Community Radio: Bihar Needs It

Vishal Singh

"Community Radio is a social process or event in which members of the community associate together to design programmes and produce and air them, thus taking on the primary role of actors in their own destiny, whether this be for something as common as mending fences in the neighbourhood, or a community-wide campaign on how to use clean water and keep it clean, or agitation for the election of new leaders. The emphasis is on the ownership of democratic and development efforts by the members of the community themselves and the use of the media, in this case radio, to achieve it. In every sense, this is participatory communication (not programmes made about them by somebody else!). It is above all a process, not a technology, not merely a means, because the people are part of that means, and so are the message and the audience. Community radio is most relevant to a group of people who live and act as a community, and this could be several families, several neighbourhoods, or even several villages or communities, but the important thing is that they interact. " (Carlos A. Arnaldo: Unesco Community Radio Handbook)

Community radio in India:

The airwaves in India so far are under central governments control. The right to manage and regulate airwaves is solely the responsibility of Government of India. The airwaves so far has not been opened to the public. But few developments are worth taking a note;

In 1995, the Supreme Court directed the government to open up broadcasting. In doing so, it gave a rationale for community ownership of the airwaves. ."Use of the airwaves, which is public property, must be regulated for its optimum use for public good for the greatest number.... Broadcasting is a means of communication and, therefore, a medium of speech and statement. Hence in a democratic polity, neither any private individual, institution or organisation nor any Government ... can claim exclusive right over it. Our Constitution also forbids monopoly either in the print, or electronic media...." -- Judges Sawant and Mohan, AIR 1995 Supreme Court 1236

In the year 2000, FM broadcasting was opened up to the private sector for the first time, by charging prohibitively expensive broadcasting fees. In July 2001, India's very first privately owned broadcasting station went on air in Bangalore.

Non-profit and development organisations have been lobbying for more than five years to get permission to broadcast information that could help the "information poor" to get an understanding of issues critical to their lives. Recently, neighbouring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka edged past India by allowing non-profit community radios to be set up. Asian countries like the Philippines have already shown the beneficial impact of such locally-managed, non-profit initiatives taken up by citizens themselves.

Within the Convergence Bill there is an omnibus clause "and such services as may be permitted from time to time." This clause has been put very consciously so that there is an omnibus provision.

Giving his explanation to the commercialisation of FM frequencies, Mr. Jaitley had said, "The whole process of opening out is slowly taking place. For instance, even on FM, there ... We had opened the FM. Prior to that we had strongly argued, I remember in the seventies in the Lakhan Pal case … and the court thought it was treacherous. So twenty years ago a right to set up a radio station by a private party was treacherous. In 1993, eight years ago, telecasting your own cricket match was detrimental to national security. Now thinking has progressed, ... Now these are all questions where the process of opening out has slowly taken place…"

The above stated developments and Mr. Jaitly's remark accentuates the fact that community radio is not a distant dream in India. In fact some of the universities and NGOs have already applied for the license to run low-powered radio stations for educational or developmental processes. Among these are Santiniketan from West Bengal, Jamia Milia University, Voices from Bangalore. The Andhra Pradesh Government has actually started thinking of using the media for education in remote areas.

Community Radio for Bihar

Community radio can be a blessing in disguise for the state like Bihar where the development has taken a back seat due to political apathy and hypocrisy. It can trigger much desired change in the society with its potential to empower people with local, adequate and relevant information necessary to make decisions in day to day life. Information is the key. If people have the right information, they can act prudently, thereby freeing themselves from the practices that bring misfortune to their lives. If a person, especially in a rural community, has the knowledge about the utilities of a bank account or the loan facilities available in the local bank at feasible rates, he would not go to Shahukars (moneylenders) who necessarily exploit him. If members in a specific community know before hand when the ration is to be distributed in a PDS shop, probably they won't be cheated. Actually a community radio can keep track of the ration obtained and distributed by the PDS shops in a Community.

The community radio can prove a boon for the poor and unorganized agricultural sector, the lifeline of Bihari's economy. It can identify the local problems related to the farming and cultivation and can consult experts on them by inviting them to their programmes, who could provide them with solutions. Farmers can be evenly educated about the land and water management, new and better tilling techniques, about the advantages of new seeds and sowing techniques, about government funds and loans available for them and methods in which to procure them. They can be informed about market prices of their produce and sales opportunities available in different markets. Farmers in possession of such information can not only perform better but can also reap sound monetary benefits for themselves.

Community radio programmes are produced by the members themselves which is in local dialect. This gives community radio an edge over the other mediums of communication. A community radio can do good to a community in numerous ways. It can educate people on issues such as benefits of education, child labour, evils of dowry system, benefits of birth control measures and small family, evils of caste system, income and fund management, etc, thereby, not only helping the members of the community to expand there horizon of thinking but also forcing them to think critically over such issues.

Community radio with its abilities can ensure participatory democracy in literal sense. MLAs, MPs, Sarpanch, Mukhiyas and even the District Magistrates can be called on the programmes to answer the queries of the members of the community on developmental issues. This would make them responsible towards their duties, at the same time people would be able to state their needs with thrust before them. The members of the community through such interactions will become more conscious about their rights, which will ensure more participation in the democratic process.

The local dying cultures can be rejuvenated to life with the help of community radio. Local talents would have a chance to perform. Folk songs, legendary tales of the community, local myths can be preserved and which should be preserved for the revival of prestigious Bihari culture.

All these are not a part of a utopian situation. The Mana Radio in Karnool District of Andhra Pradesh is already operational and is working in these directions under legitimate provisions. The argument is that if one community can have "Mana Radio" for self-progress, why can't the communities in Bihar come forward to help themselves, which so far had shied away from the very fact that "self help is the best help". It is the right time to create awareness for community radio in Bihar, so that as and when the airwaves are opened for non-profit organization and public, the opportunity could be grabbed with firm hands. We need to start working in this direction, carry out experimental projects, so that a platform is ready to grab the first opportunity.

The existing network of Local radio stations of All India Radio is being used in the absence of any other alternatives for social development communication by the NGOs in different parts of the country. The KMVS project in Bhuj, The NFI supported project in Daltongunj are two such examples. These are projects where time slots have been bought by the NGO at commercial terms from AIR for community participatory programmes made in collaboration with a communication activist group. The communities in Bihar can also move on similar lines and ensure themselves community radios for betterment.