Being the voice of the voiceless

Source: Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Dec 22, 2013, 12.00 AM IST (http://www.bangaloremirror.com/columns/sunday-read/Being-the-voice-of-the-voiceless/articleshow/27737663.cms)

As the Community Radio movement celebrates a decade of its existence in India, we revisit the story of Radio Active, Bangalore’s first community radio station

My name is RJ Priyanka, born as Raju. My life is no different from the other transgenders. Locked up and beaten for cross dressing by my parents … to resorting to sex work … I have come a long way to stand on my own feet and represent the voice of my community. I am grateful to my community members for encouraging me to be an RJ…,” she says. The 28-year-old was a finalist at the Namma Bengaluru Awards 2013 and this is a story she shared on the community radio station, Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz.

Many such tales emerge from the studios of Radio Active, the city’s first community radio station, started in 2007. In December 2002, the Government of India approved a policy for the grant of community radio licences to educational institutions/universities. Following this, the first community radio to go on air was Anna University. In 2005, when the Department of Mass Communication, Jain University, Bangalore was being inaugurated, then Manager (training and development) Pinky Chandran’s colleague Prof Karthik mooted the idea of applying for a community radio licence, and the university readily agreed. Chandran had just joined Jain University in 2005 and shared the same office space as the Mass Communication department. A series of discussions on community media, developmental communications, the development paradigm and the rights-based approach got her interested in this sector.

Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz went on air with a vision to encourage communities to create and own their media landscape while acting as a catalyst in meaningful social transformation and development. But the journey has not been without challenges. “We suffered from poor transmission. People would compare us unfavourably with private FM and AIR. But the spirit of experimentation, networking and learning sustained us. Nothing was planned; we were always open to ideas, people, and concepts,” says director Chandran.

Today, Radio Active is a platform for different communities, inspired by the Rockefeller Foundation report that asserts — ‘Community radio is one of the best ways to reach excluded or marginalised communities in targeted, useful ways’. “True empowerment is only possible when communities are given an opportunity to speak for themselves. This helps trigger change in society and leads to better functioning of democracy. The fact that people can design their own show, in their own language, in a format that they are comfortable in is when true empowerment takes place,” says Chandran.

Image Radio Active has around 100 people working as content producers, decision makers, idea generators, campaign coordinators and partners on 23 hours of broadcast on weekdays and 24 hours of broadcast on weekends, on around 14 shows across a gamut of subjects — from disability to sexual minorities, waste-pickers, governance and more. Shiv Kumar, a finalist at the Namma Bengaluru Awards 2012, shares how a chance meeting with Chandran on MG Road in 2010 changed his life. He says, “Madam hailed my auto on MG road. Inside my auto, I display various awards that I have won such as honesty certificates from the traffic police for passengers to read. Once we reached her stop, she told me about community radio and asked if I could come to the station.” After a conversation with RJs Padma Priya and Vijaya B, he decided to produce Mukha Mukhi, a live show every Saturday between 10 am to 12 noon. “We discuss issues such as auto fare hikes, the education of auto drivers, customer service, etc.”

There are over 150 such community radio stations across the country. “The movement has been transforming itself in dramatic ways by embracing new technology solutions and introducing creative ideas,” says Chandran. No two stations are the same as there is so much diversity. Still, she believes they have only just scratched the surface of the medium. “We welcome experiments that can integrate mobile technology with community radio on civic or social issues, %or ideas for new ways of community engagement.”

Different people have different needs — for some, work on Right to Education is of importance, for the waste-pickers it is the right to livelihood, for the animal activist it is the right for stray dogs to exist and for others, it is to scale up the experiment in mobile technology and more partnerships. There is always something new at the station and a new voice tapping into a new cause.

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