Interview

Unesco

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What were the reasons and circumstances that inspired UNESCO to initiate the CMCs globally?

Let us say that the CMC is a model developed by UNESCO over a period of time, since the beginning of 1997, when we initiated the first project in Sri Lanka called Kothmale Community Radio Internet project. Why was this model developed? From the beginning, on the one hand, we have had the possibility of using new information and communication technologies (NICT) for development, on the other, we have had to overcome barriers when using these ICTs for development. These barriers concern a lack of awareness concerning the benefits of NICTS, the high cost and lack of access to computers and connectivity, as well as the language barriers that prevent the use of Internet based information.

There is also the issue of content. While the content creation of the traditional media such as radio, television and press, incorporated the known and familiar forms of content, in the new media content, creation requires special skills which have to be acquired.

Under these circumstances, we thought that a combination of different technologies, from both traditional and new (technologies), in the form of CMC could be a solution to overcome some of these problems. Therefore in the CMCs we use radio, the most penetrating medium as the interface, between people and internet. The pilot sites implemented in 15 courtiers have proved that our assumptions were correct.

What are the advantages of CMCs over other models like telecentres?

Firstly, CMCs are based on a simple methodology. The idea is to use community broadcasters as intermediaries between people and internet. They can interpret the information in the local language and people can have indirect access to cyberspace, through the radio, by directing their queries to the trained broadcasters, who not only obtain relevant information but also contextualise it thereby creating new knowledge. This process is very important because information itself cannot create knowledge unless it is discussed and moulded to the local context. Community radio is an efficient tool for this contextualisation process.

Secondly, costs are reduced considerably by having community access rather than individual access. In addition this access enables community radio stations to create a social space for interaction within and between communities.

Thirdly, by combining these facilities, it becomes possible to ensure sustainability as radio is a sustainable operation. You just add new ICTs. You have then simply provided an added value and have made it all the more sustainable. the connectivity cost is still a factor. But the investment has immediate returns because internet information enriches the broadcast programme content and radio has the possibility to provide information otherwise inaccessible without internet embedded information.

In this model community members become more aware of what one can do with internet.

Moreover, the radio station also functions as a public access point for internet. As in any telecenter, people can come and access information with the guidance of trained volunteers on a cost recovery basis. There are some CMCs which maintain e-mail accounts for community members and inform the recipient over the radio, to come and collect the e-mail from the station.

This differs from the telecentre approach. With telecenters you need to establish everything from the very beginning and one is not sure of the sustainability in rural areas, when depending solely on the access fee. In a way, the combination of radio and the internet subsidises the access cost because interfacing the internet provides opportunities for the radio to increase its income. Telecenters or internet caf

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