Community-owned Radio in name alone?

Over a decade of a Community Radio Policy, there is a realisation of the need to focus on community ownership of Community Radio Stations.

The guidelines for Community Radios (CR) in India were first implemented in 2006 when the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting made room for NGOs, educational institutions and agricultural institutions to own and operate Community Radio Stations.  Since then, there has been a growing debate on the process and legality of handing over the Community Radio Station to the community they engage with.

Community Media and Radio practitioners and experts are of the opinion that effective ownership of the station by the community is more important than legal ownership. Stalin K, President of the Community Radio Forum believes that legal transfer of license is impossible as it calls for a policy reform.

The stress is on the need to focus on community ownership. “The definition for community-based work and community-led work differ for educational Institutions and for NGO’s which makes the transition difficult,” he avers. “Even if there is a legal provision to transfer the license it is unlikely that a station can decide who they want to transfer it to.”

“In the meantime what can be done with stations that are effectively led and managed by the community is to make a contract with the parent organisation that states that the station is led by the community,” Stalin says, adding that “The contract can involve all the financial, administrative and other aspects as well.”

There are a few examples of Community Radio Stations that have initiated the process of handing over the station to the community, like with Radio Kotagiri which was run by the Keystone Foundation.  Amongst other examples of similar stations are Chanderi Ki Awaz and Lalit Lokwani.

Jayalakshmi Chittoor, an independent Community Media Expert says that the ownership is not only from a legal point of view but also encompasses the entire affairs of the Community Radio Station, including operations and management of the Community Radio Stations.

Chittoor also raised the issue of the importance of handing over the station if the community was ready to run it. “There are diverse experiences on the ground – there are some stations that are old and not ready yet whereas there are stations that are just a year old and are already in a position to take over but are there any CR stations that are ready to hand over,” she said.

Chittoor also said that in terms of handing over the station it would only be effective and meaningful if the handover was done without any legal preconditions and that would be an ideal situation.