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Community Radio: A Tool for Development of NE

Radio is the most vibrant mass communication tool of the recent times. This medium became outdated in the late twentieth century because of the rapid the expansion of the television or other electronic media. The new born FM culture has helped to regain its popularity in the rural as well as urban areas. But these entertaining FM channels are unable to discuss the local problems of a community in a common platform. Is there, any media available that can concentrate on a particular community? Yes, Community radio- the need of our times. The emerging broadcast sector with vast untapped potential facilitates democratization of the airwaves for a progressive societal change. Community radio stands for radio broadcasting with the objective of serving the cause of the community in the service area by involving members of the community in the broadcast of their programmes. It is a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting material that is popular to a local audience but is overlooked by more powerful broadcast groups.

The community radio campaign was started in the western countries in the 1970s. In the United Kingdom, CRS were in operation on cable systems from the early 1970s onwards and mostly situated in new town areas and staffed and operated by volunteers. In the late 80s and early 90s the then newly formed Radio Authority awarded licences to a number of new, ex-pirate and cable based community ventures. Notable stations included the championing Spectrum Radio and Radio Thamesmead are among the first cable radio stations which started on the Radio fusion cable system in South East London area in the mid 1970's. The National Federation of Community Broadcasters was formed in 1970 as an umbrella organization for community-oriented, non-commercial radio stations in the United States of America. The NFCB publishes handbooks for stations and lobbies on behalf of community radio at the federal level.

In India, the campaign to legitimise community radio began in the mid 1990s only. In December 2002, the government of India approved a policy for the grant of licenses for setting up of community radio stations (CRS) to well established educational institutions like IITs and IIMs. After a few years that matter has been reconsidered. The government has decided to broad base the policy by bringing nonprofit organizations like civil society and voluntary organizations etc. under its ambit in order to allow greater participation by the particular community on issues relating to development and social change.

Anna University, Chennai owned the first CRS in India and the Anna FM was launched on February 01, 2004. This community radio is run by the Educational Multimedia Research Centre and the programmes are produced by the students of Media Sciences department of the university. As of November 2008, the ministry has given licenses to 38 CRS, where as by June 2005 there were 442 fully-licensed community radio stations in Australia. Even Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka etc. countries are also doing better in establishing the community radio stations in their respective countries. The Kothmale CR came up in 1989 in Sri Lanka and went on to become something of a legend that broadcast community programmes from an auto rickshaw. ETukTuk, this three wheeler is the world's first moving radio station and multimedia centre.

According to the government sources, about 4,000 community radio licenses are on offer across India. By 30 November 2008, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting had received 297 applications for community radio licenses, including 141 from NGOs and other civil society organizations, 105 from educational institutions and 51 for 'farm radio' stations to be run by agricultural universities and agricultural extension centers (Krishi Vigyan Kendras). Except from the educational institutions, Alternative for India Development-AID project in Daltongunj (Jharkhand), Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan-KMVS project in Bhuj (Gujarat), VOICES project in Budhikote (Karnataka), Deccan Development Society-DDS project in Pastapur (Andhra Pradesh) etc. are the remarkable examples, who have taken initiative to set up community radio for development of a society.

The north eastern region is not legging behind. The Krishna Kanta Handique State Open University, the only and one state Open University of the region aims to provide education beyond barriers to reach the unreached of the society, (which was started working from mid of 2007 only) has received a temporary license of community radio only for demonstration of three days. This pioneer institution is going to launch a community radio station by two three months after receiving the final license from the ministry. With association of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia, the university is getting the opportunity to work as the nodal agency for community radio awareness in the region aiming to provide necessary consultation and assistance to the interested institutions or voluntary organizations.

Civil society and voluntary organizations, educational institutions including state agriculture universities (SAUs), ICAR institutions, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, registered societies, autonomous bodies and public trusts registered under societies act are eligible to run a community radio for social welfare with the broadcasting power. As per the instructions of the ministry, profit making organizations, any individual or any political party can not apply for the license. It should explicitly constitute as a nonprofit organization and should have a proven record of at least three years of service to the community. The ownership and management should represent the community and programmes should be of immediate relevance to the community focusing on health, environment etc. It should be based on educational, developmental, social and cultural needs of the community. A CRS can not broadcast any programs related to news, current affairs and any information of political nature. It has to provide the right to access to the minority and marginalised groups. CRS has to promote and protect cultural and linguistic diversity.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India has been encouraging the educational institutions to serve the community with radio broadcasting. But it is necessary to broadcast atleast 50% community programmes along with the educational programmes. The educational institutions must ensure the community participation in the radio. For the content regulation & monitoring, CRS has to adhere to the AIR Programme and Advertising Codes and has to preserve broadcast programmes for three months.

To setting up a community radio, clearances from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Letter of Intent (LOI) from MIB and frequency earmarking from Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MoCIT), WPC for frequency allocation and SACFA clearance, bank guarantee of Rs. 25,000/-, Grant of Permission Agreement (GOPA) from MIB / Wireless Operating, License (WOL) from MoCIT are required. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting helps in getting the licence only. So, the educational institutions or the civil societies have to manage a capital amount of rupees seven lacs in minimum to set up the studio and to purchase the transmission equipments. Of course, they can manage funding from multilateral aid agencies. While discussing the financial matter, it is necessary to point out again that the CRS are non profit broadcasting media own by a community for their own development. So, no sponsored programmes except from Central & State Governments and public interest themes can be broadcast. On the other hand, advertising is the main revenue source for any mass media. Then how can a community radio survive without sponsored programmes? In this regard, in the second regional consultation for community radio awareness held at Jadavpur University in March, 2008 the union I & B minister Priyo Ranjan Dasmunchi announced that the Ministry will permit a commercial break up to 5 (five) minutes per hour broadcast and the rate of the advertisement will be one rupee per second. So, if a community radio management gets full five minutes commercials, then they will get three hundred rupees in an hour.

Technically, the Ministry of I&B gives the transmitting power of 100 Watts ERP, which covers 5-10 km radius to a CRS. The ministry also grants 250 Watt ERP in some special cases. The transmitting antenna height can not exceed 30 meters from the existing mean sea level and it should be located within the geographical area of the community and in case of an educational institutes, it should be located within the campus of the institute.

Not only radio broadcasting, overall community media is an important component of the larger picture of media transformation and media democracy at the global level. From this perspective, community media has an inherent link to policy and the state and only which can reflect the desires of a particular community in a heterogeneous society. We know that India's North East covering a combined area of about 7.7% of the country's total territory and it is very heterogeneous for its about 250 social groups and more than 75 languages and dialects. It is not possible for the mainstream media to fulfill the expectation and aspiration of all the social groups. In this regard, community radio can fulfill the hopes providing entertainment, information and education through community broadcast in their local dialects. As Dr. R Sreedher, Director of Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia pointed out that community radio is an independent and non profit development communication tool that facilitates democratization of the airwaves for the benefit of the common man. Development communication refers to the practice of systematically applying the processes, strategies, and principles of communication to bring about positive social change. So, as a powerful tool of development communication, community radio can solve the problems of the north eastern region to some extent and it will be the appropriate media for a positive societal change of the NE. (By Dr. Ankuran Dutta & Dr. Anamika Ray; published in The Assam Tribune on 29th of January, 2009)