Role of Community Radio: Path Towards Gender Concerns

Debastuti Dasgupta*
Dr. Tanushri Mukherjee**

Abstract

Since the last quarter of the last century, South Asia has become the hub of media activity. In the age of competitive, profit making, sender dominated media environment, community media, as a platform for “alternative” voices, plays a major role in the South Asian region. Community media, especially community radio, stands for the voiceless and powerless sections of the society. It upholds the basic need for freedom of expression and allows people to share their opinions freely. It also acts as a catalyst towards making people aware in specific areas, by expanding their outlook. In India’s public debate and discourse, gender equality always heads the list. Despite several women movements organised since Independence, in India discrimination of women in healthcare and nutrition, access to information, female infanticide still prevails. Globally, women are still the most disadvantaged in terms of access to media also. As a consequence, media contents too lack women’s perspective. In this regard, community radio as a weapon of the powerless provides a platform to the so called “second sex” by giving them voice. This paper tries to explore the role of community radio in trying to solve gender issues by giving them a platform for equal participation despite several restrictions and limitations.

South Asia, a hub of media activity,is a region comprising eight different nations including the largest democracy of the world (India). The prime requisite in the region is to build a free and fair media environment which will ensure absolute neutrality in every sense of the term. With the competitive, sender dominated, mainstream media, alternative media, upholding the ‘voices’ of the masses is also on the rise in this varied part of the world. In opposition to existing one- way communication, alternative media tries to build scope for more feedback oriented, participatory media setting.The notion of government owned monopolistic media is repeatedly being challenged over the last few years by the rise of an alternative media which seeks to confront the existing power and tries store present marginalized groups of the society. Community radio is a genre of this community-oriented alternative media which aims to facilitate more people centred development and work as a means for empowerment at the grassroots. It is generally defined as having three major aspects:  focus on non-profit making, community ownership and control, and community participation.

In India’s public discourse gender equality fora long time has become a major concern. Despite several laws framed and implemented on women issues since Independence, the status of women remains almost unchanged in regard to access to information, education, healthcare,job opportunities etc. Globally, too, women are considered as the most disadvantaged in terms of access to media. As a consequence, media contents too lack women’s perspective. In this scenario, community radio is providing a platform for the women, by the women and of the women.

Need for community radio as opposed to public service broadcast

In a vast region like South Asia, diversity is an important characteristic. The local languages, culture and customs vary from country to country and even from place to place within the country. Herein lies the need for community radio. Where the public broadcaster and FM channels fail to reach the remotest corners due to lack of information in the local dialect and dearth of proper understanding of the peculiar needs of the place, community radio reaches each household, helps localities to articulate and voice their opinions through well designed programmes.

The last two decades have seen rapid expansion of community radio stations worldwide. Amongst the reasons are: democratisation and decentralisation in many parts of the world, deregulation of the media and breaking the broadcasting monopolies of the state. Furthermore, awareness is growing of social and economic benefitsthat can result when ordinary people have access to proper information. It is also evident that when people can directly participate in the communication process and in consensus building about issues that can affect their lives, it helps them to cast off their traditional apathy and stimulates them to mobilize and organise themselves. (Colin Fraser, 2001)

The prime need of the community is to set up its own radio station just to have a sense of internal cohesion and community consciousness. According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” which is completely in accordance with the philosophy of community radio.

Objective

The objective of the study is to:

  • To explore the scope of community radio in showcasing women-centric issues in India
  • To analyse how successful community radio has been in providing platform for women to voice their opinion and needs.

Review of literature

The very meaning of the term community radio justifies its functions. It is called popular radio in Latin America, rural or local radio in Africa, public radio in Australia, and free radio in Europe. All these terms reflect one major characteristic of community radio which is giving voice to the silence masses, a medium which gives an opportunity to the weak and marginalized sections of the society to express their views and to highlight their important issues. Several studies have been done to show that community radio has been the most important development medium for the emancipation of women in all aspects, whether it is their employment opportunity or raising their voice and expressing their opinion regarding various prominent gender-based issues or participating in various community initiatives.

Daniela Bandelli in “Indian Women in Community Radio: The Case Studies of Radio Namaskar in Orissa and Radio Dhadkan in Madhya Pradesh”, says that community radio stations being run by local people and with programmes that are local centric, serves as the strongest platform for local rural women who find it as the best place to express their views and opinions and present their problems and issues. The author through certain case studies of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa tried to point out that in spite of so many domestic problems of family and in-laws, how women have been able to come forward and show their presence through the medium of community radio.

Norman and Belan talk about the Pondicherry University which started its community outreach programmes through its community radio service programme named “Puduvai Vani”. The radio broadcast through its various training programmes, especially for women and children, has been greatly instrumental in empowering women and enhancing their skills and simultaneously boosting their economic status.

Another major observation on the contribution of community radio towards addressing women issues and how it has emerged as a strong platform for generating employment for rural women has been written by Anjali Singh titled, “Women’s Feature Service”. The writer has drawn attention towards the fact as to how community radio has acted as a very strong and influential platform in dealing with some of the very crucial issues like childcare, child mortality and motherhood and at the same time it has also served the purpose of generating employment for those women who have always led a life of oppression and domination being confined within the four walls of their homes.This writer has stressed on the fact that the radio has made many Indian women broadcasters a star and rather a role model by portraying today’s woman who is far stronger, determined and self-independent.

According to Gaur Suchi (2014), a development communication practitioner, India which has always been known as a patriarchal society has witnessed a major change in the direction of uplift, empowerment and liberation of women in the form of community radio which has enabled women to control their lives in their own desired manner. The writer has commented that the true development and sustainable poverty reduction are possible only when women issues and concerns and their rights are given due importance and community radio has acted as a boon in this direction.

Yalal, N.(2015) has written about the origin of community radio, the government’s policy towards community radio and its ownership pattern and its programmes and content. He has cited the example of Namma Dhwani (Our Voice), India’s first cable community radio station of Karnataka in 2003. The author reveals that such initiatives encourage the participation of women in programme making and at the same time it has created mass awareness and knowledge amongst women about certain issues like health, sanitation, education, food habits and this new trend has been highly successful in bringing a major transformation in the lives of ordinary women.

Another major study on some historic case studies dealing with the role of community radio in rural development is of Saad Khan (2012). The research scholar described some major cases which reflected the significance of community radio in many aspects. The writer has cited the case of “Kunjal Panchhi Kutch Ji”, a community radio station which is completely administered by Kach Women Development Corporation. The study revealed how this community radio station and its programmes have become very popular amongst rural women chiefly because of the issues which it addresses which are mainly women centric as well as the fact that the programmes deal  with the problems and solutions to various women issues as well. This way it serves the purpose of functioning as a major and a highly popular medium of showcasing and critically discussing some of the very prominent women issues.

Bhanu Priya Vyas (2015) has made another major observation on the immense contribution of the radio in transforming the lives of the helpless and weaker sections of women in the society. She describes the story of four women who used community radio to bring changes in rural India. She stresses on the personal stories of these women and how their persistent and sincere efforts have made them the voice of the poor, illiterate and helpless sections of the society and how they have been successful in addressing some of the very important gender based issues like women health and education through their medium of community radio in some of the very remote areas of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

The field of study is filled with many researches, observations and case studies which amply demonstrate the indispensable contribution of community radio in acting as one of the strongest mediums being widely used by the weak and oppressed rural women to showcase and discuss some of the very fundamental women issues and problems, thus challenging as well as transforming the patriarchal pattern of society in a very strong way.

Gender issues

To get a clear concept on what is gender issue we have to first distinguish between sex and gender. Sex is a biological categorization based on reproductive potential where gender is the social construction by means of which society accomplishes differentiation. Gender has become a major area of research. Discrimination in regard to gender has always been considered as the most important concern of the Indian society. Subjugation of women in a patriarchal society has relegated women to a secondary status. Despitea number of women movements and feminist activism, the status of women remains challenging in every sphere of the society. Community radio, as a major voice of alternative media, tries to some extent to uphold women issues by not only making them mere receivers of the women centric programmes but also bringing them outof their pitiful conditions and make them active participantsin content generation and content sharing of the programmes. It also showcases hidden talents of women and ultimately brings them out of their continuous apathy.

Background of community radio in India

In India, radio still remains the most important means of media communication in major parts of the country. Apart from All India Radio, the public service broadcaster, there are FM radio stations which provide entertainment to the urban youths. While in the Indian radio scenario, there is coexistence of both the public service broadcaster and the highly commercialised channels, a section of the Indian population demands more democratised, independent community based media of which they can be a part of.

Broadcasting laws in India did not permit community radio stations, as conceptualised by media advocacy groups, until 2006. Radio broadcasting shifted from government monopoly to highly commercialised broadcasting after the ministry of information and broadcasting announced the Phase I of auctioning of licenses to set up 140 private radio stations in 40 cities in November 1999. In February 1995, the Supreme Court of India had delivered a historic judgement announcing “airwaves are public property” which opened up the scope for starting community based radio stations.

In 1996, after long years of struggle for independent radio stations, the Bangalore-based communication group VOICES convened a gathering of radio broadcasters, media activists to study the relevance of community radio in India. This is how community radio began in the country.

In 2000, a UNESCO sponsored workshop was organised in Hyderabad to urge the government to rid radio broadcast of state monopoly and to make space available not only to private players but also to communities. The spirited campaigning for communities’ right to access airwaves by organisations and individuals resulted in the ministry of information and broadcasting organising a workshop supported by UNDP and UNESCO to design “Enabling Framework for Community Radio in India” in May 2004. In July 2004, the ministry prepared a draft policy based on the framework of May 2004. Subsequently, community radio groups launched online petitions urging the inclusion of the right of communities within the community radio policy. In October 2005, the draft policy was referred to a group to ministers which took about a year to give its nod. In 2006, the policy was finally cleared by the union cabinet, marking a much delayed but well deserved victory for community radio enthusiasts and of course for all communities of India.

On the basis of the new policy about 4000 community radio licenses are on offer across India. By 30th November 2008, the ministry of information and broadcasting received 297 applications for community radio licenses, including 141 from NGO’s 105 from educational institutes and 51 from farm radio stations. A Community Radio Association was formed after the first conference of CR stations in 2011 in Delhi. Fifty eight stations expressed their interest in April 2011 for the formation of an association, wherein people working on the ground can represent their communities and bring tp the fore the voice of the voiceless.

Under the 2006 community radio policy, any not-for-profit ‘legal entity’ can apply for license. Funding from the government of India is not available for such stations, and there are stringent restrictions on fundraising from other sources. License conditions implicitly favour well-funded stations as against inexpensive low power operations. The community radio license entitles a 100 watt (ERP) transmitter, with a coverage area of approximately 12 kilometers radius. A maximum antenna height of 30 meters is allowed. Community radio stations are expected to produce at least 50 per cent of their programmes locally, as far as possible in the local language or dialect. The stress is on developmental programming, though there is no explicit ban on entertainment. News programmes are banned on community radio in India.

Research methodology

This study employs case study method for various community radio stations in India to develop a deeper understanding about the positive role of community radio in highlighting women issues.Along with the case study method, secondary data has also been used to get an insight into the role community radio has been playing in gender issues for the last few years.

Case studies focusing on gender concerns and women empowerment

Zaheerabad

The Zaheerabad area in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh is a semi-arid tract with limited job opportunities. Dalit women are among the poorest in the region, mainly working as agricultural labourer. The Deccan Development Society works here with 100 Dalit women mainly trained to operate community audio visual programming.

The Deccan Development Society (DDS) of Hyderabad is a grassroots organization working with Sangams (village level groups) of poor women, most of whom are Dalits. UNESCO has recognized the services rendered by the DDS in the region with regard to empowerment and education of the poorest of the poor among women and facilitated funding for establishing a radio station in Machnoor village. The DDS aiming to establish a community radio is perfectly in accordance with the global recognition of the need to democratize the communication media. The station is managed by Algole Narsamma and ‘General’ Narsamma, two Dalit women who are alumni of The Green School of the Deccan Development Society (DDS). The Community Media Trust, a part of. DDS, has 5,000 women members, mostly Dalits organised into Sanghams or voluntary village-level associations. Ten girls from The Green School have been commissioned to gather information for the radio from village members in neighbouring Mandals (village blocks).

All efforts of the Deccan Development Society (DDS) are focused on ensuring women’s say over their own lives and issues. It is a radio that is intended to give a voice to the “excluded” in general and to women in particular. It is a radio that would help marginalized women to articulate their issues and create horizontal communication among themselves as well as take these issues to the outside world, to make every member of the community participate in the programme at least twice a year. Sangham Radio focuses on issues such as women health, and media. It also focuses on culture, language and local traditions in food, farming, health and ecology. (Chandrasekhar, 2010)

Holy Cross Community Radio

Holy Cross Community Radio was launched on 26th December 2006 as a new initiative of Holy Cross College, Trichy. In its initial phase, the Holy Cross Community Radio was available on 90.4 MHz frequency and the channel had eight hours of transmission (including repeat transmissions) a day. It reached an area around ten kilometers from Holy Cross College. The target audience of this radio were the women from Dharmanathapuram and Jeevanagar areas, which are the major slum areas in Trichy.

One of its favourite programmes ‘Pudhiya Jananam’ was started on the 19th June 2007. Pudhiya Jananam, meaning new birth, buttresses community awareness through interactive programmes on women health, hygiene and other matters of daily importance. Pudhiya Jananam, also called as ‘Science for Women’s Health and Nutrition’, is supported by the Rashtriya Vigyan Evam Prodyogi ki Sanchar Parishad (RVPSP), Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and implemented by Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA).

Radio Namaskar: (Orissa)

Radio Namaskar, the only community radio of Orissa (India) established at KONARK (internationally renowned tourist place of the Sun Temple) to make the common people as well as women informative and active participantsin the community development process. The most important programmes of this station highlight the pressing issues of the country. Some of the popular programmes are based on local governance, food security and women safety and security. It also harps on women education and enlightenment. (radionamaskar.org/)

Kunjal Panchhi Kutch Ji

This community radio station isadministered by Kach Women Development Corporation and is immensely popularamong the rural womenfolk.This corporation is working in this area for the past twodecades.This radio station mostly focuses on the issues relating to women and tries tofind a solution to current problems and issues. The topicsare mostlyabout issues like female foeticide, dowry and female education.

Chala Ho Gaon Mein

The importance of this community radiolies in the fact that the programs broadcasted are prepared by the people from the rural background. The programs basically cover issues like dowry, violence against women, corruption,social evils etc.Needless to say that ‘Chalo Ho Gaon Me’ has really proved to be a landmark in providing common platform to the residents of Palamu district of Jharkhand from where they can communicate their thoughts without any restriction.

West Bengal

In West Bengal, the community radio at Jadavpur University and SRFTI are the two important community radio stations. Radio JU, the community radio station of Jadavpur University, started its journey as a part of its Technical Education Quality Improvement Program on 14 April 2008. It collaborates with the School of Media, Communication & Culture of Jadavpur University. It is a pioneering project in eastern India. Radio JU can be heard on 90.8MHz within the radius of 10km from the main campus of JU. Its aim is to promote community interaction and dissemination of all kinds of information and knowledge. It also provides a unique platform for students, teachers and the local people to present their talents, as well as their views on different issues before the community. The programmes are planned not only keeping in mind the priorities of the campus life but also of the greater community beyond the campus. The principal objective of Radio JU is the empowerment of the less privileged sections of the community by informing and entertaining them. Alochona, Health Care, Gender Bytes are some of the popular programs of the station. Gender Bytes mainly focuses on discrimination between male and female and various other social issues. It also provides a platform for the underprivileged women of that particular area to raise their voices against daily oppression and injustice that they face. In collaboration with UNICEF, JU Radio station had launched a project to focus on women’s health and nutrition in the slum areas.

Conclusion

Freedom of expression and equitable access to communication media are seriously threatened in the 21st century not only by excessive usage of state power but also by unhindered growth of media organisations into large conglomerates. The 1990s in India were marked by gradual easing of state monopoly over the electronic media. The consequence of globalisation of media is immense on the market, state and the civil society. Media globalisation in India is a threat to diversity of opinion. In this scenario, the question which arises is whether community radio which is neither completely state-owned nor fully dependent on autonomous processes manages to safeguard the basic fundamental rights of speech and expression enshrined in the Indian Constitution in regard to women issues.

It can be said that although in many cases freedom of speech and expression are challenged, simultaneously the global media juggernaut has been facing stiff resistance all over the world from citizen groups, media activists and community organisations. Feminist activists have argued that conventional ideology of men superiority and control of productive resources by men has affected women’s opportunities for better life. Gender is a significant dimension in community radio initiatives that are seeking to deploy communication technologies for social change in general and development of women in particular.

Although community radio broadcasters are very enthusiastic about their role on social network, different survey results sometimes show a completely different result. It is also revealed that many people are still unaware of the term ‘community radio’. Funding is also a major issue for community radio.Community radio is a process and cannot exist in isolation.  It is not simply about producing programs but it also requires more active participation of women in both content generation and sharing. There is still a lot of scope for establishing more community radio stations which will solely focus on some of the core problems of women faced in everyday life.Despite the huge gap that exists between policy and ground level realities in terms of providing platform for women, it can be predicted that more gender issues will be highlighted by community radio stations in India in the future. It appears to be a question of time.

Works Cited

  • Bandhopadhyay, B. (2004). Community Radio in India: Step by Step. A Resource Guide for Community Radio. New Delhi: UNDP.
  • Chandrasekhar, P. (2010). A study of Community Radio in Andhra Pradesh. Global Media Journal .
  • Colin Fraser, S. R. (2001). Community Radio Handbook. UNESCO.
  • Crisell, A. (1986). Understanding Radio. New York: Roultedge.
  • Khan, S. U. (2010). Role of community radio in rural development. Global Media Journal .
  • Sudhamshu Dahal, I. A. (2011). Crafting a community radio ‘friendly’ broadcast policy in Nepal. Retrieved November 2nd, 2014, from Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/1142755/Crafting_a_community_radio_friendly_broadcast_policy_in_Nepal

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