Community Radio 101*

A blog post from Dr. Patrick Vinck Ph.D. on Internews' work in Central African Republic

Community Radio 101*
Author(s):
Dr. Patrick Vinck Ph.D.

(This blog post from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund web site covers Internews' project in the Central African Republic.)

My last posts have focused on understanding the use and perception of media and communication among humanitarians and journalists, and the sources of information populations in Central African Republic (CAR) rely on, as part of an ongoing effort to inform Internews’ project “Integrating Local Media and ICTs into Humanitarian Response in CAR.”

Recently, however, I traveled to northern CAR, outside of the project area, to assess efforts at building a lasting peace in this volatile region. I conducted a survey two years ago in this region (see this video about my previous research and click here for more information on it).

Security in these areas has dramatically increased in the intervening time, and the population can now move freely. However, the field visit also highlighted the challenges of running a “bush radio” with limited human and financial resources.

Several community-based radios have emerged in places like Paoua or Kagabandoro in northern CAR, and the very existence of these radios is a source of pride for the communities and a valuable source of information. Projects supported by the international community set up these radios because they are powerful tools to create community-level dialogue, social cohesion, and a culture of peace. In many cases, however, the sustainability of these radios is far from guaranteed because communities are not prepared or equipped to manage the radio station.

The sole source of income for these radios comes from the community itself. The resources are needed to run a generator a few hours a day to provide electricity to broadcast programs, and sometimes to provide support for journalists to conduct their work, like transportation fees. Most journalists, if not all, are volunteers – the term “journalist” itself is not quite adequate, since most of them are not properly trained in that capacity.

Gathering resources in already impoverished communities is difficult, especially when and where these communities were not informed about the long-term financial implications of running the radio. The problem is made more difficult by the limited training of radio managers in seeking alternative funding opportunities, or in monetizing services, and in managing the funds. At best, community radio staffs have received a few weeks of training.

Another challenge is the lack of proper equipment and technical capacity. Too often, the radio stations are equipped with imported material for which spare parts or technical support is not available in the country. The problem is compounded by inadequate training on how to handle the equipment and, as a result, the station rapidly becomes unable to function. In Paoua, the community radio stopped broadcasting in January.

At the minimum, the examples of Paoua and Kagabandoro show that the creation of community radio station should (1) consider local ownership and financial independence from the very initial planning, (2) rely on a realistic assessment of existing capacities vs. capacity needed to run the community radio as the basis for training, and (3) rely on locally available equipment and human resources. These are the basic requirements to ensure the sustainability of the community radio themselves, and more broadly, the engagement of affected communities.

While these lessons were learned outside of Internews’ project area, we must recognize that, in CAR, no community radio is immune to these problems. They all operate in a context of impoverished material, financial, and human capital.

This also means that before local radios – and their reporters and correspondent – are able to really start engaging populations in more robust, two-way communication platforms, they need to have the proper, basic tools to do so. Donors and implementers must recognize that assistance is needed even for the most basic tasks of broadcasting beyond the initial set up of a community radio.

* The term "101" originates from use in university course numbering systems in America, designed to make transfer between colleges easier. "Topic 101" is used generally to indicate the basics of any subject. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/101_(term).

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