Author: V.K Dadhich
“Community radio has potential and can be used as a platform to enable participation of communities”
It was in 1995 when SC gave a landmark judgement stating that “airwaves constitute public property and must be utilized in advancing public good”. The community radio guidelines were released in 2003-04, and educational institutions applied for the same. But, many applications are stuck in the processing stages. Over that, till date, the naxal hit areas and the border areas have little or no community radio presence.
Community radios act as a viable and trustworthy alternative to mainstream media (in terms of news and entertainment) and it can be used as a platform to enable participation of communities (of interest defined by geographical boundaries). It can be seen as a channel to document and keep languages and cultures alive on a daily basis, and can be employed as a means to promote values of access to education, economic and social justice, against class, gender, race, caste based violence, and transparency in governance.
In terms of development, it can help the masses with respect to health, literacy, and income. It can provide access to useful, localized, contextual information, could be a source of job opportunities and enhance skill and capacity building.
One of the foremost hurdles to CR programme is that communications (including community radio) is centrally governed as per the Union list of the constitution. Next, due to necessary measures by different ministries, the current licensing mechanism is lengthy and bureaucratic. At any time, at least 3 ministries’ approval is required (Ministry of Information and broadcasting, Ministry of Communications and IT, Home Ministry, Ministry of defense, Ministry of Law, etc). Equally, prohibition of news and current affairs broadcasts limits the value of CR.
Under the rules of channel spacing in India, there should be a space of 800KHz — which means if a radio is allocated a frequency of 90.4MHz, then the next available frequency is 91.2MHz. This limits the FM band (99-108 MHz). Studies have shown that a space of 200KHz is appropriate enough. We also need to work on formal CR guidelines. For instance, a frequency allocated means that the particular frequency is not to be used by any other organization within a particular radius.
In such an allocation, the radius varies for a town, city, and a village and thee variations are not based on a sound logic. Efforts should be made to synchronize this process (among others) so that the FM spectrum could be utilized effectively.
Despite the call by government in 2011 to erect telecom towers in naxal hit areas under the pretext that “the single biggest problem in all these districts is connectivity”, many CR applications from such areas are rejected citing security concerns. Such applications should not be rejected by default simply because they come from the naxal hit areas. Their merits should be gauged on a case-by-case basis, and steps should be taken to ensure that quality CR programmes are given opportunities to go live on air. This way, the tribals and the villagers will have access to information, and the stations can be used to make them aware of the schemes and policies of the government.
Many countries reserve part of spectrum for community radio (Columbia, S. Africa, Uruguay, etc.) but in India such reservations are informal in nature. We should provide for a formal reservation in the spectrum for the CR programmes, which will in turn encourage the NGOs and other groups to apply for the stations.
Similarly, it is advisable to constitute a regulator (like TRAI) to look into the entire process of accepting applications, allocating frequencies, etc. Such a regulator can co-ordinate with various ministries effectively and ensure the speedy disposal of the application. Another reform which can be initiated is that the CR system be decentralized. The basic reason is that CR is highly localized and the states will be in a better position to understand the significance of the applications. In Germany, each state/province has the authority to allocate licenses for broadcasting in its jurisdiction. We need to adopt such measures to ensure that CR systems be made available in remotest areas via appropriate funding schemes and support schemes. Above all, it is the political will (which was missing till date) which will help augment the importance of CR in social and economic development.
Some notable community radio systems are:
1. Kunjal Panje Kutch Ji: It relates to the concerns, aspirations of women in areas of Bhuj, Kutch etc. It broadcasts in Kutchi language (a dialect of gujarati).
2. Namma Dhwani: This CR runs in Kolar district of Karnataka, and focus on providing useful information to illiterate women in these areas and has been helping SHGs.
3. Kelu Sakhi: Based in Karnataka, this CR broadcasts information related to the women’s education, health, political institutions, and capacity building in rural areas. It is run by 2 organizations namely “IT for Change” and “Mahila Samkhya Karnataka”.
(Courtesy: Kurukshetra, UNCA)