Learning from the past to move forward

Speaking to the CRFC team following the National Community Radio Sammelan, Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India dwelled on the various opportunities for the Community Radio sector.

What are the takeaways from the fourth National Community Radio Sammelan?

The Fourth National Community Radio Sammelan at Vigyan Bhawan was a different kind of experience – a very important and significant step, where in you had the coming together of the thought leaders and the Community Radio practitioners or people who are operating Community Radio stations. As a result of this coming together, there is a beautiful confluence of ideas, new innovations and an opportunity to take stock of what has happened in the past and how we can move forward.

On the first day, we had a session on the vision of Community Radio in India and what it means to different stakeholders in the sector. It was amazing to see that people actually spoke about the fact that Community Radios in India now have to go to a different level.

I think the first decade of Community Radio was like bringing up a baby. You struggle with the initial teething troubles and now, while into the second phase, we are handling much larger policy issues. The issues concern community engagement and participatory content development on the issues of Community Radio in areas where there are indigenous and tribal communities and problems of Community Radios in cities. These are issues that are now coming out in a very big fashion.

One of the most outstanding things that have happened in this episode of the Sammelan is that we had an opportunity to talk about the role Community Radios have played and can play in disaster management.

It was really heartening and overwhelming to see how some Community Radio Stations have played a very critical role in reaching out to communities, for example, during cyclone Phailin in Orissa and also the floods that happened in Uttarakhand. It was really amazing to see the work these Community Radio Stations did.

We also heard the experts from international agencies and from the National Disaster Management Authority as to how we can all work together to strengthen the capacities of the Community Radio Stations to become instruments, and a very important tool for the entire aspect of disaster management which is before the disaster, during the disaster and after the disaster.

Thus I think the learning’s for the sessions would help us take these ideas to a new vibrant and enabling policy which would definitely pave the way for the growth of the community radio sector in its second phase.

Next year we may have many more Community Radio Station. What do you think is the potential for 4000 to 5000 Community Radio Stations? What could the level of engagement be between the Ministry, the practitioners, and the experts?

I think we are talking about many aspects. What is more important here is to lay emphasis on certain basic fundamental aspects of management of the Community Radio Stations, in a sense that it has more element of peer review, self assessment and learning from its own mistakes. I think that would lay a very solid foundation for a Community Radio Movement to grow to say 6,000 Radio Stations. This would mean one Community Radio Station for every block in the country.

Coming back to the question of what is more important. (It is important that) when we expand, it is not only the numbers that we want but, we also want the sector to look inwards and see what it can learn from the mistakes it has been making in the past and learn from its peers and how it can actually go forward by doing a self assessment.
I would also like to mention that with the government there are many challenges that we have to now look at and those challenges have been raised in the Sammelan by thought leaders and peers – how do we ensure an equal growth of the Community Radio sector in India because at this time you find that it is the southern part of the country which has the largest number of Community Radios whereas there are areas where there are no stations?

So the challenge would be how we really look at the allocation of frequencies so that we have more radio stations coming from areas where there are none.

The second part is also how to see that the radio stations are coming to areas where they are actually needed, like the marginalised areas, areas which are disturbed because of some kind of extremist activity or areas which are very remote or very interior. So, bringing together these areas into the fold of the Community Radio sector will be a very big challenge for us. We will have to make sure that the allocation of frequencies happens in such a way that there is a fairly good representation of the diversity and the complexity of the Indian ethos that we have into the sector.

With this growth how do you see the role of organisations like OneWorld?

I think organisations like OneWorld have to play a very critical role in documenting the growth of the sector, in walking with the Community Radio Stations together on their journey.

We have had a session on the need for archiving and documentation so I think for organisations like OneWorld, there is a beautiful and natural kind of way of transforming all that is happening in this sector into a rich repository of knowledge.

Whenever you grow you need to look back and see what you did in the past and (if) there is something that you need to learn to move forward. So I think you can bring together the ideas of all these people and all the suggestions that have been made and the way that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and One World have documented it together in these beautiful compendiums. I think they would be like a reference book for everybody.

What we plan to do it to send this compendium to all the district collectors, thought leaders and Community Radio Stations and say that this is a compilation of all the inspiring stories (from Inida’s Community Radio Movement).

Supriya Sahu is the Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the Government of India