Snehasis Sur, 26 May:In the contemporary world of omni present, all-powerful, market-driven and large mainstream media, there is still place for an alternative medium, which is close to the heart of the downtrodden and the marginalized. One among such very effective alternative media is Community Radio (CR), a medium of the community, for the community, about the community and owned and run by the community which gives a voice to the voiceless, empowers the have-nots, and in turn, strengthens democracy in letter and spirit.
After enacting the Right To Information Act, which is considered to be one of the most powerful pro-people act in the post-independent era to bring transparency, check corruption, ensure good governance and as such empower people with a right to virtually seek any information, the Government has come up with the Community Radio Policy in November 2006. This policy opened up radio broadcasting to the people of the community which has been a major leap forward. This should also be considered as a prime initiative of the Government towards implementing the democratization of airwaves, as envisaged in the famous Supreme Court Judgment on Airwaves delivered in 1995.
The ownership and control pattern of Radio broadcasting that existed in India was either with the Government in case of All India Radio or with the fairly big media players in case of private FM radio stations. The Minister of Information & Broadcasting Shri Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, while inaugurating the Second Regional Consultation Meet for Community Radio Awareness (East Zone) recently held in Jadavpur University, Kolkata, said that the Community Radio Guidelines issued in 2002 were in ‘steel frame jacket’ as they only permitted government-funded educational institutions of high repute to set up Community Radio Stations (CRS). However, in the new policy, it was opened up to the Non-Government Organizations (NGO) and the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) along with private educational institutions. This opening up was indeed a great change in the policy of the Government and targeted at empowering the common masses in a bid to create a platform at the grassroots level for making democracy more effective and meaningful.
The Community Radio Awareness Meet for the East Zone was organized at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), in collaboration with the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) for the reason that Jadavpur University is having the first CRS in West Bengal. However, the need of the hour in terms of the Community Radio was also highlighted by the Minister on the occasion, where he said that its cost should be lowered and scope should be expanded and the innumerable Self Help Groups (SHG), especially those of women, flourishing in every nook and corner of the country should be motivated to come forward to set up CRSs to achieve their socio-political empowerment along with economic empowerment. Another important area on which the Minister deliberated was the self-sustenance of the CRSs. Decreasing the amount of bank guarantee required for the application to set up a CRS to Rupees twenty thousand and allowing five minutes time per hour for advertisements to earn revenue in the latest government decision, the Minister indicated that the advertisements of fertilizers, bricks and locally produced consumer products relevant and appropriate to the rural consumers of the locality should be channelised to the Community Radio to make it self sustainable.
Community Radio has a rich history of movements in various parts of the globe. Interestingly, it emerged from the grassroots and was not imposed from the top. It was in the year 1949 that problems like poverty and social injustice prompted the setting up of Community Radio in Bolivia, which was known as Miners’ Radio and another in Colombia known as Radio Sutatenza, both Latin American. The idea of Community Radio has since been popular also in other regions like Africa, Australia, Europe and the USA. In Asia, it has already made its presence felt but mostly in countries like Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and last but not the least, Bangladesh, which recently came out with its Community Radio Policy on 12 March 2008.
Actually, it is now accepted that radio is the most accessible and effective medium for information and entertainment for the poor and illiterate people. Considering a country like India which is vast, over populated, developing, having moderate level of literacy and large number of people living below poverty line, Radio is a very effective medium for informing, educating and entertaining people. In the three-tier radio broadcasting system which prevails in India, the top tier is the public service broadcaster All India Radio, the second tier is the private FM stations, coming up one after the other in phases in various cities, which has got a pure market driven entertainment agenda and, the third tier is the Community Radio. Unfortunately, not many CRSs have actually come up in India. Altogether 167 applicants have received the clearance from the Standing Advisory Committee of Radio Frequency Allocation, commonly known as SACFA clearance (which is advanced level clearance) and 75 applicants were issued the Letter of Intent (LOI) ( preliminary level permission) till mid-April 2008. Out of 39 LOI issued in April 2008, only 2 belonged to NGOs or CSOs, 23 to Educational Institutions and 14 to Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) / State Agricultural University (SAU). At present, around 35 Educational Institutions are operating CRSs and the latest among them are Jadavpur University, Delhi University and Dharwad Agricultural University. The pioneering efforts of Anna FM and Kongu FM in this field are to be reckoned with great respect. However, these are established and owned by educational institutions. Though in most cases they are not confined to Campus Radio to operate only as educational channel, the ownership and control of the community over these stations as per the true spirit of CR is not there. However, the efforts towards engaging in community broadcasting by organizations like i) Alternative for India Development (AID) project in Daltonganj, Jharkhand; ii) Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) project in Bhuj, Gujarat; iii) VOICES project in Budhikote, Karnataka and Deccan Development Society (DDS) project in Pastapur, Andhra Pradesh are historic in terms of Community Broadcasting in India in the light of the CR. Though they are yet to set up CRSs formally, they have been engaging themselves in community broadcasting at the grassroots level in some way or the other in their respective regions.
As opposed to broadcasting, which is homogeneous and centralized in nature with a flow of top down communication, the narrow casting for a particular region to deal with the problems and prospects of a particular area and the community residing thereof is the ideal modern approach. Out of around 225 stations of All India Radio, there are many Local Radio Stations (LRSs) spread over various districts which were set up to broadcast local issues and culture from their local transmitters for an audience of the nearby areas. Though initiated some years ago with a different purpose having some procedural relaxations to have more community participation to ensure local colour, the LRSs could not transpire the vision behind them into a total reality, However, some of the landmark initiatives of community broadcasting, as mentioned earlier, utilized LRSs of AIR to transmit their programmes. So, there is still some scope for building motivation and linkage for the LRSs of AIR so that they can emerge and behave like CRSs.
The need of the hour is to create awareness on CR and motivate the right kind of NGOs/CSOs / SHGs for setting up CRSs. In the new CR Policy, any NGO / CSO having good track record more than three years and some engagement in the community where the organization wants to set up the CRS, is eligible to apply for CRS. The application procedure is given in the website of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. After submission of the application, a preliminary screening is done by the Ministry after which copies of the applications are sent to the other concerned ministries. An inter-ministerial committee has been formed for speedy disposal of the applications for granting Letter of Intent (LOI). The applicant, then, is required to approach the Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) wing of the Ministry of Telecommunications for SACFA clearance. The SACFA application is an online procedure. However, CEMCA offers free of cost assistance to the applicants for this. The technical support providers like BECIL, an organization under the Ministry of I & B, can do some handholding in getting the application matured. The Ministry is planning to start a monitoring and evaluation procedure for CR. There are international organizations like UNESCO, CEMCA, One World Asia and others which come forward to help in setting up of CRSs. There is a Community Radio Forum (CRF) operating in India which is very keen to help CRSs. These organizations and some others are ready to help in imparting training to the people from the community for running a CRS. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in collaboration with CEMCA is starting a certificate course for CR from the next academic year. One of the initial problems in setting up CRS is its financial requirement. Around 12 to 15 lakh rupees may be required for setting up the mast, antenna, transmitter, console, etc. of a CRS, apart from the civil construction of the studio floor/building. However, there is no bar in getting the financial support from other organizations.
The Common Service Centres (CSC) being created in the districts as ports of e-governance system in the rural areas of the state, can be tied up with the CRSs to utilize the infrastructure being created for CSC.
The Broadcasting sector is opened up to a great extent for the people of the community. Now, it remains to be seen how efficiently people at the grassroots can organize themselves and understand the need and utility of CR and able to set up CRSs in various places, making the CR movement successful and effective in India.
*News Correspondent, Doordarshan, Kolkata and Guest Faculty in Journalism and Mass Communication in Universities and IIMC, Dhenkanal.