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Mission Report: Bangladesh Community Radio

Mission Report: Bangladesh Community Radio

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Published by AHM Bazlur Rahman
Mission Report: Bangladesh Community Radio
Mission Report: Bangladesh Community Radio

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Published by: AHM Bazlur Rahman on Mar 21, 2010
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Mission Report – Steve BuckleyBangladesh, 8 – 12 July 2008Summary
AMARC Asia-Pacific, in partnership with Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio andCommunication (BNNRC) organised, on 9 July 2008 in Dhaka, the roundtable “EnsuringGrowth of Community Radio in Bangladesh: Removing Barriers, IncreasingEffectiveness”. The event was supported by Katalyst and UNESCO and attracted around90 participants. A separate report of the proceedings has been prepared by AMARC Asia-Pacific including a follow-up Plan of Action.Following the roundtable, the AMARC President stayed in Dhaka for a further two daysfor various meetings with civil society organisations, donors and the media. This includeddialogue with BNNRC, Bangladesh Centre for Development Journalism andCommunication (BCDJC), Bangladesh Federation of Unions of Journalists, UNDP, FAOand the World Bank. Media interviews were provided to Ekushey TV (late night chatshow) and New Age (a daily newspaper). A meeting was also sought with the Secretaryof the Ministry of Information but they were not available during the visit.
Country context
Bangladesh has been an independent state since 1971 after seceding from its union withWest Pakistan. After 15 years of military rule, democracy was reinstalled in 1990. Thelast parliamentary elections were held in 2001. In January 2007, planned elections weresuspended and a military backed caretaker government was installed with the stated goalof reforming the political system and rooting out corruption. Leaders of the main political parties - Bangladeshi National Party (Khaleda Zia) and Awami League (Sheikh Hassani) – were imprisoned together with other activists. The BNP leader, Khaleda Zia, remains in prison. Parliamentary elections are now scheduled to take place in December 2008.Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world.More than half of the 153 million population live on less than a dollar a day. The countrysuffers cyclones and flooding during the monsoon season and droughts at other times.Being mainly low lying and close to sea level it is highly vulnerable to global warming.The political environment is volatile with political violence widespread in the period before the present caretaker government. In 2006 attacks and threats to the media werecommon from both government and opposition supporters as well as extremist groups.Since the caretaker government was installed the situation has been calmer and safer for media workers but self censorship is widespread, criticism of the military-backed regimeis not tolerated and several media outlets and talk shows have been closed or suspended.
 
There is no broadcasting law for either the state broadcaster or for independent media and broadcast licensing and regulation rests directly with the Ministry of Information. Thestate broadcasting services – Bangladesh TV and Bangladesh Betar (radio) – areessentially a mouthpiece for the Government. Private television stations include NTN,ATV Bangla, Ekushey TV, RTV and Channel i. There are four private commercial radiostations - Radio Today, Radio Foorti, Radio Amar and ABC FM - all based in Dhaka.A consultation draft of The Right to Information Ordinance 2008 was approved on 4March 2008. The Act is due to be approved in July 2008 and to come into force shortlyafterwards. The Act will provide citizens with a statutory right of access to information of  public interest however the draft includes a broad range of exceptions and the opennessobligations do not apply to legislative, judicial and constitutionally established bodies.
Community radio status
There is no community radio broadcasting at present in Bangladesh however advocacyfor community radio has been led by BNNRC, and others for more than 10 years and hasrecently achieved an important breakthrough under the caretaker Government. On 16March 2008, the Government announced the Community Radio Installation, Broadcastand Operation Policy 2008. The Ministry of Information very rapidly invited applicationsfrom organisations interested to establish community radio, with a deadline of 15 April2008. This was extended, in view of the high level of interest, to 30 April 2008. Some400 application forms were requested and 178 applications were received by thedeadline. It is expected that around 50 community radio stations will be permitted, withagreements to broadcast on a pilot basis for a period of two years. The announcement of the successful applications is expected to be made in July.The community radio policy has a preamble and eight substantive sections. It has a clear and strong definition (section 1) and its description of the fundamental principles of community radio (section 2) is largely consistent with international good practicehowever it is somewhat prescriptive towards programme content and it limits programming to “not go beyond the community’s cultural or historical heritage”.“Political, sectarian or doctrinal” programming is prohibited. Eligibility criteria (section3) require that the organisation applying for a licence/permission must be a Governmentresearch institution or development organisation, or a non-governmental developmentorganisation that is a legal entity or registered with the NGO bureau, having at least fiveyears of operation and involved in poverty alleviation or in the media and ICT sector.The licensing process (section 4) is based on a comprehensive application form. Selectionof applicants is to be made by a Regulatory Committee on the basis of assessment andrecommendation of a Technical Sub-committee and taking account of advice on character of the applicant from the Home Ministry and on the probability of attaining a frequencyfrom the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). Only onelicence may be granted per applicant and the service must be set up within one year of approval. There is an initial licence fee of 20,000 Tk (286 USD) and a deposit required of 100,000 Tk (1429 USD) which is non-returnable in the event the service is not launched.
 
The technical provisions (section 5) allow some flexibility according to need but specifya coverage range of 17km radius and transmitter power up to 100W (exceptionally up to250W). Antenna tower should not exceed 32 metres but may also be exceptionallyexceeded to better cover sparsely populated areas. Antenna gain is limited to 6dB.Programme content restrictions (section 6) are widely drawn. In significant respects theseexceed the legitimate limits on freedom of speech recognised in international law andstandards and could limit the effectiveness of community radio in promoting goodgovernance. Of particular concern are a ban on “aspersions against the dignity of theState and Government” and on any content that “criticizes other countries” or that“criticizes... any individual in person or any group or segment of society in the country”.Section 7 sets out a number of additional provisions concerning programme contentobligations, ownership, management and accountability arrangements, station securityand sanctions. These include legitimate and welcome requirements to establish amanagement committee with community involvement, to promote equity and social justice, to provide training and capacity building for the community and to facilitate and promote community participation. This section also contains some provisions which limitthe independence of the community broadcaster and/or may have a chilling effect onfreedom of expression. Of particular concern are the role of a local advisory committeeconsisting of representatives of local authorities (District and Upazila
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levels), the police,various central government departments and the state broadcaster; a requirement to carryPresidential and government speeches, special programmes of Government and the state broadcaster and speeches of local government officials; and a requirement to employ anarmed guard (“armed Anser”) whose “concerned police station shall submit a monthlyreport to the government stating if any anti-state broadcasting have been carried out”.There is also a prohibition on “political broadcasts” which may limit the effectiveness of the community radio in promoting free and fair elections by not giving equal airtime todifferent political parties, especially when government broadcasts must be carried.The monitoring arrangements are further set out in Section 8 in which the role of theAdvisory Committee is described as including to “monitor the community radio stationactivities in regular basis and submit a confidential report to the Ministry of Information per month”, to provide suggestions based on the strengths and weaknesses of thecommunity radio station broadcasting, to encourage the participation of Upazila levelgovernment officials in the community radio programmes and to provide counselling toimprove the quality of programmes. The radio station is also required, on a monthly basis, to submit to the local authority a copy on CD of all broadcast programmes.Despite the many concerns with the community radio policy, BNRC consider theimmediate priority is to move forward within this framework to establish some actualoperating community radio services. They anticipate that the policy can be improved later 
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Upazila is the term for sub-district, an administrative area with a population of around 300,000 and whichis generally anticipated to be the minimum typical coverage area for a community radio service.

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