Community Radio: The Key To Propel Rural Development In India

Posted on February 19, 2011 in Specials

By Sakshi Abrol:

India has flabbergasted the entire world with its successful emulation of the alien concept of democracy which was borrowed from the West by the nation-builders. There were a number of clairvoyance pertaining to the short-life of the Indian democracy. Some thinkers had in fact predicted that the Indian nation would subsequently break down under the mounting pressure of democracy but kudos to our leaders; we managed to pull through quite decently, if not more.

Democracy entails necessary participation which in turn demands politically active people aware of what is happening around them. As says Aristotle, “A citizen is the one who plays the dual role of the ruler as well as the subject” i.e. a responsible citizen is the one who necessarily participates in the process of governance. Herein lies the importance of the role the media i.e. the fourth estate needs to play in a parliamentary democracy such as ours.

Ashish Sen (Media Development, Bangalore) underlines the pertinent and the pro-active role played by the media in India. He says, “In terms of reach and access, India’s print and broadcast media is strong: Approximately 60% of urban Indians and 25% of rural Indians read print media on a regular basis, and 96% of the country is reached by radio”. The increasing popularity and legitimacy enjoyed by the various new channels, journals, online forums with great participation coming from the masses in the form of ‘letters to the editor’, or ‘online comments on a news item’ is indicative of the fact that the Indian population, hitherto ensconced in its cocoon is becoming increasingly active.

This is immensely good for the health of the Indian democracy. However, there are various lacunas inherent in this seemingly benefiting media. The high degree of commercialization of news channels and a detrimentally increasing influence of a select few on the kind and the nature of issues highlighted, the never-ending obsession with the casual effect of policies on the privileged class delivers a partial and to an extent, deceptive information to the people. The issue of paid news misleading the electorates, and of the media being used as a tool for propaganda and other such impediments calls for a different manifestation of the media in which it should play a very neutral, growth-centric role as in the case of community media. In this era of growing inclination towards market-driven consumerist and commercial ideals, the role of community media at large becomes significantly pertinent and sacrosanct. An essential component of community media is community radio.

In order to delve into the various functions community radio performs, it is imperative to fairly understand what would be referred to as community media. Sociology defines community as a space where a group of interacting people live. Community radio, thus is a type of radio service, that serves a particular community either geographical or communes and are also run by that community. An essential feature of community media is that since it is completely free from the clutches of the market, profit motive in its functioning does not hold water.

Community radio derives its genesis from the fundamental principles of democracy necessarily entailing equal and active participation in civic affairs and freedom of speech and expression. The role of any form of mass media, as is self-explanatory by its very name is to reach out to people but in its actual realization; generally the lower echelons of human civilization are always left out. One may argue that the media is vigilant enough to report a number of issues pertaining to the deprived or the socially marginalized of for that matter the tribal groups but a juxtaposition of their demographic occurrence with the quantum of space they demand in our daily news shows the grave discrepancy involved.

Community radio therefore caters to the interest of such groups. It is thus obvious to the point of banality that the low level of literacy rates and even lower awareness towards the society is definitely a handicap for them. It is therefore, quite difficult for these people to connect to the larger framework of national and international issues of importance shown in the news channels. What concern would a person have with Indo- US Nuclear deal who can merely manage to keep his body and soul together? But, what is happening around him, in his own community will definitely be intelligible to them. Community radio then emerges out as the most viable option considering the fact that most of them would not be in a position to use the print form of community media.

It would definitely be feasible for them to connect viably with issues pertaining to their own neighbourhood broadcasted in their own native language. It provides a platform for the local people or groups to tell their own stories, share their experiences and thus become active contributors and participants of the media. In this way, people become creators of their own community specific media. In a way it also broadens their horizons of thinking and over time may even lead to a scenario where they will be increasingly aware of the national issues of importance. In many parts of the world, community radio acts as a vehicle for the community and voluntary sector, civil society, agencies, NGOs & citizens to work in partnership to further community development as well as broadcasting aims.

Social awareness programmes and health care measures can also be articulated to the people by means of community media. The first community-based radio station, licensed to an NGO was launched on 15 October 2008, when ‘Sangham Radio‘ in Pastapur village, Medak district, Andhra Pradesh state, was switched on. Sangham Radio, which broadcasts on 90.4 MHz, is licensed to Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO that works with women’s groups in about 75 villages of Andhra Pradesh. Thus, community radio acts a source of effective communication vis-à-vis various developmental works that are on and their implications for the local residents. It also comes out as an effective forum for airing of any grievances with the policies and also a place to articulate their suggestions for further improvement.

Information on traffic and weather conditions, information on academic events, public announcements pertaining to utilities like electricity and water supply, disaster warnings and health alerts are also made available by means of community radio. Also the coverage of various cultural events and regional festivals propagates the indigenous culture and tradition of the community and substantiates the enchanting individuality any community upholds. Ideologically, looking through the perspective of the marginalized, this kind of active inclusion instills in them a sense of belonging to the larger community, empowers them and also imbues them with a feeling of self-confidence ushering in hope in their hitherto directionless lives.

‘Self expression must pass into communication for its fulfillment’ goes a saying but I would like to add on another perspective to it saying that, ‘Effective communication is the apt articulation of any kind of information’. It goes beyond saying that community radio thus has the potential to mobilize the people and effectively impart information thus making media more people-centric.

The question now is, ‘What role can people like you and me play in this context?’ A socio-historical view shows that we have had a bevy of efficient campus community radio since the process of its legitimization gained momentum in the mid 1990’s. Anna FM is India’s first campus ‘community’ radio, launched on 1 February 2004, which is run by Education and Multimedia Research Centre (EM²RC), and all programmes are produced by the students of Media Sciences at Anna University. The main thrust areas where the campus community radio generally focuses on are issues relating to health, education, career, stress management, interpersonal relationship between parents and children, lectures, workshops etc.

Apart from all this, it also spreads awareness among the college students regarding the living conditions of slum dwellers thriving around the campus. The students may broadcast different community based programmes with the help of community based members residing in adopted slum areas and community residing grounds. Students are therefore important stakeholders in carrying out the process of spreading awareness which is an important function of any community radio. Like Anna FM caters to programs on how to improve agriculture. These programs inform and educate farmers about the latest fertilizers, seeds and so on. The Anna FM 90.4 also airs programs on environment, health and rural development. There should be a nationwide campaign to show the importance of community media in general and community radio in particular and the support the cause actively especially in the most under-developed and neglected areas.