Mission Report – Steve Buckley Bangladesh, 8 – 12 July 2008 Summary AMARC Asia-Pacific, in partnership with Bangladesh NGOs

Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) organised, on 9 July 2008 in Dhaka, the roundtable “Ensuring Growth of Community Radio in Bangladesh: Removing Barriers, Increasing Effectiveness”. The event was supported by Katalyst and UNESCO and attracted around 90 participants. A separate report of the proceedings has been prepared by AMARC AsiaPacific including a follow-up Plan of Action. Following the roundtable, the AMARC President stayed in Dhaka for a further two days for various meetings with civil society organisations, donors and the media. This included dialogue with BNNRC, Bangladesh Centre for Development Journalism and Communication (BCDJC), Bangladesh Federation of Unions of Journalists, UNDP, FAO and the World Bank. Media interviews were provided to Ekushey TV (late night chat show) and New Age (a daily newspaper). A meeting was also sought with the Secretary of 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 with West Pakistan. After 15 years of military rule, democracy was reinstalled in 1990. The last parliamentary elections were held in 2001. In January 2007, planned elections were suspended and a military backed caretaker government was installed with the stated goal of 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 country suffers 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 were common 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 regime is 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. The state broadcasting services – Bangladesh TV and Bangladesh Betar (radio) – are essentially a mouthpiece for the Government. Private television stations include NTN, ATV Bangla, Ekushey TV, RTV and Channel i. There are four private commercial radio stations - 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 4 March 2008. The Act is due to be approved in July 2008 and to come into force shortly afterwards. 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 openness obligations do not apply to legislative, judicial and constitutionally established bodies. Community radio status There is no community radio broadcasting at present in Bangladesh however advocacy for community radio has been led by BNNRC, and others for more than 10 years and has recently achieved an important breakthrough under the caretaker Government. On 16 March 2008, the Government announced the Community Radio Installation, Broadcast and Operation Policy 2008. The Ministry of Information very rapidly invited applications from organisations interested to establish community radio, with a deadline of 15 April 2008. This was extended, in view of the high level of interest, to 30 April 2008. Some 400 application forms were requested and 178 applications were received by the deadline. It is expected that around 50 community radio stations will be permitted, with agreements 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 practice however 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 (section 3) require that the organisation applying for a licence/permission must be a Government research institution or development organisation, or a non-governmental development organisation that is a legal entity or registered with the NGO bureau, having at least five years 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. Selection of applicants is to be made by a Regulatory Committee on the basis of assessment and recommendation 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 frequency from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). Only one licence 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 specify a coverage range of 17km radius and transmitter power up to 100W (exceptionally up to 250W). Antenna tower should not exceed 32 metres but may also be exceptionally exceeded to better cover sparsely populated areas. Antenna gain is limited to 6dB. Programme content restrictions (section 6) are widely drawn. In significant respects these exceed the legitimate limits on freedom of speech recognised in international law and standards and could limit the effectiveness of community radio in promoting good governance. Of particular concern are a ban on “aspersions against the dignity of the State 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 content obligations, ownership, management and accountability arrangements, station security and sanctions. These include legitimate and welcome requirements to establish a management 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 limit the independence of the community broadcaster and/or may have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Of particular concern are the role of a local advisory committee consisting of representatives of local authorities (District and Upazila1 levels), the police, various central government departments and the state broadcaster; a requirement to carry Presidential and government speeches, special programmes of Government and the state broadcaster and speeches of local government officials; and a requirement to employ an armed guard (“armed Anser”) whose “concerned police station shall submit a monthly report 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 to different political parties, especially when government broadcasts must be carried. The monitoring arrangements are further set out in Section 8 in which the role of the Advisory Committee is described as including to “monitor the community radio station activities 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 the community radio station broadcasting, to encourage the participation of Upazila level government officials in the community radio programmes and to provide counselling to improve 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 the immediate priority is to move forward within this framework to establish some actual operating community radio services. They anticipate that the policy can be improved later


Upazila is the term for sub-district, an administrative area with a population of around 300,000 and which is generally anticipated to be the minimum typical coverage area for a community radio service.

on during the experimental period when there is real experience to draw upon. Some of the roundtable participants prefer more immediate and vigorous criticism of the policy. Sector needs and priorities Community radio in Bangladesh is set to commence from a standing start. There are no community radio stations at present and little experience of actual operating community radio. Advocacy organisations have run an effective and successful campaign to achieve the community radio policy and have developed a conceptual knowledge of the sector through international visits, publications and reports but almost nothing has been done to build local capacity to operate community radio. Awareness of the community radio policy is reasonably good among Dhaka based NGOs as a result of a sensitisation campaign and media coverage and this is reflected in the large number of applications submitted by the 30th April 2008 deadline. On the other hand awareness at community level is low, especially among the target communities of poor and marginalised people. Several observers commented that implementation of the community radio policy is at risk of being a largely top down process driven from the supply side by established urban NGOs assisted by external donor aid, rather than a bottom up process, demand led by community-based organisations with a sustainable local social and economic strategy. Given that applications have now been submitted and are awaiting approval and that no further opening is planned at least until later in the year, the immediate priority is to work with and promote models of good practice with the successful licence applicants in the first phase of community radio development. This should include strengthening grassroots engagement and strategies for the early embedding of ownership by local communities and community-based organisations. A first step, immediately after the decision on the applications is announced would be to undertake a baseline study of the relevant communities and their priorities, local demand and interest for community radio, and the community engagement and technical support needs to establish the services. A baseline study would also underpin long term impact assessment and evaluative research. A second priority is to promote mutual support, good communications and networking among the successful first phase applicants and including other stakeholders, NGOs and community-based organisations that aspire to be involved in subsequent phases of development. A national network or association with a broad and inclusive remit would fulfil this role and could carry forward the advocacy work that will be needed to improve the community radio policy in the future in the light of actual operating experience. Alongside these initiatives is the need for a concerted training and capacity building effort at all levels – community engagement, station management, programme making, technical development and maintenance – and the provision of technical and other support services including a help desk and specialist guidance and support on call.

Women are under-represented at all levels of decision making in Bangladesh, including the NGO sector and a priority should be given to support women led community radio projects and to promote the equal participation of women in community radio. International knowledge sharing and exchange could make an important contribution through external study visits and placements - especially to Nepal due to its proximity and depth of experience and know how – and through international volunteers visiting Bangladesh to work with community radio projects at the development stage. A selection of relevant international “how to” guides could also be usefully translated into Bangla. In addition the partners have identified the need for some strategic investment in the new community radio services at development stage, especially in the case of good grassroots projects that do not already have access to investment through existing partnerships. As the community radio services prepare to come on air it will become valuable to support the development of good quality development content on key issues such as climate change, agriculture and food security, water management, women’s rights and other issues. Partnership with relevant specialist NGOs and training in thematic content production would increase the capacity to achieve early impact in these and other areas. Follow-up AMARC has followed the community radio developments in Bangladesh from the earliest stages of lobbying and advocacy but the roundtable in Dhaka is the first in country event that AMARC has partnered. An objective of the event was to contribute towards a Plan of Action for community radio in Bangladesh, work which is being taken forward now by the local partners. It will be important for AMARC to also follow up this event with further practical measures of support and assistance. This should be in done in collaboration with our local members and partners and with other stakeholders that have supported the sector such as UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF, Cordaid, Danida and Katalyst. Of immediate importance to AMARC's engagement must be to promote and encourage recruitment of additional members in Bangladesh, especially among the first licensees to be announced shortly. This could be supported by translating introductory material and membership information into Bangla and by setting up a Bangladesh portal to the AMARC website similar to those that have been set up for Nepal and Indonesia. The local partners have indicated they would support and assist such an initiative. AMARC can bring added value to community radio development in Bangladesh by promoting and supporting knowledge sharing at the sub-regional level, especially with India and Nepal, and including exchanges for people engaged at grassroots level as well policy makers, NGO activists and public officials involved in policy implementation.

Travel costs within South Asia are relatively low but with donor support it may also be possible and beneficial to bring experienced community radio activists to Bangladesh from countries further afield such as Indonesia, Australia, Europe, N America etc. AMARC can also assist in extending the knowledge base for community radio development in Bangladesh by identifying key resource materials such as "how to" guides and supporting their translation into Bangla. This should include discussions with UNESCO about translation of the UNESCO Community Radio Handbook and the UNESCO technical guide "Community radio: A User's Guide to the Technology". AMARC might also assist in mobilising resources for other priorities identified above such as the implementation of a baseline study and needs assessment of the first licensees and their target communities (UNDP expressed interest in supporting this); research into business planning and sustainability models for community radio in Bangladesh (potentially of follow-up interest to Katalyst); and the suggested Community Radio Development Fund which might be developed as a regional or sub-regional initiative. // Meetings, interviews and documentation Meetings AHM Bazlur Rahman, Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication Mainul Islam Khan, Bangladesh Centre for Development Journalism and Communication Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, Bangladeshi Federation of Unions of Journalists Ahmed Swapan and Farjana Akter, Voice Meena Munshi, World Bank Mario Acunzo, FAO Communications for Development KAM Morshed, Assistant Country Director, UNDP Interviews Kaberi Gain, Ekushey TV – late night chat show Sanam Amin, New Age – daily newspaper References Community Radio Installation, Broadcast and Operation Policy 2008 <http://www.bnnrc.net/resouces/CommunityRadioPolicy2008English.pdf> State of Press Freedom in Bangladesh (reports from 2006 to 2008) (BCDJC) Community Radio: Rural people’s access to information (BNNRC) Review of Community Radio Policy in Bangladesh

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