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Access and Participation The Community Perspective

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					Presentation by Ashish Sen given at the Panel: Access and Participation: The Community Perspective at the World Press Freedom Day Celebration by UNESCO, May 2006 Thanks to Amartya Sen‟s seminal work, Democracy as Freedom, „voice‟ is increasingly acknowledged as a critical ingredient in poverty eradication. The crucial question, however, is: Whose voice? Under a market is the mantra regime, community voices struggle to be heard and often are compelled to fight for legitimacy as demonstrated by the case of community radio in India. Consider these voices:

We talk about Samma and Sajja (minor grains) We always talk about marginalized grains, marginalized people, marginalized language.This does not interest the mainstream radio. - Pastapur Pushpalata

If we have our own radio, the issues that we talk about will reach a larger community of women. Radio will enhance the credibility of our messages by lending them the weight of the medium. - Bidakanne Sammamma Why won’t the government issues us a license for our own radio? They invite us so many times to their meetings and listen to our views. If they want to hear us, why not give us a radio license? - Algole Ratnamma

These are voices of non literate Dalit women who manage the Pastapur Community Media Centre in Medak District of Andhra Pradesh. In many ways, their concerns represent key issues that confront access and participation in the context of community today. Good Governance, Right to Information, Transparency and Accountability are buzzwords in today‟s development paradigm. Their increased importance has catapulted the role of community/citizenry participation to the front burner. While community participation is increasingly acknowledged as a critical ingredient for sustainable development, its complementary component – community communications – remains to find an effective and judicious response from the state. Paradoxically, Amartya Sen‟s powerful concept of development as freedom underlines the critical role of free and independent media in social change and underpins the strong co-relation between community media, freedom of expression and development. Further,

development agencies and practitioners, - from both ends of the ideological pendulum have increasingly postulated that voice is a critical ingredient for poverty eradication. Such postulations notwithstanding, community voices continue to – more often than not – remain on the periphery of the media landscape. Even a cursory survey of the media reform scene substantiates the point. While the direction of media reform has often been viewed in the context of demand and supply, it‟s exclusionary and piece meal characteristics have not been sufficiently articulated. This may be predictable under a “market is the mantra regime,” but it is worrying as it raises a larger question: Do the course of reforms conform to a cogent media policy or is it symptomatic of a crisis – management and reactive culture. While there are no easy answers, community would appear to have paid the heaviest price in an unequal media playing field. The struggle for community radio legitimacy in India is an apt case in point. More than a decade has passed since the Supreme Court judgment of 1995 which declared that airwaves are public property. Yet, the colonial and fossilized Indian telegraph act of 1883 continues to hold sway over the radio broadcasting arena. Admittedly, a decade of lobbying and advocacy has somewhat opened windows to legitimacy as far as community broadcasting is concerned. In 2003 New Delhi allowed applications for campus radio. The draft document on community radio currently lies with the group of ministers for consideration and recommendations. The flip side of the coin is that the document has been in the group of minister‟s hands for more than six months. This, in turn, raises a more disturbing question: For how long must communities continue to wait in the wings? In a country like India that confronts daunting diversities in terms of languages, dialects, cultures, rich-poor, urban-rural and literacy divides, the role of community radio should offer enormous potential. Unfortunately the battle for legitimacy divides the gap between potential and practice.

The demand for community radio in the country can no longer be dismissed as a clutch of islands of good work. There are sufficient examples of community based initiatives in the country that have used audio /radio for their empowerment. These initiatives have had transformative impact on community needs and community development. What happens, then, to these voices – many of whom remain at or outside the periphery of government radio? Voices which emanate from the rural countryside where about 70 per cent of the country population is reside. These community based initiatives conform to two models: Model 1. Community Participation in Radio Programming: Examples: KMVS initiative in Bhuj, Gujarat, reaching out to 150 villages in Kutch district, Gujarat & AID initiative in Jharkhand, Bihar – reaching out to 45 villages in Lesliegunj and Punki divisions

Features : In this model, the initiative buys time from AIR and broadcasts, usually on a weekly basis during a particular time slot. KMVS‟s programme - the Story of the Saras Crane – which received the Chameli Jain award in 2001 was supported by the Dhrishti Media Collective. Similarly the AID initiative in Daltongunj receives technical support from a media collective in Jharkhand. There is substantial community participation in these programmes through a team of community reporters and community members taking on the role of the protagonists. The communities also take an active role in facilitating feedback mechanisms. Model 2 .Community Management and Ownership. Examples: Namma Dhwani facilitated by Myrada and VOICES, - Reaches 35 villages in the Kamasamudram region of Kolar district, Karnataka. & The Pastapur Media Centre facilitated by the Deccan Development Society, Reaches 75 villages in Medak district, AP Features: Both initiatives are rooted in community participation and have community ownership as their goal. They have their own production centre and regularly narrow cast programmes produced by the communities produce. These are disseminated through tape recorders at sangha meetings or at community centers. Through capacity building efforts the community volunteers are substantially conversant with audio production. And, today, the centers are substantially managed by the volunteers/reporters. In Namma Dhwani, the accent is currently on inclusion through Cable at the household level. Three years of community engagement and participation in radio/audio resulted in the community managing the production and dissemination of programmes through narrowcasting at self help groups and community meetings. Other innovative measures following like the loud speaker narrowcast when the village santhe/mandi would meet every Tuesday, and more recently the School Audio effort through cable paved the way for the cable audio initiative in Budhikote whereby household cable audio connections are provided, enabling 2 hours of daily community cable casting in four languages: The programmes are cablecast in Telegu. Kannada, Urdu and Hindi. Notwithstanding differences in their approach, all the four initiatives appear to have common the vision: to ultimately ensure that community broadcasting becomes a reality Summarised below are a few best practices which these initiatives have yielded: 1. Gender. All the four initiatives, in different ways have promoted voices of women. The Namma Dhwani initiative‟s management committee which meets twice a month to take stock of the programming and management has representatives from 11 Self Help Groups in the Area. Almost all of them are women. The studio manager is also a

woman .The Pastapur Media Centre is managed by a team of 7 Dalit non literate Women. In all these initiatives, these women have asserted that they would be ready to run a community radio station on their own. Many of the programmes have focused on women‟s participation in the political process, women‟s right to education, dowry deaths, violence against women, female feticide.

2. Identity: “If we have our own radio, the issues that we talk about will reach a larger community of women. Radio will enhance the credibility of our messages by lending them the weight of the medium.” – Bidakanne Sammamma ,Pastapur . “ We want people outside to know about issues that concern us .” Ippapally Mallama , Pastapur .. These observations from two Dalit women of the Pastapur Community, underscore the strong correlation between community radio and identity. KMVS ‟s initiative was not only successful in using radio as a vehicle by which to reinforce ethnic identity but also to promote community cohesion and harmony at the height of the Gujarat riots . During the Gujarat riots, KMVS called upon the people of Kutch to practice the values of tolerance and plurality which are a part of their way of life /faith. Namma Dhwani , is located in Budhikote village on the border of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh . The people may be conversant with Kannada and Telegu, but they prefer to speak a mix of both. The nearest radio station is AIR Bangalore which broadcasts in chaste Kannada. The Namma Dhwani audio production centre and cable initiative enables them to straddle language alienation. 3. Education: “ I have made programmes on healthy foods . If through this people can gain some knowledge, then I will be very happy ..” (Usha Rani , Class 9 – Budhikote) “ I have learnt to make plays and music programmes . It is very useful to me …” (Srimurthy , Class 7.) “ We want to hear the news . We want to know what is happening in the country and the world today .” (Sundar Reddy , Class 8)

These are voices of “ poor” children from the Government High School in Budhikote . What is unusual is that they are a part of the Namma Dhwani extended family and a part of the school audio programme which started in mid 2002 . They make educational programmes . Many of these are cable cast by a cable which connects the audio production centre to the school . The subjects covered are extensive: news programmes, plays, skits etc. Apart from expressing their own creativity and making their own programmes, there is also increased exposure to general knowledge and current affairs through these programmes. 4. Other aspects of Governance and Culture: The KMVS revamped magazine format programme - MUSAFARI – resurrects Kutch history, art and culture and also attempts to reinterpret them in a contemporary context. Spaces have also been created to feature dying art forms such as Vai singing. Thanks to Cable audio , a range of community „clubs‟ have started at Namma Dhwani – Children‟s Club , Disabilities Club and Women‟s Groups . They meet about once a week; discuss relevant issues and how some of these can be developed into audio programmes. There have been interesting insights as a result of these programmes: Through the loudspeaker narrowcast, Ambedkar Colony which is entirely inhabited with Dalits, has access to information, education and employment at Namma Dhwani. 5. Sustainability: The models of community radio that we have talked about have been supported substantially by agencies like UNESCO, UNDP, and the National Foundation of India. But underlying this support have been initiatives from the community themselves as well as other partnership efforts which are easily replicable and worthy of discussion. The Namma Dhwani management committee has, for instance, a community base fund where the community contributes a small amount towards the programming costs. This is not a new concept, but a part of the SHG development paradigm .It is also similar to the efforts of community radio stations like Lumbini and Madan Pokhara in Nepal which have community contributions and friends of the community radio support.

CONCLUSION: So where do we go from here? How long must these voices continue to wait in the wings? So far, India hasn‟t emanated a huge tradition of pirate radio. But recent indications suggest that community patience is wearing thing. The recent closure of "Raghav entertainment FM- 1 Radio station" in Mansoorpur, Bihar, underscores the point. Raghav

Radio was started by Raghav Mahto who picked up the tricks of the trade through the repair of radio sets. He launched his own FM radio station for as little as Rs 50/- . "CD nikala to dekhe ki agal bagal main catch kaar raha hai. Cordless ike dekhe, issi ko soch kaar apna banaye. Isme 50 rupiya laga hai. 3-4 part laga hai, Rs 50 rupaiya kharcha hai. (When we took out the CD, we realized that the radios in the neighboring areas were also catching the frequency. Then we saw cordless mike and replicated it. The good news was not just the Rs 2000/- that Raghav reportedly "earned from the station every month» which enabled him to feed his family of five, but the fact that the station obviously touched a huge chord among the local population. It also packed in an infotainment format that worked well with both heart and head. Consider the following: "Welcome to Radio Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1, one stop entertainment solution for all. Tune in not only for your favorite filmi numbers, but also for information, which we think is crucial for you. Over to the anchor," says a voice on the radio. The buck then passes on to the anchor of the Raghav radio FM station, Sambhu. "Namaskaar, main apka dost Sambhu. Aap sun rahe hain, FM Mansoorpur 1. Aap logo ko suchana dena chahate hai, aids chune se nahi failta, saiyam aur surakcha, aids se rakcha," (Namaskar, this is your friend Sambhu. You are listening to FM Mansoorpur 1. We want to inform you that AIDS does not spread through your touch. Control and and safety, protects you from AIDS) he says. Unfortunately, the existence of a fossilized and colonial act cut short Raghav 's life line. Despite protests from the local community. It is also unfortunate that Raghav Radio broke the law. However, in many ways, Raghav Radio and the Namma Dhwani community media centre in Budhikote village in Kolar share the same goals - to give community broadcasting its legitimate space in the sun. While Namma Dhwani‟s model of cable audio conforms to the cable TV operator‟s act, its desired goal is the same as Raghav Radio - to have a radio station of its own. There are others like the Decccan Development Society and the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghathan who share the same objectives. The fact that the pace of media technology had outstripped the pace of media reform has enabled many of these initiatives to transform themselves into community media centers. Through mixed media models, (combining a mix of traditional, broadcast and computer based media) these initiatives have had transformative impact on the lives of the local community. Security has been a frequently raised excuse to prohibit community media. Traveling with a media mission to Nepal recently , brought home the vibrancy of community

radio despite a clamp down on democratic norms and freedom of expression . In fact, discussions with the local communities merely served to heighten the perception that community radio provided a vital information lung that could not be stopped even amidst increasing terrorism and suspension of civil rights . The continued broadcasts from Radio Paschimaanchal and Radio Muktinetu ( private and community radios) in Palpa district of Western Nepal despite being caught in the February Maoist- armed forces' cross fire is a case in point that underlines the power of local radio . There are several others like Radios Lumbini, and Madan Pokhara, that emanate the same spirit. India‟s experience in terms of the struggle for community radio resonates across the south Asian region and in many other parts of the world. However, the experiences in terms of community access and participation throw up the following: 1) The need for legislation operationalizing a three tiered media structure – public, private and community – based on principles of equity and inclusiveness. 2) The need to strengthen community media capacity building and community media networks to scale and strengthen community media centre initiatives. 3) The need to synergize and strengthen the linkages between information and communication that is characterized by community management and ownership. If the Right to Information is to become truly meaningful, it needs to be complemented by the right to inform. Communities who are producers of information should have a right to communicate it in a manner they deem appropriate.

In many ways, the role of radio in the context of community communications was aptly envisioned by Gandhiji. In his radio address to the refugees of Kurukshetra on November 12th 1947, (subsequently National Public Broadcast Day), Gandhiji emphasized that he saw in radio, “a miraculous power.” In his words, “I see Shakti, the miraculous power of God in it”. But Gandhiji‟s vision will only be realized when the voices of the excluded and the margins move from the periphery to the centre.


				
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