Crucial I&B, UNDP, UNESCO Workshop Gets Underway

05 May 2004

New Delhi, May 5, 2004 : The Government of India is seriously exploring the possibility of creating a new framework for community radio in India that addresses the genuine aspirations of a vast array of socio-cultural communities in India. This was reiterated by senior representatives of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Prasar Bharati, at a workshop, here today. The workshop was organised by the I&B Ministry and supported by the United Nations Development programme and UNESCO. Over 70 high level experts and community radio practitioners from India and abroad are participating in the two-day consultation.

Drawing up the context for the development of the community radio movement in India, the Information and Broadcasting Secretray, Mr. Pawan Chopra said two years ago, the Government decided to start with schools and colleges in order to generate community-oriented radio programmes that could be used for extension work. The Government was now seeking to widen the ambit of participation. "Do we open it to Panchayati Raj Institutions? Where do local groups come in, how do you select them?" Mr Chopra asked.

Mr. Chopra said the demand for community radio must be seen in tandem with the Government's thrust for expansion of the reach and access of electronic media after Independence. The country has moved from six to 200 plus All India Radio stations , 22 private FM stations, 10 Gyanvani radio channels and an explosion in TV networks, Mr. Chopra said. He noted that efforts needed to be made to ensure a sustainability model that would prevent community radio from being captured by commercial interests. "Safeguards need to be provided if we look look at taking the advertising route to sustaining community radio", Mr Chopra said.

Delivering her remarks, The UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Dr. Maxine Olson said UNDP and other UN organizations had supported initiatives that demonstrated the effectiveness of this tool for community mobilization and social change in India and in other countries. She said what set community radio apart from other forms of media was its participatory nature and both its content and technology were people-oriented. She said community radio was ideally suited to respond to the cultural and information needs of remote, illiterate and marginalized communities, under-served by the mainstream media.

"UNDP sees the potential of CR not only among community members, but for capacity building of elected representatives of Panchayati Raj institutions, particularly women", Dr. Olson said.

Mr. Chopra said there were concerns about security and safeguards and there is a need to ensure that a community radio station did not fall in the wrong hands where it can give a fillip to disruptive elements or terrorism. "While we recognize that in a vibrant democracy like India we must make sure there is full participation of different groups in governance of society, in the wrong hands, it can lead to disruptive trends. We need to ensure that things will be done in such a manner that it will enhance the peace and goodwill in society", Mr Chopra observed.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. K S Sarma, CEO, Prasar Bharati said his organisations was all for promoting community radio initiatives since it was impossible for the public broadcaster to reach out to all the groups. "There is a time-constraint, and a constraint of skills also. AIR broadcasts in over 300 languages, but there are still over 1000 dialects crying for attention. This, no public broadcaster can do. Community Radio is most welcome. We believe it supplements what we are trying to do as a public broadcaster", Mr. Sarma said. He said this form of radio was particularly useful for building greater awareness of human rights and human development and to preserve and strengthen cultural and linguistic diversity of the country.

He said Prasar Bharati stood ready to contribute the technical and programme skills, which was the forte of the public broadcaster. He said in Australia over 30 per cent of the station managers manning community radio stations were drawn from the retired personnel of the national broadcaster. Without being overly prescriptive, Mr. Sarma added, the Government feels some broad guidelines are important. Should it focus on issues like governance, health, education, cultural diversity? Also should it address other issues like entertainment ?

Mr U S Bhatia, Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said the workshop would explore the real potential of community radio in the Indian context. "We would like to understand what it can do for us and our democracy. We would like to understand the technical issues, including implications for frequency allocation spectrum use. "We believe in the potential of community radio. The most important issue is its potential for empowerment. In India we attach great importance to this, especially in the context of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments for participative development", Mr. Bhatia said.

The workshop is expected to explore a range of issues to be kept in mind while formulating a comprehensive framework for community radio in India. These include determining the definition and scope of the concept of 'community' for the purpose of community radio. In addition, the workshop will seek to make recommendations on issues of regulation, monitoring, sustainability and the most suited business model for community radio in India.

Addressing the workshop, Mr. W Jayaweera, Director, Communication, UNESCO outlined examples from the global experience of community radio across the world. The key questions on community radio related to defining criteria for obtaining the community mandate, the need for an accountable management and ensuring credibility of broadcasting, Mr Jayaweera said.