August 2004

Community Radio:Reaching The Unreached

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Let us go back to the era without any printed or electronic media. At that time also, man was a social creature with a need of social interaction, interchanges of views, and entertainment for the sake of a short term or long term relief from the rough and tough life. What was there to supplement all these cultural and social needs? Of course, there were folk cultures, programmes for and by the people of the community, but the scope of interchange in culture through such programmes was very limited.

With the invention of microphone and later on, the media, both print and electronic, the scope of such interaction and interchanges has been expanded to a great extent. Day by day, the utility of media is changing its mode as well as approach. Print media cannot reach a major portion of the people having no knowledge about the written world. The lacking of the print media has been supplemented by audio and audiovisual media, the most common are radio and television.

Audio vs audiovisual
Radio owes its development to two other inventions, the telegraph and the telephone, all three technologies are closely related. In 1860s, the progress in this track was initiated when James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish physicist, predicted the existence of radio waves. In 1886, German physicist, Heinrich Rudolph Hertz demonstrated that rapid variations of electric current could be projected into space in the form of radio waves similar to those of light and heat. It was Guglielmo Marconi, from Italy who proved the feasibility of radio communication; he sent and received his first radio signal in Italy in 1895.

By 1899, he flashed the first wireless signal across the English Channel and two years later, received the letter 'S', telegraphed from England to Newfoundland. This was the first successful transatlantic radiotelegraph message in 1902. Indian scientist Sir J.C. Bose demonstrated the radio transmission in 1896 in present Kolkata (India) in front of the British Governor General.

The invention of television was not like the invention of the radio. In case of television, it took the greatest scientists of the day a long time to make a working prototype, and then it took them longer to make it perfect. From the first seed of possibility in 1872 to the TV boom of the 1960s, the race to invent television was filled with little success and devastating failures.

Despite being more attractive due to the audiovisual features, television has not yet been able to exceed the reach of radio, especially in South Asian countries where majority of the community is 'rural' by nature and live under the poverty level. Therefore, more than 80 years after the world's first radio station was founded, radio is still the most pervasive, accessible, affordable and flexible mass medium available, especially in the developing world. Low production and distribution costs have made it possible for radio to focus on the local issues to interpret the world from the local perspectives and to speak in local languages.

Community radio under focus
In this issue, we have highlighted some of the major initiatives of community radio that are most popular among the people, especially in those areas where supply of electricity is extremely irregular or not available at all. The main feature of community radio is the active participation of the community in the process of its contents such as news, information, entertainment and culturally relevant materials, with an emphasis on local issues and concerns. With the help of training, local producers can create programmes using local voices. The community can also actively participate in the management of the station and have a say in the scheduling and content of the programmes. It is essentially a non-profit enterprise. As the station is owned by the community, it also maintains some responsibility in the running of the station.

Nowadays radio does not only play the role as a media of entertainment, but also as an information generating media which can make the people more and more aware of the essential information of their day to day life.

Community radio has gained such a high level of popularity because the ethos of community radio is independence and responsibility to serve the community, not the advertiser. The other reasons lie in the fact that community radio programming is designed by the community, to improve social conditions and the quality of its cultural life. The community itself can decide what are its priorities and needs in terms of information provision.

There are numerous examples all over the globe where programmes on local content, in local language, by local people have popularised the concept of community radio to a large extent. The countries, yet to reach that extent of popularity of community radio have enough scope to receive lessons from the success stories as well as the stories of failure.

It must always be kept in mind that excluding technology and policy, many other aspects are also associated with the success of community radio out of which most important are community participation and enthusiasm.

Hope the issues and case studies of community radio under focus will help the nations, where community is yet to be directly associated with 'radio', to proceed in the right direction in near future to prove “Better late than never”!!

 

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