Community Broadcasting: A way forward in Asia

In an earlier post, I wrote about what I presented to the workshop on community broadcasting and ICTs during Asia Media Summit 2007 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last week.

The workshop on ‘Connecting Communities through Community Broadcasting and ICTs’ gave us a chance to clarify key issues and concerns, and to agree on a common understanding for future action.

On behalf of our workshop, dynamic young Manisha Aryal, broadcast activist from Nepal who currently works for InterNews in Pakistan, presented our recommendations to the Summit plenary.


Here, for the record, are the recommendations. I don’t hold my breath on this, but it’s good to synthesize a long and hard day’s work — over nine hours of talking! — into a few short paras.

Connecting Communities Though Community Radios and ICT

Recognizing the importance of community media in economic, political and social development, in promoting good governance practices, and in empowering marginalized groups and communities in participating fully in society in urban, rural as well as remote areas; and

Understanding the importance of encouraging community media initiatives that are owned and managed by communities and with material produced predominantly by, for and about communities,

We, the participants at the workshop on Connecting Communities through Community Radios and ICTs at Asia Media Summit 2007:
• Advocate for the recognition of community radio and other community media as a distinct tier of legislation and regulation, alongside public service and commercial broadcasting, thus, contributing to the promotion of “air diversity”
• Advocate for the recognition of community media practitioners as valuable, professionally competent resources who can be involved in both peer training and training of other media professionals
• Organize awareness building and sensitization programs on community radio and other ICTs’ potential in development for legislators and community broadcasters
• Invite community media practitioners and include the topic of community broadcasting prominently in regional and global meetings (for example: a plenary session on community media at AMS 2008, World Electronic Media Forum later this year, etc.)
• Organize training and mentoring sessions for Community Broadcasting practitioners with special recognition of the role of younger generations on how community radio can capitalize on the development in the ICT sector, on new ways of addressing financial and organizational sustainability, etc.
• Include Community Media practitioners in the documentation and sharing of local and indigenous knowledge, as well as other discussions on global themes (for example the discussions on GM, MDGs, etc.)
• Look for ways to ground community media initiatives to initiatives in other sectors (health, agriculture, education, etc.)
• Facilitate partnerships between efforts to promote community broadcasting and efforts to promote newer ICTs among communities such as Community Multimedia Centers, etc.
• Recognize community broadcasting stations as an effective entry point to take ICTs to the grassroots both in rural as well as urban settings.
• Document and disseminate best-practices and learnings in community broadcasting

Photo courtesy Manori Wijesekera, TVEAP

Communities are not what they used to be…so let’s get real!

I like busting myths when I see them. That’s probably the result of my training as a journalist to be evidence-based, open-minded and always ask probing questions.

This makes me popular in some circles and very unwelcome in others!

I took a few shots at persistent development myths while speaking last week to a group of Asian broadcasters gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a workshop on ‘Connecting Communities through Community Broadcasting and ICTs’ in the run-up to Asia Media Summit 2007.

I was speaking during a session on ‘ICTs – Bringing Added Value to Community Radio’. ICT stands for information and communication technologies.

The first myth I exposed was what I call the development community’s ‘rural romance’ — almost exclusive obsession with the rural poor to the exclusion of similar, or even more compelling, needs of the urban poor. I have already devoted an entire blog post to this topic, so won’t repeat it here.

The next myth I tackled was the popular notion of ‘communities’.

I told my audience of researchers, activists and broadcasters: Communities are not just rural and unspoilt as some of you might imagine.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from my remarks:

What does ‘community’ meant to many card-carrying members of the development community? For starters:
• To begin with, people must be remote and rural, and in a geographically confined location.
• They are invariably poor, under-developed and living on the edges of survival.
• If they also have unique cultural artefacts or performances, that would offer convenient photographic or videographic opportunities to the development workers travelling from the city bearing gifts.

You get the idea. Now I ask you to get real.

Yes, such idyllic, hapless and romanticised communities probably exist in some endangered form in a few locations. But in most parts of the Real World (at least in Asia), communities -– both urban and rural -– are undergoing rapid transformation:
• People are on the move in search of jobs and opportunities.
• Technologies are on the move — especially mobile phones that no development agency put their money on!
• People are discerning and demanding, not blissfully ignorant or willing to settle for any offering from the outside!

These may seriously shatter some of your visions of an idyllic and ideal community, but these are essentially positive changes.

And communities no longer need to be defined merely by geographic proximity.

Newer ICTs now allow individuals scattered over larger areas to be connected via the airwaves or the web. This enables the creation and sustaining of:
• communities of practice;
• communities of shared interest/need;
• single issue agitation such as rallying around for constitutional reform, or repeal of an unfriendly law; and
• clamouring for political or democratic reforms.

So please move away from your narrow understanding of communities. Members of any of the above kinds of communities can benefit from community broadcasting.

I added that broadcasting itself isn’t what it used to be. The days of centrally manufactured content being imposed upon a hapless audience are now over.

Interactivity and user-generated content are IN.

Pompous, know-all anchors and presenters are OUT.

My plea to all my colleagues was: Things have moved on in the media world. So must we!

Read full text of my remarks to the workshop (cleaned up after delivery)

Read my op ed on Media: Step-child of WSIS? published by OneWorld in Nov 2003