others and see what real media should look like,” she said. Listening and discus­sion clubs and other initiatives to engage the community beyond radio made the impact of the latter even stronger, she added. Frampton said that community radio devel­opers must have a clear strategy and vision of what they want to achieve. With community radio, “the focus is on dialogue, on finding solutions, on the future rather than who did what to whom…, on bringing all the stakeholders together and through the radio trying to calm situations down and move the society toward peace and democracy,” she said. Donors should consider creating, sup­porting, and strengthening networks such as the Independent Radio Network (IRN) in Sierra Leone, she said, as an effective way to help amplify the impact of this proven and practical tool for social change. Her colleague Paul-André Wilton demonstrated the important role IRN played in the 2007 elections in Sierra Leone by providing a model standard of reporting for its 20 stations and leading the media response. IRN, which started in 2002 with eight member stations, united 420 reporters from 20 stations by the 2007 elections in Sierra Leone. They produced independent, trust­worthy, and timely programming and infor­mation by having local voices on air from all over the country—from the most remote areas to large polling stations, said Wilton. Through live interviews and analyses, the reporters provided context to help listeners understand the complexity of the elections, through shadow vote counts, helped monitor election results. IRN makes local radio national. Through collaboration and coordination, these 20 membership radio stations conduct national broadcasts through the local radio stations. According to Wilton, success came from the credibility the stations gained through the gradual and strategic evolution of the network’s capacity over five years, their commit­ment to become a credible platform for information by providing both national and local news, and the expert technical and editorial as­sistance IRN received from Search for Common Ground in partnership with Developing Radio Partners. The potential of community radio to bring about social change is not a matter of mere observation but, as Population Media Center President William Ryerson demonstrated, an empirically proven fact based on quan­tifiable and statistically analysed results. Focusing on women’s rights promotion, HIV rates reduction, family planning, reproduc­tive health issues, and prevention of child trafficking, the Center uses community radio to produce behavioral change among large audiences in 15 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, educating through en­tertainment, including with soap opera char­acters. The highly significant results of pre- and post-broadcast random-sample surveys, Ryerson noted, indicated positive changes in the behavior of those who listened to the programming. In Ethiopia, for example, those who listened to special programming on HIV were more likely to be tested for the virus than non-listeners. This approach builds on the power of media to create high emotional contexts that help make informa­tion more memorable, and the Population Media Center relies on community radio as the most appropriate and cost-effective medium to reach its target audiences. According to the estimates of a project in Tanzania, for example, the cost of getting people to take steps to avoid HIV infection was eight cents per listener. William Siemering, president of Develop­ing Radio Partners and founding member of National Public Radio’s Board of Directors, described the work of community radio de­velopers as “scatter­ing seeds”—alluding to the original meaning of “broadcast”—the results of which take time to ripen. Like a vaccine capable of reducing preventable diseases, he said, community radio is “a simple, effective solution” to achieve development goals, to prevent “fragile states from becoming failed states,” and also to help people celebrate their own culture. The approach recom­mended by Developing Radio Partners, Siemering observed, is to first build the capacity of individual community radio stations that evolve out of necessity on the grass-roots level, then create an associa­tion to develop professional standards and increase the likelihood of sustainability, and finally, help individual stations unite into a network. Showing donors the effect these operative stations are having on their com­munities will attract more investment for Like a vaccine capable of reducing preventable diseases, community radio is a simple, effective solution to achieve development goals, to prevent fragile states from becoming failed states, and also to help people celebrate their own culture.10 Center for International Media Assistance CIMA Working Group Report: Community Radio community radio development, Siemering concluded. George Papagiannis of Internews Network shared what he called “a story of hope, a story of replacing fear with information” in the establishment of three community radio stations to reach refugee camps in eastern Chad for Sudanese refugees who fled Darfur. With funding from USAID’s Office of Transi­tion Initiatives, the U.S. De­partment of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a number of private sources, the three stations with a mixed staff of 25 local Chadians and refugees from Darfur target their primary audience—refugees from Darfur—by broad­casting in local, unwritten languages that have never been on air before, as well as in Arabic and French. In constant communica­tion with the audience, the stations have managed to air discussion on sensitive and formerly taboo issues such as gender-based violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation. The impact of their flagship program “She Speaks, She Listens,” which aims to empower women—an essential aspect for promoting an open and democratic society, many participants agreed—is further augmented by a drama program dealing with the same subject. Surveys conducted by UNHCR have indicated that the information conveyed to the audience during eight to 10 hours of daily broadcasting is being incorporated into people’s lives, Papagiannis said.Having heard the accounts of the presenters, a long-time community radio activist em­phasised the importance of bringing the ac­complishments of community radio—espe­cially in post-conflict areas—to the attention of the international development community, as the Rwandan example of spreading ethnic hatred through the airwaves has long haunted the reputa­tion of community radio, forcing media developers to resort to commercial models of radio develop­ment instead, as was his experience in Kosovo. Based on lessons learned, the participants stressed the need to inform donors of the best ways to use community radio’s potential. One representa­tive of an international or­ganisation said that donors should abandon their approach of “looking for a quick fix” and regarding community radio simply as a means of getting devel­opment messages across through short-term projects. They should develop a long-term vision for investing in community radio as an institution and “be prepared to stay in for the long haul,” since real change, she continued, should come from within the community, with community radio playing a “microcosmic” role by helping the community acquire a sense of ownership and empowering people to see their impact on society. The impact of community radio The impact of community radio is most evident in areas having practically no other access to information, and donors should, therefore, realise the significance of investing in it as a means of making information available without necessarily having a realistic vision of achieving sustainability over a short time.Center for International Media Assistance 11CIMA Working Group Report: Community Radio. is most evident in areas having practically no other access to information, and donors should, therefore, realise the significance of investing in it as a means of making infor­mation available without necessarily having a realistic vision of achieving sustainability over a short time, a representative of one donor organisation added. Donors should also avoid imposing models for individual stations to adopt, since the best models are those that develop naturally and out of necessity, a participant observed. Community radio is generally the best tool for getting information to illiterate and poor communities, as it requires neither reading skills nor money to buy newspapers, a radio developer said. Since in many countries most media are concentrated in capital cities and heavily populated areas, and even national media fail to reach remote areas, community radio provides the opportunity of “reaching powerless communities and giving them a voice,” he added. Even in areas where national media broadcast, the impact of a community radio broadcasting in a local language or languages is incom­parable, an implementer observed. The participants also considered contexts where community radio development is infeasible or inadequate. A government’s lack of understanding of the importance of reaching out to and communicating with marginalised or rural sectors of the popula­tion can hinder community radio develop­ment, a number of participants observed. One implementer suggested engaging appointed and elected officials as part of community radio projects to create a strong link between governments and local media.Another implementer cautioned that the guidelines outlined for donors will prove irrelevant in regions where governments and the legal and regulatory environment hinder community radio development. In the Middle East and North Africa region, he said, discussions on the impact of community radio will matter only after there is legal reform allowing for the licensing and establishment of indepen­dent community radio stations. In terms of inadequacy of community radio develop­ment, one implementer strongly cautioned against supporting initiatives where there is clear evidence that the majority does not protect the rights of the minority within the community and will take advantage of community radio to further reinforce the disparity, be it on ethnic, political, or social basis.

Challenges to Sustainability and Funding Perspectives of Community Radio

In 2001-07, Creative Associates Internation­al carried out a community radio strengthen­ing project in Haiti, where—according to Kim Mahling Clark, senior associate with the company’s Communities in Transition Division—community radio developed its own identity after UNESCO’s initial setup of six stations in 1991. When Creative As­sociates’ project started, 40 stations were already operating. In assessing the capacity of the stations, Creative Associates looked at criteria such as their orga­nisational development, equipment maintenance, financial management, and programming content. Just months after the capacity-building project ended, however, approxi­mately a quarter of the stations started ex­periencing serious problems hindering their ability to broadcast, leading to the closure of eight stations. Major factors that led to the station closures included lack of financial sustainability and inability to maintain equipment, along with other factors beyond the control of radio station personnel, such as intermittent electricity. A number of stations were not able to meet monthly op­erational costs—which ranged from $200 to $1,000—as most funds were used to pay full-time staff. Sustainability, many agreed, seems the biggest challenge for community radio. Some stations manage to generate revenue through paid announcements, such as thank you messages, birthday wishes and funeral announcements; through funding from side businesses, such as a restaurant; or through a barter system, allotting priority air time to an advertisement for a local company that has provided goods or services to the station. Active participation by volunteers, however, is the key to success for many community radio stations. As a representative of an or­ganisation that provided initial operational funding to a community radio station in northeastern Congo put it, “part-time radio volunteers who are full-time community members” can successfully maintain a station’s sustainability after donor funding ends. “If people invest their time and resources in something without any pay, it is an indication of com­mitment and sustainability,” a participant added. Volunteerism, nevertheless, is not universal, and there are cultures and places where it is impossible to rely on volunteers, another participant cautioned. With community radio development, some participants observed, ensuring the financial sustainability of stations should not be the primary objective. “When I start worrying about sustainability and stop worrying about my listeners, that’s when my stations get into trouble,” an implementer with vast ex­perience in community radio development commented. According to others, however, all aspects of sustainability—social, insti­tutional and financial—should be incorpo­rated into the overall strategy of community.


Ensuring an Enabling Environment for Community Radio Development Kuttabet al. (2007) Community Radio enhanced possibilities for community radio development. The interaction of community radio and the Internet has great potential and should be further explored, an implementer noted. Even for existing radio stations, the Internet can help them provide local news and “keep in touch with community members scattered for political or economic reasons,” said the implementer. Another participant pointed out that cell phones with radio functions that are widespread in most developing countries should also be considered for transmitting community radio programming. Even in places with no legally licensed community radio stations, “people are going to use whatever means available to them”—be it through private and commercial licensing, public service broadcasting, or pirate radio—to carry out a community radio mission when there is such a need, said an academic with research interests in alternative media. According to her, this puts pressure on governments and policymakers to open up space for the sector, as happened in Hungary, for example, after pirate stations emerged in the post-Soviet era. Currently, community radio accounts for 25 percent of radio broadcasting in the country. The discussion that followed focused on the legal and regulatory environments enabling community radio development. Kreszentia Duer, co-author of the newly published book Broadcasting, Voice, and Accountability: A Public Interest Approach to Policy, Law, and Regulation, which examines existing good practice in the field of community broadcasting, outlined the essential legal and regulatory elements enabling community radio development. In addition to the general constitutional framework supportive of free, independent, and pluralistic media, Duer emphasised that the national legal system regulating the media sector should guarantee a subcategory of community broadcasting supported by adequate regulations and arrangements. The best approach, she continued, is to reserve 10 to 15 percent of FM frequencies for community radio, as is the case in France, Australia, and Germany. Given the proliferation of commercial stations that occurs as economies open up, there should be incentives for community broadcasters to carry out and maintain their mission of community development, Duer said. Community radio stations thus should not be subject to the same licensing fees required for commercial broadcasters, and there should be sanctions—suspension of a community radio license, for example—for stations that become purely commercial. Transparency and independence of procedures regulating community broadcasting, as well as transparency and clarity of licensing regimes and eligibility criteria, which—as Duer stressed—should be determined in consultation with civil society groups, are absolutely crucial.

Importance of Public Consultation Kreszentia Duer noted a positive example of the public consultative mechanism was recently implemented in Nigeria. In 2006, Nigeria’s minister of information set up a committee that is partly governmental and partly nongovernmental in nature. The committee’s objective is to establish guidelines governing the licensing regime of community radio stations. Duer also pointed out that there should be no restrictions on content as long as programming aims at the social development of the community, nor should there be limitations on proposed sources of revenue. The licensing regime, she said, should instead encourage multiple sources of funding, including subsidisation by stations themselves, leading to their sustainability in the long run. According to Duer, transmitting power should not be limited on the basis of a general regulatory guideline; the footprint of broadcasting should rather be context-specific and defined by the needs or interests of the particular community the station is targeting. Even though the number of countries coming close to having an ideally enabling environment for community radio is very small and constrained to a few Western states, the regulatory regimes in an emerging number of developing countries, such as Mali, Ghana, and Liberia, that are “leapfrogging over old practices” is encouraging, she concluded. Putting the above mentioned guidelines in country-specific contexts, Kate Coyer from the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, highlighted aspects of regulatory policies in India and the United Kingdom—two countries where community radio has been recently recognised as a sector for regulation. In India, implementation of the state policy for community radio adopted in 2006 and the government’s promise to license 4,000 new stations by 2008 is yet to be witnessed. Only nonprofit entities that have been reg­istered for at least three years and have a community-based management board are eligible for licensing. In terms of content, licensed stations are required to produce half of their programming locally and in local languages. Entertainment is not forbidden per se, but not encouraged, whereas news reporting is banned, as is the case with com­mercial radio. According to Coyer, funding will be one of the biggest challenges, since with no central source of funding, the system allows five minutes of advertis­ing and sponsorship of programs only by the government. Lack of clarity and transparency of application and licensing processes is also one of the disadvantages of the new policy. In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the 2004 Community Radio Order foresees a transparent online application process that favors stations based on the social gain they propose to accom­plish. In fact, applicants can specify the area they want to reach with an option of either FM frequencies with a four–six kilometer range or AM frequencies for wider reach. The Community Radio Fund has a £500,000 ($1 million) annual budget, with a board responsible for allocation of funding that is separate from the one making licensing decisions. The regulations also specify that more than half of the funding cannot come from a single source, including advertising and program sponsorship, thus fostering diversity of funding sources.Concluding the discussion on legal and regulatory regimes enabling community radio development, the participants agreed that even with the most favorable laws, implementation is crucial. “The intent of good laws can be subverted by uneven and inconsistent enforcement or cumbersome and overly bureaucratic regulation and reporting requirements,” one participant summarised. A veteran community radio activist with experience both in the United States and abroad cautioned against time-consuming and complicated regulations, including accounting and auditing require­ments, which shifts the focus away from the work of a community station to compliance. Implementation of regulations, he continued, should be simplified so that “a station trying to get a portion of public funding does not forget the duty to serve the community.” Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) (2007)

Colin Fraser and Sonia Restrepo-Estrada (2002) reported that illustrate the role of a radio station, owned and run by a community, in providing the forum for the participatory, public dialogue which is essential for social change. The radio station is a platform for identifying and analysing problems and their solutions, thereby determining development inputs that truly meet local needs. Open access to on-air complaints from the audience can pressure local authorities to adopt practices of good governance and transparency. Cheap and easy to install and operate, community radio can also be the interface between poor communities and the Internet.

Functions of Community Radio

The earliest experiences of community radio go back more than half a century, to the Miners’ Radios of Bolivia, which were instrumental in pressing for better working conditions for tin miners. Poverty and social injustice were the stimulus for that initiative. This was the first recorded case of radio broadcasting being used by a sector of society to improve its socio-economic status. Since the early 1980s, UNESCO has been actively promoting community radio as an important agent for change and development. Its activities in many countries have often been financially supported by DANIDA (Danish Agency for Development Assistance). The principal functions of community radio are:

To reflect and promote local identity, character and culture by focusing principally on loca lcontent. Culture is how the people of a community talk about their past and their future. It is what they care about. Like life itself, culture is infinitely variable and constantly evolving. Community culture is also artistic expression through local music, dance, poetry, theatre and story telling. Local performers are encouraged to go on air uninhibited by considerations of the ‘professional standards’ they may have acquired from mainstream media. Culture is also language, so programming includes the languages of any minority groups in the community.
To create a diversity of voices and opinions on the air through its openness to participation from all sectors. Some discord is present in all communities, but the acknowledgement of conflict is necessary for democracy and for democratic communities. Community radio tries to air objectively all sides of a discussion without itself taking sides.
To encourage open dialogue and democratic process by providing an independent platform for interactive discussion about matters and decisions of importance to the community. In essence, the core of democratic process is the ability of people to hear and make themselves heard. Community radio provides the forum for that to happen. This is consonant with the decentralisation process in many countries that aims to bring democratic decision-making closer to the people concerned. And what is happening at the grassroots level – as portrayed by the community radio programming – can be heard by local government and private institutions, as well as being relayed to policy makers, thus making it possible to design development initiatives that best meet the aspirations and needs of the people.
To promote social change and development. In marginalised communities people all have their individual perceptions about their situation, but what is required for change and development is a collective perception of the local reality and of the options for improving it. This collective perception can only be achieved through internal discussions to analyse specific problems, identify possible solutions, and mobilise the appropriate people or groups for action. Community radio provides the perfect platform for this internal discussion.
To promote good governance and civil society by playing a community watchdog role that makes local authorities and politicians more conscious of their public responsibilities. The marginalised and the oppressed normally have no way to complain when authorities take advantage of them, but community radio gives them a voice to air their grievances and obtain their due rights. Some other functions of community radio include: sharing of information and innovation; giving a voice to the voiceless, especially to women and young people in some societies; and providing a social service as a replacement for the telephone.


On the basis of above research studies it can be concluded that Community Radio can play a very important role in social change of country. People listen community radio for information as well as entertainment. Community Radio is truly a people’s Radio that perceives listeners not only as receivers and consumers, but also as active participants and creative producers of content. Community Radio covers all developmental and rights based issues and updates listeners on the latest developments in environmental, policy related and other issues. Community Radio has the responsibility to help sustain the diversity of the local cultures and languages and thus should be supported through legislative, administrative, and financial measures.



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