Time for the Third-Tier Broadcasting: Progress and Challenges of Community Radio installation and operation in Bangladesh

Bangladesh Consultation

Time for the Third-Tier Broadcasting:

Progress and Challenges of Community Radio installation and operation in Bangladesh

S M Shameem Reza

Associate professor

Mass Communication and Journalism

University of Dhaka

Organized by

Bangladesh NGO’s Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC)

Supported by

UNICEF Bangladesh

October 2010


Time for the Third-Tier Broadcasting:

Progress and Challenges of Community Radio installation and operation in Bangladesh


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 as part of the ongoing liberalization process in the broadcasting and telecommunications sector.

Most of the CR initiators are now preparing to go on air from February 2011, which among other issues, include community mobilization, capacity building for production and content development and installation and overall operations of the stations. In Bangladesh, 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. One of the principal objectives of CR is 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.

Bangladesh Betar, sate-run and the first-tier (radio) broadcasting of Bangladesh has been contributing the country’s development initiatives, socio-cultural, political and economic growth and national integration over the last four decades. This national radio network is capable of playing key role in family planning campaign, disaster preparedness and promotion of democratic values. There are however limitations in the operation of the mainstream (state-run and commercially operated) radios to cater for the needs of various segments of population, particularly community people.

Key movements for community radio in Bangladesh were carried out by Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups, which advocated for a model of community-based broadcasting. Advocates, activists and friends for CR expected that the third-tier radio broadcasting would help reduce 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.

Anticipating three-tier Media System

It is imperative that GoB takes necessary policy steps for creating an enabling media environment where the equitable growth of public service, commercial sector and community broadcasting are ensured. Our experience suggests that a greater consensus and political commitment are vital for the formulation of a national broadcast policy and to address the challenges of operations and impacts of a three-tier media system.

GoB as the state party realizes its crucial responsibility to administer the limited resources of the spectrum, so that radio frequencies are distributed to the various sections of the society equitably. The distributions and management of such resources are materialized through the adoption of appropriate policies and effective implementation of the strategies. As CR initiators are preparing for the installation of stations and subsequently broadcasting, Ministry of Information (MoI) is in the process of finalizing a strategy for effective implementation of CR. At the same time, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has informed that it is ready to allocate frequencies to 14 CRs as soon as the initiators have installed the equipments and announced dates for broadcasting.

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 the eradication of extreme poverty, achieving universal 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 present democratically elected 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 the 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.

Box 1: Progress so far on the part of Government

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

  • MoI 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.

  • 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.

  • MoI 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.

Box 2: Progress so far made by 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 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.

Major Challenges

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 for individual stations. As the deadline (March 2011) to start operations is approaching Initiators should consider it as an outstanding challenge. They should act immediately, so that the technological issues, which may affect the initiation of CR is mitigated.

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:

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

b) 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) Appropriate recognition of CR by key policy actors in the government, civil society, broadcast industry, academia and research;

b) Capacity building and knowledge sharing;

c) Developing models of training, research and monitoring;

d) Developing assessment tools for measuring social impact of CR;

e) Meaningful inclusion of women, children and young people;

f) 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.

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. Capacity building of staff has been a central activity of preparedness. Most of the initiators have appointed station managers and some of them have already made progress in infrastructural arrangement. At the same time, we should also take into account the fact that the arrangement relating to installing equipments, such as finalizing decision about the most suitable transformer is still an outstanding issue.

Technical support from the development partners does not seem to be encouraging enough. There are however exceptions, such as UNICEF and USAID-PROGATI are supporting or have planned to support 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”. This UNICEF supported project is targeted towards capacity building, skill enhancement and mitigating certain challenges of CR in Bangladesh. Activities of the project include a need assessment survey, developing training modules, establishing child radio clubs etc. For a list of other specific preparedness, please see the previous section “Progress of CR in Brief” (Box 2: Progress so far made by NGOs, initiators & Civil Societies)

Civil society initiatives have been crucial over the last one decade or more in carrying out advocacy movements as well as building awareness of the benefits of CRS. Some of them conducted primary needs assessments with limited scopes, while others have been active in preparing an operational framework of CRS. In 2009, an NGO network of community radio initiators conducted a baseline survey. It also established a Community Radio Academy (CRA) for maintaining standard of CR. CRA is contributing to the capacity building, research and development and technical cooperation of CR initiators.

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

Box 2: Areas for forward looking strategies


Themes/issues to be taken care of

Capacity building

CRS management, financial management, programme content, programme exchange, programme genres, national media and communication policies, strategic use of radio as a medium and channel of communication.

Technical Cooperation

Effective, user-friendly and cost-effective CR technology, ICT

Research and Development

CR operation and performance monitoring and evaluation, needs assessments, baseline surveys, setting up and running training academy, audience research and feedback mechanism.

Policy and Enabling Environment

Developing a monitoring and evaluation framework and creating CR Development Trust Fund.


Issues, policies and code of conduct in CR broadcasting and operation relating to women, ethnic groups and children, for example.

Campaign and Advocacy

Awareness building, identifying policy recommendations, making code of conduct, editorial guideline, advocacy planning, lobbying, dialogues and consultations after the pilot phase.

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. CR is not going to be a substitute for our mainstream and national broadcasting system, rather the next logical extension of traditional broadcast media based on the concept of community participation in governance and development.

After more than a decade since the public discourses emerged in 1998, key policy actors in the government are now convinced that CR would be one of the most useful tools in supporting national, local and community-based development initiatives. Community broadcasting would encourage the participation of women and marginalized, for example. CRS would work as a people-oriented media to promote indigenous knowledge and local culture, explain development services and economic opportunities, and contribute to consensus building on environmental sustainability.

CRS’s contribution will be pivotal in bringing about changes in power relations between the community people and the government. It would help bring together the components of culture, communication and development at local level. Roles of CR would be instrumental in enabling local people to participate and raise their voices on issues affecting their lives. Among other issues, CR can bridge the gap between the local supply and demand sides of public information. In fact, CR has the most potential in making the demand side aware of the use and benefits of using RTIA, which will, in turn, put pressure on supply side to act more efficiently. Transmission of CRS will be FM-based, which is cost effective and user-friendly. This will make CR a cheaper medium of technology. It can again promote the National ICT Policy at local level to inform community people for utilizing the infrastructures and facilities of new media and ICTs.

As the third sector broadcasting medium CR has all potential to contribute significantly to the extension of broadcast media ecology in Bangladesh. Unlike the state-run or privately operated radios, which have either financial grantee or means to manage revenue through advertisements, a community based broadcast media requires support for reaching maturity. Establishing a CR trust fund would be most useful for the continuing and uninterrupted growth of this people-oriented media institution. At the same time, we expect from the international community that they will do the needful for enabling regular knowledge and information sharing between North and South as well as within and between different regions. Development partners may focus more on providing multi-sector and multi-content based technical assistance to CR projects in Bangladesh. And once the CR programs are on air, our collective concentrations should be to support and encourage research and technological development for a better responsive community radio system.

[For comments on this article: shameemreza@univdhaka.edu]


  1. Awami League (2008) Election Manifesto 2008, Dhaka: Bangladesh Awami League.

  1. Bangladesh Gazette (2008, March 18) Community Radio installation, Operation and Broadcasting Policy 2008, Dhaka: Bangladesh Government Press.

  1. BNNRC (2007). Bangladesh on the way to open up Community Radio: Draft Concept Paper, Policy and Application Form, Dhaka: BNNRC.

  1. ---------- (2009) Community Radio Preparedness in Bangladesh: dissemination of baseline study findings for a way forward, Dhaka: BNNRC.

  1. Ministry of Information (MoI) Bangladesh, Citizen Charter.


  1. Reza, S. (2008) Mobilizing Communities for Community Radio in Bangladesh: Prospects and Challenges, Paper presented at the Regional Conference “Peoples’ Voices, Peoples’ Participation and Community Radio, organized by AMIC, UNB & BNNRC, Dhaka, 4th May 2008.

  1. --------- (2010) Community Radio Preparedness in Bangladesh: Progress and Scopes for Action, key note paper presented at the Bangladesh Pre-consultation for the 2nd AMARC-AP Regional Conference (in Bangalore, India), organized by BNNRC & supported by UNICEF, held in Dhaka in February 2010.

  1. --------- (2008). Community Radio Sthapon, Somprochar o Porichalona Neetimala – 2008: Ekti Mullayan o Prashongik Alochona (Community Radio Installation, Broadcast and Operation Policy 2008) in ‘Muktoprokash’, Year 1, No. 2, March 2008, Dhaka.

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