An Ode to Community Radio in Zambia: A voice for the People

By Meck Phiri, Program Manager, USAID Open Spaces Zambia

Zambia joins the world in celebrating World Radio Day on February 13. Radio remains vastly important for the vast majority in our country. We look at the importance and impact of community radio and the challenges and opportunities it faces in the future.

Radio is one of the most popular and accessible forms of media in the world. It can reach millions of listeners across different regions, languages, and cultures. Radio can also play a vital role in promoting democracy, human rights, and social development. This is especially true for community radio, which is a type of radio that is owned and operated by the people it serves, rather than by commercial or state interests.

In this day of social media, there is still a place for community media as people still need verified local sources of information. ZICTA notes that Internet penetration in Zambia is only at 30.40% hence the majority of people in Zambia cannot access news or information on smart devices.

Community radio stations are focused on local needs and issues, and they provide a platform for diverse voices and opinions to be heard. Community radio can also foster dialogue, education, and empowerment among marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as women, youth and rural communities.

In Zambia, a country with a vibrant and diverse media landscape, community radio has been growing steadily since the 1990s. Today, there are over 70 community radio stations across the country, covering topics such as health, agriculture, governance, culture, and entertainment. These stations are supported by communities, churches and various local and international organizations, such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Internews, BBC Media Action, and UNESCO.

Importance and Impact of Community Radio in Zambia

Community radio in Zambia has many benefits and advantages for the listeners and the broadcasters. Some of these are:

  • Community radio provides relevant and reliable information to the people, especially in rural areas where other forms of media are scarce or expensive. Community radio can inform the listeners about their rights, duties, and opportunities, as well as provide them with practical advice and guidance on various aspects of their lives, such as health, education, agriculture, and business.
  • Community radio promotes participation and engagement among the people, by allowing them to express their views, opinions, and concerns, and to interact with each other and with the authorities. Community radio can also facilitate feedback and accountability, by holding the leaders and decision-makers responsible for their actions and policies.
  • Community radio enhances diversity and inclusion, by representing the different cultures, languages, and perspectives of the people, and by giving voice to the voiceless and marginalized groups, such as women, youth, and minorities. Community radio can also promote tolerance and peace, by encouraging dialogue and understanding among different communities and groups, and by addressing the root causes of conflict and violence.
  • Community radio empowers and inspires the people, by providing them with opportunities to learn new skills, to access new resources, and to improve their livelihoods. Community radio can also stimulate creativity and innovation, by showcasing local talents, stories, and initiatives, and by supporting local arts and culture.

Challenges and Opportunities for Community Radio in Zambia

Despite the positive impact and potential of community radio in Zambia, there are also some challenges and obstacles that hinder its development and sustainability. Some of these are:

  • Community radio faces financial and technical difficulties, such as lack of funding, equipment, and infrastructure. Community radio stations often rely on donations, grants, and sponsorships, which are not always sufficient or stable. Community radio stations also struggle to maintain and upgrade their equipment and facilities, and to cope with the high costs of electricity, internet, and transmission.
  • Community radio faces legal and regulatory barriers, such as lack of recognition, protection, and support from the government. Community radio stations often operate in a precarious and uncertain environment, where they must deal with bureaucratic procedures, licensing fees, and taxation. Community radio stations also face the risk of interference, harassment, and censorship from the authorities or other actors, especially when they cover sensitive or controversial issues.
  • Community radio faces human and professional challenges, such as lack of training, capacity, and quality. Community radio stations often lack qualified and experienced staff and volunteers, who can produce and manage quality and diverse programming. Community radio stations also need to improve their editorial and ethical standards, and to ensure their independence and credibility.

However, these challenges also present opportunities and possibilities for community radio in Zambia to grow and improve. Some of these are:

  • Community radio can leverage the support and collaboration of various stakeholders, such as civil society, media, academia, and international organizations. Community radio can benefit from the expertise, resources, and networks of these partners, who can provide them with training, funding, equipment, and advocacy. Community radio can also join forces with other community radio stations, to form associations, networks, and alliances, that can enhance their visibility, influence, and solidarity.
  • Community radio can harness the potential and opportunities of new technologies, such as digital and online platforms. Community radio can use these tools to expand their reach, audience, and impact, and to diversify their content, formats, and services. Community radio can also use these tools to improve their communication, interaction, and feedback with the listeners and the stakeholders, and to create new sources of income and sustainability.
  • Community radio can capitalize on the demand and appreciation of the people, who value and trust community radio as a source of information, education, and entertainment. Community radio can increase their listenership, loyalty, and participation, by producing and delivering quality and relevant programming, that meets the needs and interests of the people. Community radio can also mobilize and involve the people, as owners, contributors, and beneficiaries of community radio, and as agents of change and development.

Community radio in Zambia is a powerful and important medium, that can serve the people and the society in many ways. Community radio can inform, educate, and entertain the people, as well as engage, empower, and inspire them. Community radio can also contribute to the promotion of democracy, human rights, and social development, as well as to the prevention and resolution of conflict and violence.

However, community radio in Zambia also faces many challenges and difficulties, that limit its growth and sustainability. Community radio needs more support and recognition from the government, more resources and capacity from the partners, and more quality and diversity from the broadcasters.

As we celebrate World Radio Day, we salute and appreciate the community radio stations and the community radio practitioners in Zambia, who work hard and passionately to provide a voice for the people. We also call on all the stakeholders and the listeners, to support and strengthen community radio in Zambia, as a vital and asset for the country.

Meck Phiri is the programmes manager at USAID Open Spaces Zambia, a project implemented by Internews Zambia and a consortium of NGOs.