Winning the heart of your radio
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CTA. 2002. Winning the heart of your radio. Spore 97. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46413
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore97.pdf
Let the farmers speak! That was one of the key slogans of development communication in the 1980s. It did not always work out as intended, but rural and community radios have come a long way.Radio used to talk mainly to the urban elite, in the days...
Let the farmers speak! That was one of the key slogans of development communication in the 1980s. It did not always work out as intended, but rural and community radios have come a long way. Radio used to talk mainly to the urban elite, in the days when national broadcasting companies were set up in the post-independence days of the 1960s. Programmes for listeners in agricultural areas were restricted to homilies to persuade the 'rural masses to modernise themselves' and to advice on how to improve the yields of cash crops such as cotton, groundnuts and coffee. These broadcasts were listened to collectively by villagers in radio listening clubs and forums, with discussions led by extension workers. The 1970s saw a process of decentralisation, with national stations setting up regional ones. Production teams with outside broadcast equipment used to go to the field, and the fields, to interview farmers. Thus was born the notion of rural radio. As the number of rural radio stations increased, they grew closer to their audience, and their programmes became more and more varied. Their programmes were meshed into the schedules of national stations, and sometimes they had their own transmitters. It was in the early 1980s that the real change came, with the emergence of the first community radio stations; they focused on the needs of local communities and were operated by them. Then, a decade later, the airwaves opened up following the wave of democratisation of political structures in many African countries and community and association radio stations jostled for airspace with national stations. FM mania The first independent radio stations took root in the major urban centres of Burkina Faso, Mali, Madagascar and South Africa, for example. It was not long before these small stations were literally pointing their microphone towards rural areas. Their success was, in a word, dazzling. The fact they broadcast in the language of the local audience, added to the intense thirst for freedom of expression after years of propaganda-style radio, saw to that. Behind the microphone, though, remained a raft of problems. There was inadequate training for presenters, producers and technical staff. Production facilities were mediocre, transmitter breakdowns frequent, and financial means limited. With a lack of experience and resources, most of these small stations opted to broadcast music most of the time. Listeners, however, were more and more demanding, in terms of programme content, and the local stations sought to respond to this by forming networks and associations to pool resources. At the same time, training facilities for rural radio stations were being established by such institutions as the Inter-African Centre for Rural Radio Studies (CIERRO) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and by several development partners keen to help the sector grow professionally. Their support came principally in the form of programme banks, or collections, of recorded programme segments about development issues which could be inserted into the programmes of rural and community stations. Among the providers of such materials were CTA, Panos Institute, the Developing Country Farm Radio Network, Syfia and Radio Nederland. Laboratory of local democracy 'Our station listens to its listeners', says the director of Radio Kafokan in Bougouni in the cotton growing area of Mali. 'We give top priority to their concerns, even to the extent of their using airtime to insult the cotton company, CMDT. Then we play the recording of those programmes to the CMDT management and get them to respond.' Broadcasting is not easy for rural radio stations. They have fairly basic training and equipment, and they often operate in isolated villages without any public services, electricity or telephone. Despite their difficulties, they have become real laboratories for local democracy. Farmers turn to the stations to get advice, and market and weather information. Young people and women put forward their points of view. Researchers and extension agents discuss with farmers and herders. There are programmes linked to health campaigns, or civic rights issues. And the old folk, musicians and story-tellers all have their say, and play, on the area s cultural heritage. Where the radio landscape is still dominated by the State, rural radio is mainly used as an arm of agricultural extension. Innovation, though, seems to have the upper hand. South Africa s networks of community radio stations, traditionally focused in the problems of the townships, are now opening up to rural communities. They are covering such hot stories as land reform, or the use of genetically modified organisms or chemical products. Throughout southern Africa the Development Through Radio programme, based in Harare, Zimbabwe, is working to improve the access of rural women to the medium. Over in West Africa, Ghana s rural radio approach is swinging away from the old structure of radio forums and towards listener participation in setting up FM community stations under the management by local associations and cooperatives. In Nigeria, the firm grip of the State on rural radio has loosened a lot, and the Institute for Media and Society, an NGO, is setting up rural community stations. A matter of resources There are several key areas of attention for a local radio station to deal with if it is to have any reasonable lifespan: improved production facilities; enhanced networks for training presenters, producers and technical staff; tools for audience research. This lifespan will depend essentially on the financial independence of the station, and on its ability to involve financial partners in marketing activities, whilst retaining its editorial freedom; there hangs its credibility with listeners. It will also depend on its ability to make use of ICTs in digital production and in using digital programmes delivered by satellite, the Internet, mobile phones or on CD-ROMs. How can rural radio make the best use of these new technologies? This was an underlying theme at a workshop organised by FAO in Rome early in 2001 on 'New information and communication technologies and rural radio: New content, new partners.' 'Rural radio is in fact the farmers Internet' asserted Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, specialist in development communication. 'It offers rural communities the surest route to information and external knowledge, in their own language, and without the barrier of reading. The challenge, then, for the heads of rural radio stations is to use the new ICTs to gather information, and then put it into a form which is appropriate to the socio-cultural context of the listeners.' Today though the digital divide is still gaping wide in rural areas, and there are several efforts being made to bring it down to size. In Ouagadougou, the international Agence de la Francophonie , together with CIERRO has set up a training and production centre for digital broadcasting. This facility also hosts a programme bank, a central purchasing unit and distance co-production centre which supports the fifty or so rural radio stations in ten francophone African countries. Elsewhere in West Africa, the Panos Institute has set up an online programme bank for African radio stations, and also has a training programme on ICTs and broadcasting for community radio stations in Senegal. On a more institutional level, FAO, as part of its activities to combat food insecurity, has launched a joint initiative to build up a world network of community radio, together with the World Association of Community Radio (known under its French name AMARC) and the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. In Niger, the United Nations Development Programme and the government have set up a pilot programme for the application of information and knowledge against poverty. This entails the installation of community radio stations and information centres with Internet access in the poorest parts of the country, and all powered by solar energy. Similar initiatives can be expected in other countries soon. It is perhaps too early to arrive at a proper evaluation of the relevance and effectiveness of all these activities. What is clear, nonetheless, is the need to avoid rushing at full speed ahead and becoming intoxicated by the power of the technology. This would only be to the detriment of what is the strength of rural radio today: their closeness to listeners, and their ability to walk in step with local communities on their road to emancipation. At their pace. In any case, let it be quite clear to those sad souls who forecast the demise of rural radio in the 1980s that it is alive and well, in fact, better than ever Here s to you, rural radio! [caption to illustration] We are the world, we are the people. Rural radio gets close-up. A list of rural radio resources is available from: Spore-desk, PO Box 121, 6700 AC Wageningen, Netherlands. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org