August 2007

Free speech zone

Views: 193

Engaging stakeholders in a learning environment

Community Radio India 2007 was introduced as a new track in the country's biggest ICT event, eINDIA2007. The event was jointly organised by UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP, and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MI&B), Government of India (GOI), and supported by One World South Asia (OWSA), Commonwealth of Learning (COL), and AMARC.

Jocelyne Josiah, Communications Advisor, UNESCO, New Delhi welcomed the gathering. She outlined on the UN approach to the proceedings with an aim of national development and in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). She outlined the role of the UN System and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to enable community radio to move from the policy phase to the implementation phase, and to take forward the discussions and recommendations made at the UN-MI&B conference held in New Delhi in February 2007. The highlights were on establishing links between content and media, lack of adequate legislation, sorting best documentation methods, sharing of documents/content, effectiveness of participatory method, periodical monitoring, and enabling the community to be effective users of  this opportunity.

Creating conducive environment

The first session 'Creating Conducive Environment' was chaired by Asha Swarup, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, GOI, and moderated by Surekha Subarwal, Regional Communications Advisor (South Asia), UNDP New Delhi. Ms. Swarup spoke on the importance of content and the need to strengthen policy frameworks focusing on local and relevant content for community radio (CR).

Arvind Kumar, Director (BP&L), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MI&B), GOI, advised on identifying stakeholders and institutions to build a strong network of CR across the community. D.Singaravelu, Dy. Wireless Adviser, WPC, Department of Telecommunications, MoCIT, GOI spoke on the issues concerning spectrum, and on convergence between WIMAX and CR. He shared the features of CR and WIMAX technology, and briefed on WPC's procedures for obtaining spectrum license.

R. Sreedhar, Director, Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA), Commonwealth of Learning (COL), New Delhi, shared his experiences and thoughts on establishing CR, that requires spreading awareness among the masses, and asked for turn key solutions, i.e. from application to frequency allotment to SACFA clearance, agreement, WOL, and participation of all sections of society to ensure qualitatively unbiased content.

International community radio experiences

The second session was chaired by Supriya Mukherji, Programme Communications Officer, UNICEF, New Delhi. Revi Sterling, Researcher, ATLAS Institute, University of Colorado (currently with Microsoft Research Labs, India) gave an overview of   'Lessons learnt from Africa in the Participation of Women in Community Radio'. Dhanushi Senanayake from Practical Action, Colombo, Sri Lanka made her points through 'Bringing back the missing link in community radios in Sri Lanka- voices of community'. She spoke on the failure of Mahaweli Community Radio (MCR) that was set up alongside the river diversion project and was conceptualised to facilitate socio-economic development for the settlers. Important lessons learnt from the project provide a blue print for other South Asian countries to be followed.

Sudhamshu Dahal and Arul Aram authored a paper entitled 'Experiences gathered from Nepal based on Peace Building efforts of CR'. Sudhamshu highlighted that peace can be an overarching objective, by means of a community radio.

AHM Bazlur Rahman and Golam Nabi Jewel, from BNNRC, Dhaka, Bangladesh, prepared a joint paper, which was presented by Shahiduddin Akbar from Katylst, Bangladesh. Amidst many policy recommendations, he mentioned the need to establish strategic links between community radio and telecentres' besides other opportunities to cluster community media resources, and pleaded support for community radio development through intermediary bodies at national and regional level, by means of training guidance and mentoring. The Bangladesh NGO Network is currently demanding the opening up of the airwaves, and felt that forums such as this, provided insights on how to position the campaign in Bangladesh.

Deborah J Winsten, from 'Making Local Voices Count' Washington DC, USA, demonstrated the creative facilitation role that NGOs could play to empower poor people with basic communication skills so that they can contribute to development. Promoting a 'bottom-up' communication strategy for effective, locally guided, sustainable development, she shared her experiences from enabling communities in Africa to set up, run and manage community radios.

Raman Nanda, Broadcast Consultant and Radio Mentor, New Delhi made an analytical study on 'CR: Afghanistan and India- The Learning Curve'. He pointed out that despite the absence of a clear-cut CR Policy, the community radio movement in Afghanistan has spread rapidly.  Though the take off in India for CR is slow, the civil society and governments are making efforts to impact the socio-economic conditions of the disadvantaged, and the CR will enable this process to be accelerated.

Campus community radio

R. Sreedher chaired the session on 'Campus Community Radio'. Dr. Saima Saeed, Lecturer, CCMG, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, gave her presentation on 'Community Radio: Policies, Power and Possibilities'. It should get a sizable place in broadcasting policy framework in this country to strengthen grassroots democracy. Making hardware available at cheapest price for the poor; building interface with the communities; and focusing on socially relevant programming would enable campuses to fulfill the objectives of CR. For varied communities like India, a mix of several successfully experimented models across the continents should be encouraged.

Prof. K. Thangaraj, Kongu FM, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, spoke on the ample opportunities CR provides to promote democracy and help the marginalised groups. He spoke of the need for focusing on relevant content and human resources for effective installation, running, and maintaining of a studio and station, and also in delivering valuable, useful, and necessary programmes. A vast country like India deserves several thousands of community radio stations, and each station catering to the needs of listeners in the small coverage area restricted by the height of the transmitting tower, the power output and the obstructions to the FM waves. The annual license fee may be cut down for community radios to ease the financial strain. Women empowerment was also given due thrust through CR station of Kongu.  One of the key suggestions that he made was to get recognition of CR stations as a formal media, as they are often not able to cover important visits, or government press briefings, which has relevance to the communities, as they are not invited in press meetings.

Dr. S.A Patil, Director, IARI, New Delhi, shared his experiences on 'CR with special reference to Dharwad'- India's first farmers' radio station. The experience demonstrates CR's tremendous potential for strengthening grassroot democracy and Panchayati Raj Institutions. He spoke for separate rural and urban models and spoke on general pre-requisites to make CR operational.

Pankaj Athawale, Head, FM Community Radio, University of Mumbai made a presentation on 'Identity crisis of CR and its solutions'. He pleaded on identifying the communities and stressed on making socially responsible content that could be a right mix of information and entertainment. CR would prove to be an effective medium to make informed citizens who are empowered with knowledge and information. Highlighting the need for creating massive country-wide awareness on the spectrum clearance guidelines and CR licensing procedures, he told that Mumbai university's tower, being within 10 kilometres proximity of the Airport will not get a clearance, but the University understood this only after constructing the Tower.

Low cost technology demonstration workshop

Nomad India Network and UNESCO made combined efforts to demonstrate the effects of low cost technologies for Community Radio. Nomad was represented by Hemant Babu and Michelle Chawla and UNESCO by Seema Nair with a supportive hand lent by N. Ramakrishnan, who is the Director of Ideosync Combine Media. This was followed by a Q & A session led by Seema. N. Ramakrishnan is currently engaged  in the production of a Guide Book for CR operators, the first draft of which is already being discussed in the Solutions Exchange's ICTD Forum of UN.

Knowledge sharing and learning from experiences

The session on 'Knowledge Sharing and Learning from Experiences' started with the presentation of Prof. Binod C. Agrawal, Director, Taleem Foundation, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on 'Use of Radio for Women's Literacy: Insights and Lessons from an Indian Experiment'. He shared his experiences of action research of the 'Project in Radio Education per adult literacy' (PREAL). Commissioned by Government of India, PREAL was carried out to impart literacy through radio and supports functional components of National Literacy Mission (NLM). Accordingly, 1,08,000 women learners were selected to participate in PREAL in four Hindi speaking states covering 10 districts and 8 AIR stations. Caste issues and diverse dialects in the study area prevalent also tended to segregate communities.

P.Krishnamurthy, Lead of Kalanjiam Community Radio of Dhan Foundation, Tamil Nadu showcased a video presentation and talked on 'Building communities through media' based on his work experience. Kalanjiam radio project aims to build the communities by upgrading the skill to develop socio-economic conditions. It also aids to preserve local wisdom and traditional knowledge.

Venu Arora and N. Ramakrishnan, Directors of Ideosync Media Combine, New Delhi, made a presentation and showed a video on 'Sustaining Community Participation in Community Radio'. Certain challenging areas were addressed, like on the creation of content, infrastructure hurdles and equipment maintenance. The example of 'Mandakini ki Awaaz' in Uttarakhand, where narrowcasting was used, was cited as an example of mobilizing the community first, before building capacity to broadcast, that works in cycle with Ideosync method.

Snehasis Sur, Sr. Journalist, Doordarshan, (Honorary Secretary, Centre for Media Research and Development Studies), Kolkata viewed CR as an all-inclusive process and a medium that serves as a catalytic agent to bring change through narrowcasting. Through proliferation of CRs, the media literate society can demand and ensure accountability, transparency, better governance and Right to Information (RTI). Hence need of the hour is to develop awareness, advocacy, facilitation and networking by tracing the audience in urban area, planning the content, training the professionals, building the community's confidence, and effectively managing CR for common purpose.

Ashish Bhatnagar, Broadcast Engineer, (Hony Secretary, Broadcast Engineering Society, India), All India Radio, New Delhi, made an excellent presentation on 'Technology considerations in CR'. He explained that Effective Radiated Power (ERP) specified is 100 W. (in special cases, UPTO 250 Watt), maximum tower height should be 30m, minimum height 15m, CR location be within the campus in case of educational institutes, NGOs and others to locate their transmitter, antenna within the centre of geographical area of the community that they seek to serve, and also technology considerations such as number of desired studios, acoustic treatment, choice of acoustic material, choice of studio and transmitting equipment, etc.

CSCs and CMCs- a panel discussion

The session 'Community Radios in Common Service Centres (CSC) and CMC: Community Ownership and Sustainability Questions -A Panel Discussion' was chaired by Sajan Venniyoor, ICTD, CoP Facilitator, Solutions Exchange, UNDP/UNESCO, New Delhi. Arvind Kumar, Director (BP&L), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MI&B), GOI, New Delhi, talked on ownership issues and prescribed basic guidelines to civil society for ownership of CSC/CMC.

Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive Director, IT for Change, Bangalore, talked on pursuing the common objectives of telecentre/CSC/CR and demonstrated in a video, how communities and women's self help groups are engaged in using community media for empowerment.

Ashish Sen, Voices, Bangalore and Vice President of AMARC, made a video presentation and highlighted the importance of local partnership and ownership. The CMC model in the Namma Dhwani station was a good example of how CSC/CMC linkages can be built. Also the importance of radio as a means to build the last mile linkage was emphasized in his presentation.

Supriya Mukherji, Programme Communications Officer, UNICEF, New Delhi, who made a presentation on 'Community Ownership and Sustainability', emphasised the need to define the community and spoke on the challenges of community ownership. The sustainability of local and specific CR is related to its capacity to have relevant, participatory and creative programming that attracts the audience and encourages access to the media in their own language, and is alternative and distinct from commercial and public broadcasting. There was an interesting discussion on the need for more usable information for CR operators, and support agencies with respect to procurement of equipment, and the tedious processes relating to licensing. She recommended simplification of procedures and facilitation of useful information relating to setting up of a CR station being shared widely.

Dr. Amol Goje, Director and CEO, VIIT, Pune, spoke on Community radio as a facilitator that enables cooperation between farmers and scientists. Because of its unrivalled access and its low production costs, he finds, “radio as the technology that best meets the information and communication needs of farmers, world-wide”. VIIT is piloting a radio station in a CSC and has experimented with innovative programming, and multiple technologies like phone-in, and SMS services combined with IT and radio. Anwar Sadath, Director, Akshaya Project, Malappuram, Kerala made his presentation on 'Participatory Content Development'. The key challenge for appropriate content generation was often seen as a time-consuming activity. There were also wide disagreements, community resistance to media/media use. Moreover, content creation is not often considered the priority of the community. The need for innovative ideas for the sake of survival and sustainability, training, and retraining volunteers, and above all revenue generation poses the real challenges to ensure long-term sustainability of community media projects.

CR and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The session 'Community Radios and MDGs: Knowledge Resources and Building a Community of Practice (CoP) and Sharing Best Practices, was facilitated by Sajan Venniyoor. Zohra Chatterji, Joint Secretary (Broadcasting), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi was present as a special guest of the session.

Fr.Bento D'Souza, from Radio Bee, Station Manager and Trainer for CR Internships, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, envisioned a long term direction to tap the potential of youth and children. He made some strategic suggestions: use AIR transmitters free of cost till one's own are being funded, as these too like airwaves belong to people of India. The Karnataka model should be adopted by each of the state to have local funds for promoting low cost-CR, work on training professionals, social workers to learn communication skills to use radio effectively for development and cultural exploration, identify trainers to train 5000 radio stations in India from those who care for people, has passion for technology.

Geeta Malhotra, Head (ICT Advocacy, Grassroots Communications and Capacity Building), One World South Asia (OWSA), New Delhi, made a video presentation 'Connecting Communities and Empowering People through ICTs:  Radio as a tool for addressing MDGs' based on the story of young lady, Manju who was an enterprising enough to mobilise her peers through her effective communication modes using ICTs and CR. Manju also shared her experiences on the dais saying that “it is possible to perform if right kind of platform is there”.

Syed Kazi, Research Scholar, from Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU, New Delhi made the presentation on 'Sustaining Community Radio Initiatives in India: Grassroots and Governance Challenges'. He spoke on challenges of top-down and down-top approach and infrastructure factors.   He called for a systematic technical planning and a technical sustainability system, social and financial sustainability, project monitoring and assessment, and a congenial regulatory framework to bring in an effective governance framework for community radio.

Smita Pandey IAS (Probationer), made her presentation on 'Community Radio Initiative- Bridging the Information Gaps'. She shared her dream for the people of Burdwan District, in West Bengal in her role as Assistant Magistrate and Collector.  The administrative experiences have made her realise the growing need for CR, especially to the rural India. Accordingly “the initiator should be administration, patron should be government, implementer and owners should be the community, the civil society should support and advocate for community media media”. She further elucidated on a convergence process for Gram Panchayats (GP). Thus, knowledge connectivity from Community Service Centres (CSCs) at GP would enable creation of knowledge centres in every village, with community radio as its medium. In this way a digital ecosystem could be created and nurtured in rural India.

Poster presentation

Poster presentation was an opportunity for the authors to present papers at the conference hall while meeting with interested attendees for in-depth technical discussions for the entire two days. Nehul Jagdish Kumar, Mumbai based Independent Media Professional made a presentation on his chosen topic 'CR as a New Revolution in Communication', pictorially on display board and circulated his papers. The identified community should not be limited to rural areas alone but should encompass urban as well. The ideal composition should be 'RUURB' (ie. rural cum urban), especially in a  developing nation like India, where even the so called urbanised population is suffering on account of the digital divide. Veronica Peris, Independent Researcher, New Delhi cirulated her paper on 'Information Sharing and Capacity Building'  that speaks on the right kind of Information  and Communication Technologies (ICT) used to bridge the communication gap from bottom to top,  especially among the like ailing groups like farming communities in India.  

Some recommendations

For the round of recommendations from the floor of the house, some specific recommendations are presented below. The detailed set of recommendations, and action points will be consolidated and shared for approval by the participants via email. These will be shared amongst the participants, donors, supporters and the Government of India.

The key lessons were also shared in the plenary valedictory function, presented by Zohra Chatterji, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, GOI.

Commercial advertisements: Provision to be implemented in practice, good accounting practices should also be established

Annual License fee: May be reduced

Frequency Allotment: Frequencies allotted to CR should not be allotted to high power transmitters

Status of Press (Media): Should be accorded to community radio. This will help easy transmission of information on welfare measures to the common man.

Authorities may provide: Information on welfare activities of the government, women empowerment, health and rural development activities to community radios in the coverage area.

Public awareness: Activities of the government may be broadcast through, community radios. e.g.: Activities on agriculture, animal husbandry, training programmes in villages etc.

Instant Information on: Weather, forecast of calamities, road blocks, school, closures, health camps, eye camps, market trends, traffic diversion, travel facilities, reservations, booking, etc. may be provided to community radio.

The conference ended on a note to continue the dialogue, and engage in further awareness at state levels, and local levels, and pledging to keep in touch with each other through email discussion groups. A vote of thanks to all donors, supporters, speakers and participants concluded the track

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