Strengthening the good, avoiding the pitfalls of Community Radio
The policymakers should make sure that these community radios act as the agents for "desired" change
Experimentation with the community radio is not new in the less developed nations. In many cases, these community radios have been used as a tool to propagate knowledge, a tool to practice democracy and a tool to formulate participatory policy.
However, there are many instances of these community radios, where these channels have brought in the "undesired" kind of change. They have been agents to reinforce the extreme views of the society. In other words, they have been agents of destabilization rather than being the agents of stabilization.
So, it is important that while we proceed with the community radio policy in Bangladesh, a proper balance is stricken so that these newly formulated policies act as something that brings benefits to the millions of people, rather then being an additional problem.
The problem with any new importation of these tools and policy initiative to a country like ours is that - we do not appreciate the full implications of a new policy or a new tool in a fragile society.
Just look at what "free market" philosophy is bringing to the general people in terms of price hikes. This happens when the basic institutions that regulate the markets is not built first. Our policy makers do not appreciate the fact that "free market" is not about "no regulation", rather it is making sure no agents (either in supply or demand side) are being subjected to a specifically disadvantageous regulation. Free market is all about regulation - with the acknowledgment that we actually do not know what policy will be better for a certain future situation. So, the policy makers act to make sure the eventual benefits goes to the public.
Coming back to our today's topic of community radio => we are fearful that if proper checks are not in place, these new innovations may backfire. Just to give two examples:
The local radio talk shows are usually a place where most extreme views of the society comes out - when it is driven by market mechanism. Its common sense that the most curiosity and interest will be generated when controversial topics will be discussed and controversial views are disseminated. Thats how these local radio channels makes a living.
Now this may be OK if there are proper checks and balances in place. If the structure of the law and order, and also the democratic norms are strong within the system, these talk shows can be an effective agents of "desired change". To some extent, these local radio talk shows act as an effective tool in the developed democracies to engage the citizens who would be otherwise dis-engaged from the political process.
This good 'desired' type of effect can be expected in many European countries or in Japan or US or Canada. Still, in the US, these has been often a source of controversy. At the end of the day, these radio stations become tools to stimulate the populace so that the citizens are more engaged. Other strong institutions within the system makes sure that the energy stimulated through these community radio is channeled in the right direction so that overall change that happens is of "desired kind". This is true for developed countries when the community radios are given licenses at a free market basis.
However, what happens with these community radios where the national institutions are not strong enough, the society is not uniform or if the system is fragile. Is there any example?
How about recent happenings in Kenya? Many analysts are concluding that the community radio type local radio stations had acted irresponsibly that eventually given rise to a national crisis.
Off course, it should be recognized that community radios are being used as an effective tool in many less developed communities.
So, we want to make sure that the local communities are benefited from these planned radio stations, but we also want to make sure that the fragile economic and political system have the breathing room so that they are not adversely affected by the pitfalls of these local radio stations.
How do we do that?
We are certainly not experts on this - however, so our proposal should be subjected under scrutiny. But here is a common sense approach to make sure that the social agents are given a breathing space and time to mature - so that right kind of changes happen in the society. It has to be made sure that the extremist and fundamentalist elements do not take stronger root by using these tools.
We should take a step by step approach to for the community radio licenses. Every local community should initially given ONE license for a specified amount of time - say for fifteen years. Why? One may ask whether this suggestion is anti-competitive. Yes, somewhat it is. However, the reason behind this suggestion is not primarily anti-competition. Rather the primary reason is quality.
In the private sector, these local radio stations will have to survive through revenue generation. If every district is given one license for local radio station, it might already be very challenging to make quality programs and still be financially viable. Now if you start competition within the districts, it seems, they are destined to be financially non-viable. Still, there will be many stations since capital from other sources will come to the market place - not to do community radio, but to do something else with their political agenda and to misuse the system.
So, without going into much details, our position is one local station in one locality is a good way to start from financial perspective.
But there is a much more stronger reason for this proposal to have one station in one locality. That is to ensure the stations are viewed as a sources of news and opinions that are balanced. The way it is expected to work is as follows: since there will only be one local station, the license holder will be encouraged to accommodate all the view points to give equitable share of airtime. Moreover, since there will be market and social forces from every direction, the licensor, who will be looking for a most broad audience, there will be financial incentive for these "one local channel" to be inclusive of all the political viewpoints. Any unbalance is expected to be corrected slowly through market forces. However, if you give more than one local channels, most likely they will align themselves along the political lines where things will start going wrong.
Bottomline: In every aspect, it seems reasonable to have one local channel in one locality. Both financially and socially. So, the policy makers will be urged to give one license to an operator for every district (for example). And this should be done initially for fifteen years to see the results. Or may be, it can be done for seven years, with a provision to review the policies in every seven years.
If you thought some of the ideas are worth of your reading time, please forward it to others. If you have an ear to the columinsts in regular traditional media, please forward it to them. If you have an ear to the journalists and news editors of the electronic media, discuss it with them. Hope they would look at the suggestions and give due diligence.
Tags: Community , Radios
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