Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights

MEDIA-ASIA: Community Radio Carves Out Space for Itself

Malini Shankar

BANGALORE, India, Mar 3 2010 (IPS) - Community radio is moving from the margins to the mainstream in many countries in Asia, carving out spaces from where they respond to public needs ranging from disaster management to gender awareness, cultural identity and belonging.

This was proven in Papua New Guinea in January, during a tsunami triggered by an earthquake.

“No adult died because adults knew that when the sea withdraws (from the shore), it portends the arrival of a tsunami, and all the adults fled to higher ground,” said Aloysius Laukai of New Dawn FM station. However, “the unfortunate casualties were all children,” he added.

In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Community Based Information Network Resource Institution (COMBINE) mobilises volunteers and logistical support, and reports missing persons when disasters strike.

Its radio programmes include talk shows, quizzes, music, poetry and drama that focus on disaster management, good local governance and the local economy. According to COMBINE’S Saiful Bakhtiar, it also has off-air activities such as drills, search and rescue training and disaster simulation.

In the Philippines, Rainbow Radio Filipinas stands out as the first community radio station in the predominantly Catholic country that is devoted to gender minorities. This is significant given conservative attitudes shaped by the Catholic Church and stereotyped portrayal by media of different genders.

“We make radio shows with two audiences in mind — the LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender groups) and their families and friends,” said Maica Lagman of Rainbow Radio FIlipinos. “We wanted to stop the stereotyping of LGBTs and media’s portrayal of them. Myths can be demolished by media content that is created by the LGBT community itself.”

These experiences, shared by community radio representatives at the 2nd World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) Asia-Pacific conference held here in late February, put the spotlight on how community- based media can make a difference in everyday lives.

Community radio stations were once specialised segments in traditional broadcast media. But these have now evolved, often with the stakeholders themselves acting as content producers.

“Community radio gives us the power to develop and be a part of the larger international development. We have to develop and be a part of mainstream society,” John Tarawe, project director of the Malaysia-based E-bario told IPS.

“Nevertheless, it is very important for us to retain our traditional, cultural and linguistic identity as an indigenous people. Community radio is our tool to create content and shape the people’s opinion of our identity,” said Tarawe, who is from Sarawak in eastern Malaysia, home to many members of the indigenous communities in that country.

After hearing from different community radio representatives, as well communication experts and analysts, the AMARC regional conference passed a declaration seeking to “place communications rights at the centre of development”, and support initiatives that aid access to digital and other technological opportunities to strengthen community broadcasting.

Some 300 community radio representatives, activists, communication and development professionals attended the Feb. 20-23 conference, organised by AMARC and the Bangalore-based VOICES.

In addition, the Bangalore declaration committed the community radio groups to challenge the “hegemony of commercial, private and state media” through community-owned and operated stations and called on governments to allow more supportive legal infrastructure for their work.

It also pledged to “create spaces on the airwaves for diverse and marginalised voices, irrespective of caste, creed, race, colour, gender, sexuality, faith, and differently-abled or other differences.”

Sajan Venniyoor, a community radio activist from New Delhi, quoted a 1995 decision of the Indian Supreme Court that said airwaves were “public property and thus must be utilised for advancing public good.”

“Diversity of opinion, views, ideas and ideologies is essential to enable the citizens to arrive at informed judgment on all issues touching them. This cannot be provided by a medium controlled by a monopoly – whether the monopoly is of the State or any other individual, group or organisation,” added Venniyoor of the Community Radio Forum.

Some participants, like Mir Abdul Wahed Hashimi of Afghanistan, came to learn from the experiences of other countries. Community radio in conflict- torn Afghanistan is just six years old, explained Hashimi, who is with Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan.

The programming of Nai Community Radio mixes entertainment and Bollywood CDs with politics, news, and programmes on health and education, he said.

Hashimi said that although community radio enjoys relative freedom in Afghanistan, there have been instances when they have faced restrictions from the government due to security reasons and from the Taliban because of the latter’s conservative dogma regarding entertainment.

Afghanistan needs legislation on community radio broadcasting and rights, a licensing regime and a broadcasting code of ethics, he pointed out.

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