Idealism And Community Radio: Why We Need More Of Both

by | Jan 12, 2018

We tend to view the world like we are computers, as if we live and exist and can choose only in binaries: 0 or 1. As if we can be spiritual or non-spiritual, male or female, good or bad, traditional or modern, fun or boring, development activists or corporate beasts. Communication, in my view, is about deeply examining and experiencing this wide variety of possibilities that exist beyond the binary. It is complex but so is life. Human life, at least in narrative form, is not numbers and statistics that can exist only in parochial framework. Community radio is a platform that seeks to break the disproportionate stories that seem to become the headlines.

Community radio is a compromise between the two popularly known radio institutions that you and I essentially know. It is struggling to find an identity between binaries of capitalistic mainstream broadcasting networks and ho-hum government monopolized AIRs. It is a struggle that all of us can relate to. If I were to give to a popular culture analogy, I would compare it to Humans of New York or Humans of Bombay. We are prolifically gathering the narratives of marginalized communities and all that is associated with their culture. The compromise of community radio is to give a platform to local voice as well as to further promote its understanding.

I get this because I have forayed into social sector and now everything confuses me. Humans are difficult. Development is not easily definable because it is abstract and is too multifaceted to fit into small essays that we wrote in the word limits in our school days.

What Forms A Community Radio? Community radio structurally only requires a transmitter, an antenna, some audio equipments to mix, and control the volume, microphones, recorders and a lot of community engagement. Engagement is about talking, immersing, creating a dialogue, ideating and then finally processing all this into scripts and an audio output. Like our country, community radio is a democratic institution both by norms and in practice. 50% of the content has to be produced in collaboration with the community.

How Is Community Radio Like Facebook? Let’s look at Facebook’s mission statement: “Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.”

If the 179 community radios across India had a vision statement, it would look SOMEWHAT like this. “Since 1995, community radio’s mission is to sustain a platform for a community to connect, share, discover and express what matters to them.”

Living and belonging in a community gives you milestones that you achieve throughout your lifetime. In our textbooks, when we were introduced to the idea and models of globalization, such big ideas were touted as paragons and key to the future. A future that will supposedly bring the world together and create harmony. What it is revealing is the fractures a community endures when a monopolizing language and culture domination come together. Here, I am referring to Bollywood and Hindi. Cultural disillusionment with the traditions, and inability to keep up with the seemingly ideal approach creates generational differences in both perspective and aspirations of the communities. It raises existential questions whether we are a diversity or similarity or a diplomatic mixture of both.

In my humble opinion, community radios are much like the following movements:

Idealistic: Born of an idealistic idea that was supported by the Supreme Court judgement that Airwaves are public property and should be used for development. What it wants to be – inclusive, diverse and promoter of the rights of a marginalized individual.

Feministic: As a movement, feminism is much abused by the critics. Community radio, as a mode of broadcasting, is much ignored by the government. It shares a similar line of thought that gives a voice to the majority being underrated and unheard of, in most circumstances.

Existential crisis: It is a transformative medium that is under-utilized by all of its stakeholders: Non-Government Organisations, Government, Communities and Individuals. By now, those who know of it, understand that it’s a communication platform.

Ideally, community radios are trying to create an identity for a community by giving them their own platform to express their culture, language, traditions, history, and mythology. Based on the principle of access, participation, and representation, community radio wants to give voices and bring an inclusive, equality-infused and diverse environment in our rural areas. It brings an all-important question to the practitioners of community radio. What does the community want? What matters to the community? It is easy to be an outsider and give intellectual answers in most cases, herein it is all the more diverse. It is difficult to solidly identify a community. People can identify their individual needs and wants, but to speak for everyone is hard. It is easier to agree on a general outline. For example, it is easy for me to say that my community radio works for Avadhi-speaking community but the reality would be that communities are not homogeneous or static.

Every platform creates its own ethos and jargon. With community radio, their domain is large as it has to create content that is “Immediately Relevant To The Community“. It has found itself in development caveat where every program has to be essential to the community which makes it sound like our value education stories with morals at the core. If Waqt Ki Awaaz, the community radio i work with for 6 months now in Kanpur Dehat, catered only to demands of the listeners, we would be playing the local folk songs and jokes all day long.

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