The campaign for community radio, which has been going on in Bangladesh for the past several years is, to the joy of many who have been fighting for it, soon going to be a success thanks to an initiative taken by the caretaker government.
Community radio, a new type of broadcasting in the country, embodies the concept of community ownership of a medium to broadcast their own views about their particular needs.
So far cold-shouldered by policy level people because they were afraid of losing their grip over local matters and undermining of their monstrous power, the concept is now being embraced warmly. On October 29, the Ministry of Information organised a meeting to open community radio, and discussed and approved the concept paper, draft policy, and application forms for it. The idea now waits for the chance to beat its wings into reality right after the approval through an inter-ministerial meeting.
This has become more urgent since Cyclone Sidr struck the coastal regions of the country, with its cruel hands claiming thousands of lives, devastating property worth crores of Taka and causing millions of heartbreaks. Central level inadequacy and the inability to cope with local matters such as education, natural disaster, cultural life and many other issues have become conspicuous once again.
This has created the need for people to share their views and concerns in their own regional languages through a local media to have their voices heard by policy-making groups sitting far away, a crying need now.
Community radio, though a new idea here, is 60 years old now. Introduced in 1947 at Sutatenza, a village in Colombia, by a young priest and amateur radio operator, with the objective of running informal education, the idea of community radio then matured into a truly community type in ownership and sharing, and also turned radical through Miner's Radio of Bolivia in 1949.
Since then the movement for community radio has spread worldwide and even coalesced into the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (WACRB) in 1983, giving further boost to its campaign.
Across the globe, once remote and isolated corners are now filled with thousands of such community radios. Finding its foothold in our backyard in South Asia through the state-supported Kothmale Community Radio in Sri Lanka in 1989, a truly community-owned radio station in South Asia began with the pioneering Radio Sagarmatha in 1997 in Nepal, which brought the King's deadly rage upon itself in 2005 but is still alive and kicking.
India caught up soon in 2001 with a decision to issue licenses for private radio stations, and, in 2006, with the approval of a community radio policy, was the first of its kind in the region. Now, there are many such radio stations in that country and also in neighbouring ones.
As for the role of community radio in Bangladesh, A.H.M. Bazlur Rahman, chief executive officer of Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC), one of the key campaigners, said that community radio could play an important role by broadcasting the needs of the affected people during the post-disaster period, broadcasting news of lost children and details of the criminals in the local dialect more quickly and effectively, and also in disaster management, gender equality, environment protection, anti-fundamental activities, early marriage prevention, child mortality and awareness against dowry, agricultural development, and many other important issues.
Community radio in Bangladesh has the enormous prospect of becoming a partner in development in economy, education, environment, bringing the marginalised into the mainstream, etc.
The recent cyclone has shown one of its aspects clearly, which is to face the challenge of cyclones and tidal bores in the coastal districts of Patuakhali, Bhola, Chittagong, etc. There, such radios will be helpful in spreading warnings, taking precaution, minimising damages and mitigating sufferings through information shared before, during, and after a disaster.
The main stumbling block to it so far has been the lack of a broadcasting policy in our country. Though the Ministry of Information made a draft broadcasting policy in 2003, with the encouraging recognition of community broadcasting as part of the three types of broadcasters -- government, private, and community -- it did not see the light of vote in the parliament.
Now that the present government has taken a positive step for piloting such radios, it has a good chance to grow in the future and contribute further by becoming a partner in the overall development of the country.
Alamgir Khan is Program Officer, Other Vision Communication.