Community Radio in Bangladesh
Lucio N Tabing
The community radio movement in Bangladesh has started on the right foot
though it may find itself balancing on a narrow plank.
The Bangladesh Ministry of Information, in collaboration with various
stakeholders, has put together a set of guidelines called "community radio
installation, broadcast and operation policy." The paper encompasses
definition, fundamental principles, eligibility of applicants, technical
structure, licensing process and fees as well as technical structure and
other terms and conditions.
Indeed the framers of the policies should be applauded for the painstaking
job and the pretty comprehensive document they have produced. With community
radio virtually unknown in the country, the authors drew insights from
experiences of foreign countries and the ever growing community radio
movements across the globe. A few relevant points are brought up for
consideration in this article.
Crusaders in many developing countries have not been as fortunate to have
the support of their governments. Bangladesh authority has decided to try
the novel system in selected rural areas as it is now poised to issue dozens
Community radio in Asia is new and rare. In developing regions such as in
South America and Africa as well as in developed countries of North America,
Europe and Australia, tens of thousands of community radios are mushrooming.
In the Asian region, where two out of every three people on the planet live,
there are only over 250 or so genuine community radio stations.
Many Asian media and broadcast systems have been in the grip of governments
that are autocracies. Where the system is open to private entrepreneurs, the
commercial media dominate. It can be said that Asia's media system in
general is largely driven by one or two or three motives of 5Ps -- profit,
politics, propaganda, privilege and power. Service to the society is only a
pretext for gaining a foothold. It is due to these grim realities that the
growth of community broadcasting in Asia has been relatively slow.
Four years ago, India was preparing to set up thousands of community radios.
What has materialized there so far are campus radio stations that are run
under the auspices of universities. Nepal has reported over a hundred
existing stations. Philippines has over four dozens. Indonesia has hundreds
of local private stations and Thailand counts several hundreds too - some
are either private, government or community audio towers. Though not in
terms of number but perhaps of quality, Sri Lanka which started pioneering
experiments on community involvement in radio may have the most
people-driven low-power facilities.
We can now expect that in this second decade of the 21st century, there will
be a burgeoning of community radio in the region specially in South Asia.
Interesting to watch will be the Indian and Bangladeshi governments giving
formal assent and support to the new broadcast sector.
Bangladesh is now ready to grant licenses to applicants for community
radios. A number of preparatory seminars have been conducted in preparation
for CR operation. We were pleasantly surprised to know that in 2008, Radio
Veritas Asia in Dhaka organized a training in Khulna on community radio.
Certainly a series of intensive trainings and workshops on CR operation have
to be conducted for the prospective licensees, trainers, policy makers and
advocates. Organizing and training the local level participants is a huge
task that must be undertaken seriously. Among the many topics that stand as
priorities are station management, participatory program production,
technical operation, pertinent media laws, code of conduct, conflict
management, handling sensitive issues, sustainability schemes and
integrating new media with C.R. Training of trainers on the subject matter
should be organized at the national and regional levels. It takes just a few
hundred thousand takas and one or two days to install the equipment. The
heavier investment should be on the preparation of people who will work
around the facility. Bangladesh government must also review the terms and
policies that it has devised in order that community radio will move towards
it's avowed direction - development, empowerment, education and social
Firstly, the license fee of Taka 20,000 and the bond requirement of Taka
100,000 are onerous for small communities. Coupled with this is the
provision that "Government reserves the right to revoke the license at
anytime in public interest in case of violation of the terms and conditions
provided." These provisions unnerve a community which has inadequate means.
Other guidelines too appear restrictive and intimidating. For instance, an
"advisory committee" composed largely of representatives from government
functionaries and police will be formed to "monitor the operation of
community radio." Such a committee may seem unnecessary. It gives an
opportunity for the government functionaries to encroach on the programming
and editorial matters of the stations.
To enable the broadcast media to function as a genuine exponent of
democracy, the radio should be in the hands of the community members. It
must be free from coercion, intimidation and threats from any quarter
whether from government, politics, commerce, rebels or religious
fundamentalists. Community radio's real master is the community. It should
be answerable only to the society and the country within the framework of
the laws that govern the land.
While it could be argued that there might be overriding or impending
situations of rebellion and terrorism, the inclusion of government monitors
is not justified as it does not provide a conducive atmosphere for the
radios to function freely. Those who wield power and force, should stay away
from the C.R. arena which espouses a cause where the name of the game is
creativity and marketing of ideas. .
It is also incomprehensible as to why cooperatives have not been included in
the list of those eligible for licenses. Coops, by its very nature
characterize an exercise of collective decision making and have the inherent
motive of community building. Or is it that they are regarded in the
category of NGOs? How about foundations, associations and schools that are
inherently free from political and commercial interests? Experience has it
that in many countries, coops are generally among organizations that
demonstrate an independent capacity for sound CR management.
Furthermore, schools could be licensed to operate community radios. Tertiary
schools that offer courses in communication or technology courses can make
use of the CR as a laboratory and a tool for technology extension.
Agricultural schools will find great use for the CR in bringing technology
to its farmer clientele.
In the policies, criticizing individuals, which may include public
officials, is also forbidden. This amounts to muzzling the watch dog which
is the time-honoured role that communication media play in society. Putting
a gag on community members to discuss publicly how their leaders and public
officials perform will embolden ill-meaning local functionaries to commit
anomalies, corruption and other wrong doings. On the other hand, by opening
up discussions on performance of public officials, community radio promotes
accountability and transparency in governance. If it is so feared that
community radio users could step beyond their lines, there should be enough
laws in force in Bangladesh pertaining to slander, oral defamation and libel
that could be invoked. Community radio operators should rather be guided on
how to formulate and follow their own code of conduct and ethics and be
enlightened on relevant laws of the land. The CR advocates, participants and
policy makers should repose their trust in the community and its leaders and
adopt a liberal attitude towards them.
There should be a full understanding on the relevance of people
participation in media as well as in the empowerment or development of
marginalized sectors. We ought to believe that ordinary people know how they
will conduct themselves in a public platform. We must have faith in the
capability of individuals and the collective will to discuss, plan and carry
out what is good for them.
Such is the spirit of the freedom of expression that is enshrined in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Citizens have the right to freedom
of expression, opinions and beliefs and this right includes the right to
seek, impart and receive information, regardless of frontiers.' Community
radio movement was born out of a spirit of bringing benefits and empowerment
to the marginalized communities whose rights and opportunities are often
wanting or limited.
The young movement of community radio in Bangladesh which is now taking a
definite shape, should be free from restrictive provisions and intimidation.
It has started right and it must move right.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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