Status of Community Radio in Bangladesh

Status of Community Radio in Bangladesh by AHM Bazlur Rahman S21BR

The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) is aware of its responsibility to administer the allocation of radio frequency, so that it equitably distributed and targeted towards the wellbeing of people, particularly the poor and marginalized. The government has already permitted 14 community radio stations (CRS) to operate in selected geographical locations of the country.

CR initiators are now preparing to go on air from December 2010, which among other issues, include community mobilization, capacity building for production and content development and installation and overall operations of the stations. CR will have the potential to address critical social issues at community level, such poverty and social exclusion, empowerment of the marginalized and lagging behind rural communities, strengthening democratic practices and achieving development goals. On the other hand, CR is for to inform and interpret information relating to livelihoods of the people in rural Bangladesh, particularly focusing on agriculture, health, education, disaster management, children and women issues, and state of the market.

CR is the third-tier radio broadcasting in Bangladesh would help reducing poverty, eliminate social exclusion, empower the marginalized rural groups and encourage active participation of disadvantaged sections of population in implementing the development agenda. GoB responded to the plea by approving the “Community Radio Installation, Broadcast and Operation Policy 2008” (Bangladesh Gazette, 12 March 2008), which is one of the most comprehensively written community radio policies in Asia.

Agenda for Change
In order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) in Bangladesh, CR can play not only the supportive roles in achieving the targets, but also capable to help create new opportunities for development. CRS can broadcast programs on issues which will have impact on activities relating to eradication of extreme poverty, primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing international partnership for development.

The Election Manifesto of Bangladesh Awami League (AL), which is widely known as “A Charter for Change” recognizes the freedom of media and information. The charter states that freedom of all types of mass media and flow of information will be ensured. Regarding CR, it clearly says, “Initiatives will be taken for community radio services, besides national radio network” (Article 19.1; Election Manifesto 2008, p. 17).

The government has already taken measures to materialize the promises it made in relation to freedom of information and providing citizens the benefits of information and communication technologies. As part its policy to enable disseminate information on rural life and living the government permitted installation and broadcasting of 14 CRS and some more are in the process of review. Earlier, “Right to Information Act (RTIA) 2009” came into effect with the gazette notification published by the government on the 6th of April 2009. This information law overrides inconsistent provisions in other laws which obstruct peoples’ right and access to public information. With a view to building an information and knowledge-based society, the government also passed the National ICT Policy 2009 in July 2009.

Progress of CR in Brief

CR in Bangladesh is about to go on air. Installation and operation of the stations are depending on how quickly the initiators have completed the technological arrangements, which is to install the broadcasting equipments and applied to MoI/BTRC for frequency allocation. While a few initiators informed that they were ready to go on air by December 2010, rest of them would be able to start broadcasting from January/February 2011 at the latest.

Achievements of Community Radio in the last year: Government

• Government of Bangladesh has already permitted 14 initiators to install, operate and broadcast CRS in Bangladesh.

• Ministry of Information is in the process of finalizing a comprehensive strategy for the effective implementation of the CR policy as well as community (radio) broadcasting. The project is supported by UNICEF. The daft strategy was shared twice with CR initiators and resource persons were consulted.

• Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission(BTRC) is ready to allocate spectrum as soon as the initiators have completed necessary steps.

• National Institute of Mass Communication (NIMC) is offering a course on production for CR.

• Ministry of Information formed three committees – National Regulatory Committee, Technical Sub-Committee and Central Monitoring Committee. The committees were provided with specific ToR.

• Emphasis is placed on the access to information and awareness building at the grass root level through community radio. [“Promoting Good Governance Matrix” in National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction – 2 FY 2009-11 (PRS 2), Steps Towards Change].

• Access to Information Project (A2I) of Prime Minister’s Office included Community Radio in “Connecting the Citizen” of the Concept Note on Digital Bangladesh.

• MoI informs that the government is reviewing applications for more CRS.

Achievements of Community Radio in the last year: NGOs, initiators & Civil Societies

• An Action Plan has been developed by the initiators of CRS (which was prepared in a participatory consultation held on 5 May 2010 in Dhaka).

• A Knowledge Sharing Workshop on capacity building of CR in Bangladesh was held on 11 October 2010, organized by Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) and supported by UNICEF.

• A ToT on community radio operations for senior managers of CRS was held on April 2010. Twenty (20) senior management personnel, including program coordinators, chief executives and station manager participated. It was supported by CIDA.

CRS initiators and managers received hands on training in July 2010 at the School of Media and Communication, Jadavpur University, India. Participants were practically oriented on the issues of station management, content development etc.

CRS managers visited Webel Mediatronics Ltd. in West Bengal, India and received briefing on technical matters and received some hands on experience.

USAID-PROGATI is going to support a project for strengthening CR initiatives and capacity building.

UNICEF is supporting an ongoing project “Empowering Communities: Strengthening and building Capacity of Community Radio in Bangladesh”.

• A couple of civil society organizations/platforms organized consultations on various aspects relating to the implementation of CR policy.

BNNRC demonstrated CRS for training purpose. So far, it has demonstrated twice – World Telecom Day 2009 and at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI).

• Center for e-Parliament Research (CEPR) has joined the CR movement. Collectively operated campaigns may be used in making bridges between people, parliament and government in Bangladesh.

• Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) initiated Community Radio Academy

Key Challenges facing in Community Radio Sector

Despite government permissions to set up and broadcast, beginning of CRS operations still remains a challenge. Most of the initiators are yet to settle the technological issues, particularly selecting most suitable and cost-effective equipments CR stations. As the deadline (March 2011) to start operations is an outstanding challenge.

In order to make a socio-economic assessment of the areas where the proposed CRS will be established and to know about the readiness and community engagement, BNNRC with the help of Free Voice completed a baseline study (2009), which suggests the following:

- Initially, most of the organizations (initiators) will require technical support or assistance from expert organizations; and

- It will take some time for the organizations to mobilize and make people interested in CR as they are not yet fully aware of the benefits of community broadcasting.

In the light of the concept notes of AMARC 10 World Conference on Community Radio Broadcasters (to be held in La Plata, Argentina 8-12 November 2010), following challenges can be identified, which are pertinent to CR operations in Bangladesh during and post piloting phases of broadcasting and sustainability of the stations:

a) Capacity building and knowledge sharing;
b) Developing models of training, research and monitoring;
c) Developing assessment tools for measuring social impact of CR;
d) Meaningful inclusion of women, children and young people;
e) Networking development and building alliances.

There are some limitations in the CR policy itself, such as the provisions of advertisements, composition and responsibilities of Administrative Committee and Management Committee. There is also a need of developing a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework. Sustainability of CRS after phasing out of NGO or donor support may remain a challenge (Reza 2008). However, once CR will go on air, needs will be reassessed and lapses both in the policy and management will be identified for remedy.

Status of Women in Community Radio Sector
A total of 14 CRS have got license for establishing community radio stations in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, there is no women initiator out of these 14 initiators as all the licensed organizations are headed by male executives. However, women representations are conformed while Community Radio Management Committees are formed and special focus is given on women during staff recruitment too. We hope 2nd phase Ministry of Information will allow more community radio to women headed organization.

BNNRC is following the AMARC guideline during Community Radio related activities. In the meanwhile BNNRC has translated the AMARC gender guideline in Bangla and distributed among all stakeholders.

Preparedness of Key Actors
As part of readiness initiators of CR has already taken up steps for community mobilization, which will be an ongoing process. Among other preparedness, they have formed management committee and continuing with staff mobilization. Most of the initiators have appointed station managers and already made progress in infrastructural arrangement.

Technical support from the development partners does not seem to be encouraging enough. UNICEF and USAID-PROGATI are supporting a number of projects for capacity building in specific sectors. UNICEF has already supported MoI for preparing an implementation strategy on CR. Recently BNNRC has entered the project “Empowering Communities: Strengthening and building Capacity of Community Radio in Bangladesh”. The goal of the project is for capacity building, skill enhancement and mitigating challenges of CR through need assessment survey, developing training modules, establishing child radio clubs etc.

Scopes for Action
Taking into account the challenges mentioned in previous section and capitalizing on the readiness of the initiators, government, civil society organization (CRS) and community people, the space for actions can be divided into the following broader categories:

1. Capacity Building
2. Technical Cooperation
3. Research and Development
4. Policy and Enabling Environment
5. Cross-cutting issues
6. Campaign and Advocacy

Importance of AMARC in the community radio sectors in Bangladesh

AMARC is the most important platform where we can share our experiences, exchange views, limitations, strength, weakness, opportunities, threats with others. From the right to information point view AMARC is a forum where we can link each other, extend our international lobby and offer our expertise to others.

BNNRC have already been implementing and following the agenda of AMARC in Bangladesh. A good working environment has been developed between government and the civil societies along with the international agencies. Bangladesh consultation for AMARC was arranged and organized on October 23, 2010 and a report will be shared in AMARC 10.

Way forward
Broadcasting of CR is going to bring about a qualitative change in the broadcast policies of the country. Introducing community broadcasting will be a significant step towards decentralizing our media system. CR will not be able to get into the competitions of media market immediately, but it will no doubt, add values to the plurality and diversity in a democratic media environment.

By AHM. Bazlur Rahman-S21BR
Chief Executive Officer
Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC)
[NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council]
Head, Community Radio Academy