Inclusive Community Radios

Deepak Acharya

On February 13, the country is celebrating the 8th World Radio Day. The United Nations Assembly had proclaimed the World Radio Day in 2011 in commemoration of the first broadcast by the UN Radio in 1946. Local radio is specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people, the disabled, the illiterate, women, farmers, youths and the poor. It is the mass media that reaches the widest audience in the world. In an era of new technologies, it remains the world’s most accessible platform, a powerful communication tool and a low cost medium. In Nepal, community radios are more inclusive than other media, but it is not on major post and decision level. Community radios are trying to be inclusive but they are unable to make gender equality and social inclusion in major posts and at highest decision making level.
Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) in media and actions have been recognised as an essential element to ensure inclusive democracy, which is crucial to social transformation. Community radios in Nepal are committed to give voice to the voiceless, aspire for an informed and just society, and strive for ultimate goal of social transformation. They are important vehicle to build and strengthen inclusive democracy and inclusive development. But how inclusive are the community radios themselves in Nepal is a fundamental question. Other things are that they need to develop into an inclusive institution so that they can effectively advocate and uphold the cause of inclusion in the society. There are 325 community radios in Nepal. They are mostly established with zeal of groups of people, organisation and cooperatives. They are run with enthusiasm and self-drive of the promoters. Community radios cover over 77 districts of the country and 95 per cent of the population.
According to the study of Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal, gender equality and social inclusion in radio are challenging topic. The study found that the staffs in radios are not balanced in terms of their gender, caste, ethnicity, religion and geographic representation. While women constitute around 43 per cent, majority of them are from Brahmin, Chhetri and Janajati groups. Very few women and staffs from excluded caste and ethnic community are at decision making positions. Radios have pointed out the need for recruiting more women staffs to have programmes with mixed voices. The issue of retaining competent women staff and those from Dalits and Janajatis has also been raised from other media and development agencies but these people tend to leave their job once they get skills and confidence.
All radios have programmes targeting women empowerment, Dalit, and Janajati, but it is not enough. The producers and presenters are men and women from all castes and ethnic communities. They have also started to engage target community related organisations in programme production. However, there are weaknesses as well. Most radios do not have their own code of conduct or a mechanism to deal with discriminatory behaviours. Most radios do not have GESI friendly management and policy. But, in recruitment, the policies explicitly or implicitly spell out that women should be included in it.
It is found that the radio leaders are aware of the importance of the representation of women and Dalit in executive board, and most radios have the representation. However, such representation is, in most cases, for formality only. For example, female staff in a radio openly mentioned that presence of a woman in executive board is of no use, neither in terms of safeguarding interest of women in society nor the female staff themselves. It is clearly essential that representation and capacity development measures should go side by side. Formation of different types of committees could be a potential measure to provide space to a number of women excluded.
Majority of the radio leaders are in favour of making the radio inclusive in governance, but they do not know how to do achieve so. There is the need for concerted effort to develop practical tools and impart skills. Community radios are at a critical mode at this time. They need support in strengthening their organisation and management systems to keep pace with the roles they are expected to play. An important aspect is to develop gender equality and social inclusion friendly organisation structure, management system and procedures. The following measures are important for developing GESI friendly community radios in Nepal.
First thing is to develop common framework for operation. The community radios do not have systematised framework for their operations, ways of doing business and unifying them for a common cause. One study of Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal notes that setting a national norms and standards, training, implementation support, and compliance monitoring by national institutions is instrumental in shaping and promoting desired behaviours of radio workers.
GESI should be incorporated in overall governance and management policies, structures, system and processes rather than treating GESI separately. System should also be developed with frequent implementation reviews and compliance monitoring. Capacity building of radio journalists and managers should be focused on providing hands-on skills related to programme production, management tools, and concepts and knowledge on matters such as gender equality and social inclusion. Exchanging experiences and lessons learned is another means to develop and sharpen skill and competencies of human resource in radios.
Advocating and promoting the role of women and excluded communities in community radios is most important. The organisational and institutional efforts mentioned here are not sufficient to transform the radios into an all-inclusive organisation. GESI is an approach and it has its deep roots in the society at large. Attention should also be given to participation of grassroots people in radio management.
(Acharya is the chief of CIN, a network of community radios of Nepal) 

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