The Gift of Voice to the Voiceless in Bangladesh Community Radio

The Gift of Voice to the Voiceless in Bangladesh
Community Radio


The long anticipated introduction of community radio (CR) in to the social, developmental and cultural lifeblood of the country has finally kicked off. Its significance is immense compared to the niche target audiences CR addresses. According to Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC), Ministry of Information (MOI) Bangladesh declared the Community Radio Installation, Broadcast and Operation Policy 2008. Under this policy, the MOI started the process of giving licenses after they received 200 applications. Then they gave security clearance to 116 of them and finally approved 14 CR stations while another 21 are awaiting approval. 

Dhaka, from where the phrase Digital Bangladesh was coined, is yet to have a CR station. 
BNNRC sources say reasonable license and spectrum fees have been fixed by the government considering the fact that Community Radio is a development initiative and non profit entity. Initially license fee for each station has been set at 20,000.00 Taka and a non-refundable deposit of 1, 00,000 Taka is also required. The government reserves all rights to reset this fee and deposit any time. Frequency fees are decided by Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).And it takes about 30 to 35 lacs Taka to make a CR Station operational.

CR policy has fixed its transmission area within the 17 km radius, which may cover one or more Upazila of a district. In first phase of 14, Radio Padma 99.2 FM was set up in Rajshahi city. Center for Communication & Development (CCD) - an organization promoting mass communication and journalism is the initiator of this station that started its formal transmission on October 7 last year as the first CR station of the country. CR Mukti 99.2 FM, initiated by an NGO Landless Distressed Rehabilitation Organization (LDRO) started test transmission on October 31, 2011 from Bogra.Naogaon Human Rights Development Association has started test transmission of Borendro Radio 99.2 FM. RDRS Bangladesh, a reputable NGO has started broadcasting Radio Chilmari 99.2 FM at Chilmari Upazila of Kurigram on January 5 this year. Radio Mahananda 98.8 was initiated in Chapainawabganj by Proyash Manobik Unnayan Society which started its transmission on October 28, 2011. 

Meanwhile, BRAC, the largest NGO of the subcontinent has initiated Radio Pollikantho 99.2 at Moulvibazar, which started its formal transmission on January 12 this year. Mass Line Media Center, a media organisation started the test transmission of its CR LokoBetar 99.2 at Amtali of Barguna district on May 27, 2011. Nalta Hospital and Community Health Foundation of Sathkhira established their Radio Nalta 99.2 and started its transmission on May 13 last year. 

Broadcasting Asia of Bangladesh initiated Radio Sundarban 98.8 from Koyra Upazila of Khulna and started transmission on February 15 this year. Radio Jhenuk 99.2 initiated by Srizony Bangladesh started its transmission from December 17 last year from Jhenaidah Sadar. Port City's Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) established Radio Sagor Giri 99.2 from Sitakunda in Chittagong district and started its transmission on November 24 last year.

ACLAB, an NGO will soon start Radio Naf 99.2 FM from Tekhnaf of Cox’s Bazar.
Environment Council Bangladesh (EC Bangladesh) has established Radio Bikrampur 99.2 from Munshiganj and will go On Air very soon. Meanwhile, Krishi Radio 98.8 MHz is the country's only CR set up by the Agriculture Information Service of the Ministry of Agriculture based in Amtoli of Barguna. 

CR is a radio service offering a broadcast in addition to commercial and public information generation and dissemination. These community stations serve geographic communities with content that is popular and relevant to a local, specific audience but is often overlooked by commercial or mass-media broadcasters. And most importantly, this media has the potential to be run by independent groups or personality and not be a part of a political propaganda or a corporate house with vested interest. As a result, it can cater “Development Journalism” in an optimized manner. This is an important intersection where freedom is given to the mass people of Bangladesh, believes many initiators of this communication energy. 

In this country, the prime role of CR is to give a voice to people who do not have access to mainstream media and do not have the opportunity to express their views on their community development. 

Globally, the major tasks of CR is to promote the right to communicate, expediting the process of informing the community, assisting the free flow of information and acting as a catalyst of change and therefore there should be no exceptions locally. 
A Dhaka based journalist Russell Haque said, “CR as a tool can uphold the creative emergence and democratic spirit at all the rural and urban community levels of the country and therefore we should utilize it properly. It should not only cater to development and cultural activities but social movements as well letting us know right from wrong. It’s a shame that within the 14 stations permitted to operate, not a single one was given from Dhaka metro city”.

Speaking to us the chief executive officer (CEO) of BNNRC, AHM Bazlur Rahman, said, “Our main objective is to minimize the information and digital divide between our rural and urban regions and this can be done by establishing the four keys - right to information, information communication technology for development (ICT4D), community radio and amateur radio. Information and digital divide contributes to knowledge divide and reducing that is our primary goal”.

“So, in order to minimize the knowledge divide, we must follow four steps – knowledge creation, knowledge preservation at local level, knowledge dissemination and finally knowledge utilisation all at local levels. If all these factors work properly then the pluralism will nationally contribute and therefore human needs and rights will be addressed. These are the philosophical viewpoints”, he added.

BNNRC is promoting the advocacy with the government in relations to community radio with other organizations since its emergence in 2,000 to open-up the Community Radio in Bangladesh to address critical social issues at community level, such as poverty, social exclusion, empowerment of marginalized rural groups and catalyse democratic process in decision making and ongoing development efforts.

CR movement officially started in 1998 in Bangladesh. BNNRC along with other like-minded organizations and also representatives of the civil society started movement for CR operation.

In 2006, BNNRC, MMC, Focus, YPSA and Voice jointly organized a Three-Day long Round Table on CR as the National Advocacy Meeting. UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP joined in the advocacy activities for the first time. After Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the Honourable Chief Adviser of the Non-Party Caretaker Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh, took the charge BNNRC organized a Letter Campaign regarding community radio. The objective of the campaign was to open up CR as a pilot basis. As the outcome of the campaign, Office of the Chief Adviser sent an advice to the MOI in order to release permission for the pilot basis CR.

An inter-ministerial meeting was held on last 6th February. Representatives of the concerned ministries were present in the meeting. At last, the government formally announced the Community Radio Installation, Broadcast and Operation Policy 2008 on March 12, 2008. The Ministry of Information of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh invited very rapidly the applications for Community Radio installation, broadcast and operation from the interested organizations.

In the whole process the government ensured the proper participation and representation from civil society organizations through incorporating representatives in Regulatory Committee, Technical Committee and National Monitoring Committee for the successful operation of the Community Radio. Finally, Community Radio Strategy 2011 under the MOI was formulated. 

BNNRC set up a CR Academy in Dhaka. This helps the CR stakeholders having on-hand training of technical and management skills, coming to know about the function, management, procedure, problem, prospect and sustainability of CR as a tool of ICT and having all concerned resources and facilities available for their progress and success.
Rahman added more that their dream is now to establish at least 64 CR stations by 2015 and 400 CR stations including campus radios by 2021 for this country. If this can be done, then we can dream of CR to become the mainstream media in the disadvantaged area of the country and this would ensure media justice in the nation.

There was a rumour that permission of CR stations took time because the government thought just like other South-Asian countries, an uprising might occur with the help of CR But Rahman laughed at this gossip and said it took a very long time to educate the policy makers of this country and that is the reason for the delay. Our political structure is different from other countries and based on urban areas mainly which is why CR will never affect our politics.

Finally, talking about the revenue generation of CR stations, Rahman said that it has been decided that the CR initiatives have to be non-profit, avoiding direct selling and can only have 'development advertisements', for example a specific food show sponsored by a food company...there cannot be commercial advertisements. Moreover, whatever profit a CR station will make, has to be re-invested for the development of the station and that cannot be shared amongst the owner/s or management committee.

To this a CR station owner requesting anonymity said, “Development Advertisements is another way and policy fixed by the government to initiate failure and shut down of the community radio stations. How on earth would we sustain without generating revenue?”

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