Sustainable Community Radio: New Approaches

Krishan Yadav*
Ashok Kumar**
Rajesh Kumar***

Abstract

The mainstream media is unable to cater to the true information needs of the community as it is primarily market driven and runs with profit maximizing motive. Hence, there is a need for an alternative media, which definitely has to have space in terms of localization of content, participation and involvement of the community. Community Radio can play a vital role in this, especially in narrowing down the differences between the broadcaster and the audience. Undoubtedly, this is a new approach towards empowerment at the grassroots level, which, in turn, will definitely strengthen the tenets of democracy. Community Radio promises to be the third tier, closest to the people. Community Radio focuses on low cost and low return pattern of operation, which aims at educating and entertaining the community using their own idioms and language. As defined by UNESCO, a Community Radio Station is one that is operated in the community, for the community, about the community and by the community. The inception of digital technology and other technological advances in telecommunications have made the media geographically and financially accessible to the small and far-flung places. The need of the hour is to popularize the concept by highlighting its potential and effectiveness, facilitate setting up CRSs and impart training to the community broadcasters. The best practice methods and cases in respect of CRS need to be highlighted as examples.

The Story Bank project in the UK has recently started to explore the application of digital storytelling technology to information sharing in the developing world. Multidisciplinary team of interaction designers, ethnographers and computer scientists are adopting a user centered approach to the design of a system which should be useful to a specific rural community in India. This involves a number of challenges both for the technology being developed and for the methods of developing it. It is possible to set up a simple, low-powered community radio station for under Rs 1,000 (US$ 25).

In December 2002, the Government of India approved a policy for the grant of licenses for setting up of Community Radio Stations to well established educational institutions including IITs/ IIMs. The matter was re-reconsidered. In view of the Revised Policy, with the approval of the Policy Committee, a decision was taken to invite proposals from SAUs for setting up one CRS in SAU-run KVKs located in the premises of SAU for funding under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme “Support to State Extension Programmes for Extension Reforms”. CRS would make a major contribution to agricultural extension by utilizing reach of radio transmitter and disseminating information and knowledge, produced locally and having relevance for a specific area. The funding for setting up CRS would come from ATMA Resources and shall be as per the approved SEWP. For seeking fund support under ATMA, the proposal for setting up of CRS be reflected in the Work Plan.

The community radio seems to be at a nascent yet promising stage, ripe for proper documentation and development of global tools and processes. For now, integration remains an ad-hoc and highly individual enterprise. It is important to continue to document and share successes and failures to better enable successful adoption of new incarnations by community radio stations.

Introduction

The mainstream media is unable to cater to the true information needs of the community, as it is primarily market driven and runs with profit maximizing motive. There is a need for an alternative media with space for localization of content, participation and involvement of the community. Community Radio can play a vital role in narrowing down the gap between the broadcaster and the audience. The Indian government has come out with an up-dated Community Radio Policy and is keen to give license to around 4000 Community Radio Stations (CRS). Undoubtedly, this is a new approach towards empowerment at the grassroots level, which, in turn, will definitely strengthen the tenets of democracy. Community Radio promises to be the third tier (All India Radio at top and FM radio stations as the second tier), closest to the people. Community Radio is low cost in operation and aims at educating and entertaining the community, using their own idioms and language. Basically, the Community Radio has to be participatory. According to UNESCO a Community Radio Station is one that has been operated “in the community, for the community, about the community and by the community.”

The digital technology and other technological advances in telecommunications have made the media financially accessible to the small and far-flung places. The need of the hour is to popularize the concept by highlighting its potential and effectiveness, facilitate setting up CRSs and impart training to the community broadcasters. The best practice methods and cases in respect of CRS need to be highlighted as examples.

Digital technology in community radio

The Story Bank project in the UK has recently started to explore the application of digital storytelling technology to information sharing in the developing world. Multidisciplinary team of interaction designers, ethnographers and computer scientists are adopting a user centered approach to the design of a system which should be useful to a specific rural community in South India. This involves a number of challenges both for the technology being developed and for the methods of developing it.

Background

The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council recently funded four ICTs for development research projects. All these projects are multidisciplinary with partners in some of the poorest parts of the world. They are strongly committed to a participative design process which leads to a sustainable technology intervention of real value to end users. Here we outline one of these projects, Story Bank, and describe some of the technical and methodological challenges encountered in the first few months.

Story bank concept

Story Bank is inspired by the digital storytelling movement which has demonstrated the power of short, two-minute audio-visual stories for compelling communication and empowerment within local communities in the West .This audio-visual format is ideal for giving a voice to those in the developing world who are disenfranchised from self-expression, internet use and other forms of written information sharing because they cannot read or write. Hence, one aim of the project is to make audio-visual story creation and sharing accessible to a poor rural community, and to test its value for empowerment and information sharing. A kind of YouTube system for development which extends initiatives that already provide local internet information in a village ICT centre

Technical challenges

As with YouTube they want to make it easy for people to up-load and share video content recorded on mobile phones. This will be done in a story repository or ‘story-bank’, represented in a Greenstone digital library. However, unlike YouTube, the indexing and retrieval of stories cannot be based on text annotation, or indeed any graphical user interface techniques that assume familiarity with a PC. Furthermore, any mobile phone interface will need to be redesigned so as not to involve text-based menus. They would also like to support more flexible forms of story than video, such as are used in digital story telling initiatives like BBC Capture Wales. These include audio photograph sequences of still images with spoken narratives and cannot easily be created on commercial camera phones. This leads to a number of technical challenges and research questions, including:

  • How can one make a small number of simple story forms easy to create, edit and share?
  • How can audio-visual media content be indexed and retrieved without reliance on text annotation?
  • How can one’s selected story forms be captured and shared across a range of phones and other devices?

A number of other challenges arose in planning the system architecture. If it was based at the repository in a village ICT centre, would it have internet connectivity for uploading content to a remote server? Could one assume phone coverage for mobile internet access, or sending stories between phones? Would there be sufficient electricity to power the repository and recharge the phones? And what could the role of television and radio be for playing back stories on a wider basis? Many of their initial hypotheses about these things were wrong,

Tie-up with ‘VOICE’

This was drafted before finding our local partner and identifying the research location, although always with the intention of revision. The initial architecture was internet-centric, and assumed good phone coverage in the local area. Later, it was partnered with a local NGO in the Bangalore area called VOICES, who provide media infrastructure to facilitate communication within local communities.

VOICES runs a community radio station in a village called Budikote, and broadcasts radio programs with pictures to local television sets over a cable network. On first visit to the village we discovered that there is no reliable internet connection from any of the PCs at the ICT Centre where the radio station is based. Mobile phone coverage is patchy in the countryside and happens to be poor in parts of the village in a geographic dip. This led to revise the architecture around a stand-alone repository machine we aim to install in the ICT centre, with a situated touch screen display and Wi-Fi connectivity to nearby phones. They also plan to use the cable network, and a series of self-help groups to distribute content stored on removable media.

Revised Story bank architecture: Another important lesson they learned on-site was about the relative popularity of existing ICT technologies for information sharing. Radio and TV use outweigh PC and mobile use enormously in rural areas, and provide the greatest springboard for any new technology intervention. This has resulted in a shift of emphasis in the project towards the development of short illustrated story formats that could fit into existing programming practices and procedures.

Methodological challenges

In addition to the above technical challenges, we have encountered a variety of methodological challenges in carrying out user-centered design in this context. These are listed below and can be discussed selectively:

  • Language barriers – None of end users speak English so they have employed a native speaking local ethnographer
  • Remote collaboration – Project members are geographically separated and must work with collaboration tools to sustain progress between trips and meetings
  • Cultural differences – Understanding user needs and perspectives is more difficult in a foreign culture where mindsets and values are different
  • Over-positive reactions – Any new technology presented is likely to result in positive reaction by those who have so little support
  • Development versus research – Development goals may conflict with research goals

CRS for less than Rs 1000

Why do you see radio as particularly relevant to the ‘developing’ world? Can you give some examples of its efficacy? Frederick Noronha of Info Change News & Features proposed a CRS for less than one thousand rupees as the base of inexpensive community radio technology.

We are looking at innovative uses of low-powered FM. For one, there’s community radio (where low-powered FM broadcasting is open to non-profit groups). In India we are relying on the fact that 50 mill watt FM transmitters are commonly available in the market; we assume the use of this is legal. So, in 2002-2003, we set up a 50 mill watt transmitter in Oravakal village in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh.

It is possible to set up a simple, low-powered community radio station for under Rs 1,000 (US$ 25). The other application we’ve deployed is simultaneous translation. For example, at the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad in 2003, we did simultaneous translation for more than 8,000 people in three languages — Telugu, Hindi and English.

We put up three low-powered FM radio transmitters in each hall, one for each language, all set to broadcast at different frequencies. Participants were given tiny Chinese-made FM radios with earphones. Each participant tuned the radio to his or her language’s frequency, and then could walk around, even get a cup of coffee, and still keep listening.

Basically, this was simultaneous translation for under US$ 1 per participant. When you are talking about 8,000 participants, you cannot do multiple-language translation in any other way that is affordable. The radio becomes part of the conference kit; it is also a very nice item to carry home.

Low-powered FM radio keeps noise pollution down

Concerts without noise pollution! That’s another application. Our concept for such concerts is distributed sound. Rather than having one large set of speakers, what we do is feed the audio to a low-powered FM transmitter. Then we place radios where the people are sitting.

So, rather than producing sound at one end of the hall and expecting people at the other end to hear it, we produce the sound only where it is actually being consumed. We tried this out at the Banganga festival near Malabar Hill, in Mumbai, which is held in January every year. Incidentally, the organizers were forced to cancel it one year due to the noise pollution.

Earlier, they were consuming something like 2.5 kilowatts of power. Our system used only 30 watts of power. What that reflects is how much, or how little, sound you’re creating. You go 20 meters away, and you can’t hear a thing. Yet, at the venue there’s excellent sound.

No loss of sound quality

The quality of sound is better. When you’re pumping a lot of power into one large speaker it doesn’t behave in a linear fashion. If you have small amounts of power going into a large number of speakers, you get better sound.

Legal issues block such solutions

In India we have the most absurd system of spectrum management. If you go strictly by the letter of the law you need to get clearance from 34 government agencies before putting up a tube light in your house! Anything above 1 mill watt requires a license. There are only two exceptions — certain kinds of cordless telephones and the 2.4 gigahertz Wi-Fi.

The entire approach to the handling of spectrum is a huge millstone around all our development activities because in rural areas you’re not able to take wires to people’s homes. You need wireless. And the government has a complete stranglehold over it. It only very reluctantly gives any new license and this often takes years.

The way forward

The dilemma for the government in handling spectrum is that it basically knows just two ways. One is that you auction out the spectrum. In India, you know what a terrible experience that is. Take the case of FM licensees or basic services. The whole thing is a mess.

The other way is a ‘beauty contest’. You try and identify which are the better applications of technology and allocate spectrum to those. The problem here is that it becomes a total pull-and-push game of vested interests. And you’re expecting the government to play technology god, which is ridiculous in this day and age. The only sensible way to deal with spectrum is ‘open spectrum’. What governments can do is to lay down rules for social behavior — ensuring that you maintain low power levels, that you don’t hog any segment of the spectrum. It’s the basic rules of Wi-Fi. The classical way of dealing with spectrum is based on old technology where they gave you an exclusive slice of the spectrum, and only you could use that spectrum. Modern technology where you have smart radios allows you to share spectrums, like in Wi-Fi. This works spectacularly well

Funding CRS

In December 2002, the government of India approved a policy for the grant of licences for setting up of Community Radio Stations to well established educational institutions including IITs/ IIMs. The matter was re-reconsidered and the government has now decided to broad base the policy by bringing ‘Non-profit’ organizations like civil society and voluntary organizations etc under its ambit in order to allow greater participation by the civil society on issues relating to development and social change.

In view of the revised policy, with the approval of the policy committee, a decision was taken to invite proposals from SAUs for setting up one CRS in SAU-run KVKs located in the premises of SAU for funding under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme “Support to State Extension Programmes for Extension Reforms”

CRS would make a major contribution to agricultural extension by utilizing reach of radio transmitter and disseminating information and knowledge, produced locally and having relevance for a specific area. In order to give further boost to this initiative it is essential to consider funding of private institutions along with government and quasi-government organizations for setting up CRS. Accordingly, the guidelines for funding of private institutions under the scheme “Support to State Extension Programmes for Extension Reforms” have been developed as under.

Basic principles

An organization/ agency/ NGO desirous of operating CRS must be able to satisfy and adhere to the following principles.

  • Hold a valid license issued by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for operating the CRS.
  • The CRS to be operated by it should be designed to serve a specific well defined community.
  • It should have an ownership and management structure that is reflective of the community that the CRS seeks to serve.
  • It must be registered under Societies Registration Act, 1860 or any other such act and recognized by the central/state government and serving for at least three years in agriculture and allied areas.

Eligibility criteria

  • These organizations should primarily be engaged in agricultural and allied activities i.e. horticulture, dairy, fishery, poultry, piggery, etc. having a proven record of at least three years service to the local community.
  • The organizations should have the technical competence to produce and broadcast agricultural programmes. These programmes should preferably be location-specific and in local language/dialect so as to provide extension services that meet the needs of that particular locality and address the specific problems of the farmers of that area.
  • The organizations should have basic infrastructure and facilities in the form of a room of about 400 sq. feet/ electricity/ necessary manpower to run and operate the CRS.

Selection and processing of applications

Applications shall be invited by the state department of agriculture. Suitable proposal/s must be first selected and recommended by ATMA management committee of the district concerned and thereafter by the nodal officer/ commissioner of agriculture of the state concerned and forwarded to DAC for consideration of the competent authority. The governing body of ATMA at the district level and Inter-Departmental Working Group (IDWG) of the state should be apprised of the matter in the subsequent meeting.

Content regulation and monitoring

  • The programmes should be of immediate relevance to the farming community.
  • The programming should reflect the special interest and needs/requirements of the local community.
  • At least 50 per cent of the broadcasting time should be allocated to agriculture and allied sectors.
  • The revenue generated should be ploughed back into content creation and running of the CRS. Programmes should preferably be in the local language and dialect.
  • The programmes for broadcasting should be decided at least one month in advance in consultation preferably with agriculture, allied departments and KVK.
  • Preference should be given for the issues reflected in Strategic Research Extension Plans (SREPs)/ Comprehensive District Agriculture Plans (CDAPs).
  • The SAUs/ organizations/ agencies/ NGOs should preserve all the programmes broadcast by CRS for three months from the date of broadcast and make them available to competent authorities, when asked for.

Funding and sustenance

The funding for setting up CRS would come from ATMA resources and shall be as per the approved SEWP. For seeking fund support under ATMA, the proposal for setting up of CRS be reflected in the Work Plan. For sustenance, the Agency would be required to give an undertaking for continuing the broadcasting of agricultural programs for two years after the discontinuation of funding support from the Ministry of Agriculture, government of India and for further period of two years after renewal of license.

Norms for funding

Table 1.  For Establishment of CRS

Table 2. Proposed cost for running of CRS

In brief

Many other projects not mentioned here have been launched in the past year. The new incarnations with community radio seems to be at a nascent yet promising stage, ripe for proper documentation and development of global tools and processes. For now, integration remains an ad-hoc and highly individual enterprise. As distribution systems of news and information to mobile phones become more common and less expensive, technologies will spread in the developing world. It is important to continue to document and share successes and failures to better enable successful adoption of new incarnations by community radio stations.

REFERENCES

  1. Lambert J. (2003). Digital Storytelling. Capturing lives: Creating communities. Digital Diner Press.
  2. OKN: http://www.openknowledge.net/
  3. Witten, I.H., Loots, M., Trujillo, M.F. and Bainbridge, D. (2001). “The promise of digital libraries in developing countries.” Communications of the ACM, 44(5), pp. 82-85, May
  4. Greenstone: http://www.greenstone.org
  5. Meadows D. (2003). Digital storytelling: Research-based practice in new media. Visual Communication 2 (2):189-193.
  6. BBC Capture Wales http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/capturewales/
  7. Frohlich D.M. (2004). Audio photography: Bringing photos to life with sounds. Springer Verlag.
  8. Voices:http://www.comminit.com/experiences/pdskdv1 22002/experiences-1096.html
  9. Frederick Noronha, Info Change News & Features, February 2002.

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