Community radio matters

Community radio stations have a great a role in enhancing development and democracy at community and national level.

Radio informs and transforms societies. It brings together people and communities from different backgrounds to foster positive dialogue for change.

It is the perfect medium to counter the appeals for violence and the spread of conflict.

Michael Tadaro sees development as a multi-dimensional process that involves changes in attitudes, structures and institutions as well as accelerating the eradication of absolute poverty, inequality and employment. Simply put, development is an improved quality of life.

Malawi has over 50 community radio stations for different audiences.

In the country, radio remains the cheapest and most widespread medium, with the ability to reach remote and rural areas in indigenous languages.

But community radio stations face financial and social challenges.

The stations lack financial sustainability because they target low-income groups. As a result, they do not attract big advertising. Only few community radio stations in the country get the financial support of government institutions,  non-governmental organisations, international agencies and the private sector.

Despite these challenges, the stations are harnessing the concept of radio listening clubs to enhance participation of all community members in identifying challenges and solutions in their area of coverage.

The clubs produce programmes for national broadcasts whose audiences continue to generate development dialogues involving the communities and duty-bearers. Again, the concept allows democratically elected committee members and volunteers to run the club based on democratic principles.

A well-informed media sector can provide a platform for policy change through investigative broadcast journalism on the role of district council officials responsible for health, agriculture, fisheries, education, energy and mining and natural resources.

It can also keep an eye on Parliament, health policies, civil society advocacy agendas and gender issues.

It is important that community radios should also analyse budget documents in local languages in their broadcasts

Translating or broadcasting policies in local languages could attracts public attention towards Parliament debate over their development needs. Across Africa, community radio stations have been historically mandated to empower and educate the community, but State policies provide little or no guidance on the practical techniques for accomplishing this.

Imagine Malawi without radio. Many people would be waking up and getting back to bed without knowing what is happening in their own country.

The power of community radio stations remains clear: It provides local communities with a voice in their own language and to present alternative voice in an increasingly centralised and tightly controlled media ownership landscape.

Many thanks to Italian thinker Guglielmo Marconi for discovering the feasibility of radio communication in 1895.

Community radio station is more process-oriented than product-oriented. Its primary goal is to encourage ordinary people to become media producers and not just consumers. This is part of efforts to demystify media, particularly to large sectors of the population who did not previously have access to State-owned media.

In his address to Africa from Ghana in July 2009, former US president Barrack Obama emphasised that an independent press is part of capable, reliable and transparent institutions that will lead the continent to success in the 21st century.

The 16th US president said: “Yes we can, but if we can tame the enemy within. Fixing the reality that is for free “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.”

This is where community broadcasting comes handy in developing countries where major stations broadcast from urban settings and urban perspectives, living rural communities behind. n

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