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The Role of Community Radio in India

Raghav Mahato, a mechanic, set up a radio station in Mansoorpur in the Vaishali district of Bihar in 2003. The station was perhaps the cheapest in the world, fitted with an antenna attached to a bamboo pole; a cost of just over $1. He broadcast Bollywood and Bhojpuri songs along with public interest messages on HIV and polio, local news and announcements. However, the police forced him to close down his radio station as he did not have the license required to run a community radio. A community radio (CR), in essence is a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting material that is popular to a local audience but is overlooked by more powerful broadcast groups. It is usually established by the efforts of a specific community, operated by the community and for the community’s welfare. In India, CRs were governed by strict regulations, which were finally amended in 2006. The Cabinet has now started allowing non-profit organisations to apply for broadcast licenses thus expanding the eligibility criteria to parties such as civil societies and voluntary organizations, State Agriculture Universities (SAUs) institutions, Krishi Vigyan Kendras and Registered Societies/Autonomous Bodies/Public Trusts registered under Societies Act. The guidelines regarding the ownership and content of a community radio in India, however, are still very strict. Despite this, there have been various successful programmes run in India. An example is that of FM Ranchi. The Angada block is one of the poorest and most backward regions in Jharkhand. For a long time, villagers had been asking for the basic facility of a school, through letters to the local administration and the government, but to no avail. What finally drew the attention of the authorities was a play performed by the villagers and aired on FM Ranchi, as a part of the community radio initiative in the Angada block. Since then, the community radio has become a platform for the villagers to come forward and air their grievances and requirements. The villagers themselves have been trained by a Delhi based NGO, and they are not only the listeners, but also the directors and performers of half hour programmes aired regularly. CRs are not just important to raise awareness and lead to the development of a given area, but also play an important role at the time of natural disasters and calamities. An example is the Kalanjiam Community Radio in Tamil Nadu. After the Tsunami struck, a community radio was set up facilitated by the DHAN Foundation’s Centre for Development Communication in this area. It airs various programs, spanning across disaster-preparedness, marine education and safety measures in the sea. It saw tremendous participation from the residents, and helped in creating a close knit fishermen community. However, despite a lot of success stories from around the world and in India itself, setting up and running an effective community radio faces a lot of challenges. It is difficult to create enthusiastic community participation and requires time and resources to train local residents in social, business, creative and IT skills. Avoidance of over-reliance on paid staff is recommended, while at the same time countering their objections to volunteerism is a difficult task. Most community radios today run on a Donor system, where an organization sets up the infrastructure and helps in the airing of programs and content. This however, slowly needs to be phased out, as a community radio essentially needs to be run by the people and should survive on volunteerism, and hence ownership should be passed over to local-ites. More importantly, it often becomes difficult to imbibe altruistic motives over monetary and personal motives in all the people involved in the project, including the donor organisation. The problems however, do not end here. There are usually problems with spectrum availability for a CR in a local area. Moreover, radios even today are not allowed to air news or news related broadcasts, thus restricting content. The biggest issue however, is that of sustainability. It is commonplace for a radio to be set up, yet last a very short time period. The reasons are many – lack of community interest, insufficient content, sporadic financial assistance and insufficient support by the donor. All these, combined with the bureaucratic problems of getting a license hinder the process of growth of community radios in India, making it long and cumbersome. For a highly populated and predominantly rural country like India, the edutainment of the masses is essential. This can be achieved by utilizing the concept of a CR more effectively. The government has in fact recognized this potential, and has planned to set up over 4000 community radios in various areas across the country over the next few years. However, there is still a long way to go in ensuring the sustainability of these stations. Government policies need to be relaxed

further. as has been seen in some models in existence in other countries. Charges can be introduced for local messages and announcements on the radio. Though there is a long way to go. To ensure a regular supply of good quality content. . where it can be used to take part in and broadcast informative programs. It is also important for donors to design projects with low operational costs. Along with this. to perhaps allow corporations to set up Community Radios as a part of their CSR activities. information from government agencies regarding local welfare programmes should be made available to community radios to spread awareness. create awareness and cater to the needs of the people at the grass-roots level. Setting up of successful community radios can help to empower and give a voice to the people of India. The need of the hour is to educate the masses. CRs can be brought under State activities like rural development. equip them with technologies that are appropriate for the environment of that particular community and train the people adequately to ensure long term sustainability of the project. a micro-credit system should be put in place to encourage the setting up of community radios. Limited and restricted advertising can be allowed in as it will provide an alternate source of revenue. and in turn strengthen the tenets of democracy. the realization itself is a step towards a brighter future. women empowerment and other welfare measures. Moreover.