Strengthening Human Rights and Public Voices through Community Radio in Bangladesh

Strengthening Human Rights and Public Voices through Community Radio in Bangladesh

AHM Bazlur Rahman-S21BR| CEO|
Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication|| 01711881647

Community media are widely recognized by governments, international development agencies, and civil society organizations alike as key agents of participatory development. Their reach and practices are a unique way of reaching and involving people. This is particularly true of community radio, the most prevalent of all community media, which is a vital alternative both to state owned and commercial private radio. Community radio‘s affordability and reach make it a powerful agent of social change.

Recognition of community radio as a legitimate and key element in development efforts and the potential to empower marginalized and disenfranchised communities, has pushed a number of countries to introduce laws and regulations that acknowledge community radios as a distinct media sector. In those countries an enabling environment for community radios has been created.

Despite these advances, challenges persist at global and regional level and in their joint 2010 statement the four international special UN mandated rapporteurs on freedom of expression (*) expressed their concerns at the lack of specific legal recognition of the community broadcasting sector in licensing systems which are based on criteria that are appropriate to this sector as well as the failure to reserve adequate frequencies for community broadcasters or to establish appropriate funding support mechanism .

The Ministry of Information Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh has declared Community Radio Installation, Broadcast and Operation Policy 2008, which was the citizens’ expectation since the year 1998. In line with citizens’ expectation Bangladesh Awami League, the present ruling party incorporated in Article of “Charter of Change” that was their election manifesto. Accordingly in April, 2010, Ministry of Information has approved 14 Community Radio Stations to operate for the first time in the country.

After the approval of license Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has allocated frequency and then the Community Radio stations started broadcasting from 2011. Presently, 4 community radio stations already passed 1 year and the others will soon pass their 1st year very soon.

Presently these stations are broadcasting a total of 109 hours programs in a day on information, education, local edutainment and other development motivational activities that are going at local level.

These programs are quite supportive to the activities reflected in 6th 5-year plan of Government of Bangladesh, UN World Summit on the Information Society (UN WSIS) Action Plan, and UN Millennium Development Goals (UN MDGs) and UN Convention Against Corruption (UN CAC)

The success of the 1st batch of Community Radio stations has earned appreciation from all levels because of their commendable success. For that we give our thanks to those initiating organizations.

We are also giving thanks to the Ministry of Information that it is because of their good intention and sincere efforts which made possible a full-fledged community radio policy, the only one in South East Asia. India has got only a Guideline to operate Community Radio stations, while Nepal does not have any of this kind. In 2012 Ministry of Information has declared National Strategy for Community Radio to support implementation of Community Radio Installation, broadcast and Operation Policy.

Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication is promoting the advocacy with the government in relations to community radio with other organizations since its emergence from 2000. BNNRC has been addressing the community radio and community TV access issue for over a decade, helping to bridge the information gap of rural Bangladesh.

The reality of today is that the bondage between the community people and local-level community radio stations are getting strengthened day-by-day. Community Radio has now become their part of life. Community Radio becomes the instrument for the livelihood battle of the rural people.

In this context the present status of community radio stations regarding social, economic and institutional sustainability can be pointed as below:

Social Sustainability:
i. Management Committee formed at 14 Community Radio station level
ii. Advisory Committee formed for each station that included UNO and Additional District Commissioner
iii. 2115 Listeners Clubs formed at CR Station level
iv. The present number of CR listeners is around 46,47,000
v. People of 67 Upazila under 13 districts now listen Community Radio Programs

Sustainability at Govt. level:
i. Ministry of Information declared Community Radio Installation, broadcast and operation Policy 2008.
ii. Ministry of Information prepared and declared Community Radio Strategy 2012
iii. Digital Bangladesh Strategy Paper-prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office
iv. Charter of Chang 2008

Institutional Sustainability
i. Presently 14 community radio stations are broadcasting different stations
ii. Every day all the stations are broadcasting a total of 109 hours program
iii. Code of Conduct for Community Radio formulated
iv. Gender Policy for Community Radio prepared and published
iv. Human Resource Development Policy formulation for Community Radio Stations (in process)
v. Financial Management Policy formulation (in process)

Economic Sustainability
i. Non-Profitable business model (under process)
ii. Funding of development partners
iii. Facilitation of Initiating organization
iv. Formulation and Implementation of Development Advertisement Policy
v. Sharing allocation of local and national budget/s.
vi. Community Radio Development Fund creation and operation.

Potentials of Community Radio in Bangladesh
a. Community Radio has created scope for the poor and marginalized community to raise their own voice; it becomes the voice for the voiceless. This neo-media outlets opened scope to establish their rights of Information and communication in social, political, cultural and environmental arena.

b. Scope widened for poverty reduction and sustainable development because of the rights to raise voice of the community and accessibility to knowledge and information.

c. Scope opened for exchange of dialogue between local elected representatives, govt. and NGO professionals for the sake of establishing good governance.

d. Direct linkage established between the community and the main sectors reflected in MDGs and 6th 5-year plan.

e. Scope created for Social debate, inclusion and preservation of cultural diversity by ensuring the inclusion of the marginalized community.

f. Community Radio is now able to play more active role in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) due to establishment of effective linkage between the govt.departments and local/rural community.

Already the Community radio programs have been widely accepted among the local community.14 community radio stations presently covers more than 4.6 million listeners. This journey was not a bed of roses, we are to cross ups and downs-everyday we are to face newer challenges.

The Community Radios are becoming an active ground for organizing dialogues at rural level. These dialogues will help the rural mass to find out their own voice and ensure leverage their free opinion in respect of social, economic, political ,cultural and environmental issues

(* the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, .the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organisation of American States, and the Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression and the Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights)