S N School of Communication, University of Hyderabad
"A necessary condition for the creation of an alternative institutional environment that can effectively revitalize civil society is progressive state policy that takes a fresh perspective on media and society. " From this starting point, Kanchan Kumar undertook research to record the methods and motives with which grassroots non-government organisations (NGOs) and media activists are pursuing the cause for community radio in India. Kumar undertook (and details here) case studies of 4 grassroots-level projects using community radio for development: the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan-KMVS project in Bhuj (Gujarat); the Alternative for India Development-AID project in Daltongunj (Jharkhand); the Deccan Development Society-DDS project in Pastapur (Andhra Pradesh), and the Voices project in Budhikote (Karnataka). Her fieldwork also involved collection of policy-related documents, as well as interviews and focus group discussions.
Based on her research experience, Kumar's paper sets the stage for studying community radio by suggesting what types of questions to ask broadcasters and others - to the end of getting a sense of how they conceptualise public access to airwaves and where this movement lies within the context of globalisation of communication technologies. Kumar discusses what types of research strategies she drew upon to analyse how community radio is being used (and hailed) as a medium for articulating more people-centred development needs and establishing decentralised public spaces for dialogue and collaborative action in India and around the world. In short, this paper presents a basis for evaluating community radio initiatives by sketching approaches for engaging with the stakeholders in this sphere and through the responses of collaborators and participants in these projects.
Kumar begins by situating her research in the context of The Pastapur Initiative on Community Radio Broadcasting, a document that she describes as "an important landmark in the narrative of the ferment for community radio in India." At a 4-day meeting in 2000 organised by UNESCO, communication experts, media practitioners, researchers, educators, trainers, NGO representatives, journalists, policy makers, and students of mass communication and law reviewed the status of community radio in South Asia and discussed action to lobby for legislative action by the Government of India to enable the functioning of non-profit, people-owned and -managed community radio stations. However, for Kumar, the document "points towards a remarkable absence of sustained, context-specific research undertaken on the potential of community radio and its sociological and political ramifications with respect to the media scenario in India."
Set against this background, Kumar sought to explore conditions for the creation of an enabling environment for democratic media by taking into consideration the history of broadcasting and the issues that currently challenge/impede media policy formation in India. She also endeavoured to examine how the message development process of community radio by itself becomes a training ground for participation in the broader issues of development at the community level. Some of the questions/indicators she used included:
- The concept of community radio: definition and features? What would people do with 'a radio of their own'?
- Policy (India): How has advancing democratic functioning of radio been contentious in debates about a comprehensive media policy in India? What enabling legislative framework can the government create to open up the broadcasting sector for community radio?
- International perspectives: What kind of progressive legislation is being adopted by liberal democracies to facilitate radio for community empowerment?
- Alternative media: Lobbying: What ideology drives lobbying efforts by organisations that seek to draw on community radio? What form does this lobbying take?
- Civil society: How would community radio contribute to dialogue, access to information, new forms of political action and empowerment?
- Communication for social change: How can community media play a role in enabling rural people to manage their own development?
- Gender, caste, and class: How do the categories of gender, caste and class play out in both production and reception of the content?
- Community radio initiatives: What are some models of community radio in India and their socio-economic, political and cultural contexts?
- Capacity building: How can technology be demystified for the marginalised and capacities of communities be enhanced to take control of radio?
- Degree of participation: What is the extent of community participation in different stages of the content development and distribution process of community radio? What is the sense of ownership among producers, volunteers, and listeners of community radio programmes?
- Power and control: What role do power equations within the community play in control of media technologies?
- Perceptions at the grassroots: What are the perceptions of the members of the community about the role community radio can play in empowering them?
Kumar shares her strategies for evaluating community radio initiatives, by detailing specific interview exchanges (conducted with project management and the representatives of the facilitating NGO) and focus group discussion questions. The latter conversations were conducted in the local language and in comfortable settings where the members would normally gather to hold discussions in their villages. The list of critical questions that were used to steer the focus group discussions with the help of a moderator included the following:
- To what degree are respondents exposed to the media - folk media, newspapers, movies, television, radio, or tape-recorder, etc.?
- Are they aware of the "community radio" in their village? How did they come to know of it?
- Do they listen to the programme of this radio? How do they listen - in homes, public spaces, groups, or alone?
- Is there any control of public listening contexts by people in leadership roles? Any formal/informal discussions following broadcast?
- Are there any technical problems in reception of the programme?
- Do they find the scheduling of the broadcast/narrowcast appropriate?
- What about the language and format of the programme?
- How frequently do they listen to community radio programmes?
- Have they participated in any programme?
- What issues are talked about in these programmes and how are they different from those in mainstream media? Do grassroots issues and indigenous ideas get transformed into radio programmes? Are there avenues to give feedback?
- What do they find are the uses of such a project and its programmes - information, education, entertainment, etc.?
- What kind of feelings does the programme generate?
- Would they like to be on the programmes? Have they visited the facilities any time? Is there a feeling of ownership and control?
To inquire about accessing the full document, please contact the author (see below).
Email from Kanchan Kumar to The Communication Initiative on June 25 2005.