India’s Community Radio
Deserve More Space
India’s community radio sector
boasts of nearly 200 community radio stations. Most of these serve
vibrant communities and help them emerge from the shadows of the digital
These community radio stations are also the source of important
information for these communities. Much of the information that these
radio stations share has far-reaching value – whether in the shape of
providing life-saving information to mothers on infant care, or
informing farmers about how to deal with an impending drought – just to
give two examples. Hand-in-hand, the community radio stations serve an
invaluable purpose airing their cultural histories.
Development Alternatives’ Community Radio Station - Radio Bundelkhand
has been the expression of a vision to empower communities by
facilitating them access to a dedicated spectrum and, together with
studio and machinery, providing them with an important medium to air
their cultural aspirations, with messages on their social and economic
development riding the crests and troughs of the radio waves.
As a result, Radio Bundelkhand boasts an impressive archive of Bundeli
just as it has made exemplary interventions in the climate change
discourse. The list is a long one. All this has been possible because
the radio station practices an open-door policy, allowing the locals to
access the studio and sit down to make and broadcast their own
programmes, in their own voice!
Radio Bundelkhand caters to the needs of the local community, giving a
voice to the voiceless by creating and broadcasting programmes of local
interest while simultaneously addressing their problems through
infotainment. The radio station looks at enabling and empowering
communities, especially women, young people and marginalised groups, so
that they take charge of their own lives as the radio programmes air
solutions for fulfilling basic needs like clean water, housing, energy,
agriculture and non-farm livelihoods.
Radio and You
World Radio Day this year is themed around the slogan ‘Radio and You’ –
how each citizen can be part of the radio broadcast. The more people
participate in the working of the radio stations around them, the better
it runs. ‘Radio and You’ also means that radio listeners are both the
lubricants of the radio stations and the owners of the signals the radio
This echoes the much-feted definition of community radio stations – ‘one
that is operated in the community, for the community and by the
‘Radio and You’ is also about the commons. The spectrum is a common,
just like the oceans, the forests and the air we breathe. The theme
signifies both - the commons community radio thrives in as well as the
spirit of the spectrum over which the message is transmitted as a common
for public good.
Running community radio stations has been possible as many stalwarts
across the globe have fought for the broadcasting rights of communities.
In India, this has been suitably bolstered by a Supreme Court judgement
in 1995 mandating that the spectrum is public property.
Civil society’s struggles for the spectrum have invariably been met with
resistance – like a shrinking spectrum space as the community radio
sector in India is today left with just three spectrum bands – down from
six distinct spectrums allocated to community radio stations initially.
Now, that space is set to shrink further as the government wants to
promote government departments to run their own community radio
stations. There is consternation in the community over this – why should
government departments that have access to the public broadcaster, have
access to a spectrum, many are asking.
Community radio stations are radio stations of the community and as the
definition in the foregoing paragraphs is any indication, a government
department’s community radio station is somewhat of an oxymoron – that
is a self-defeating meaning.
Naturally so, civil society groups and organisations operating the
country’s community radio sector are wary of the government’s apparent
interest in roping in government bodies to increase the community radio
station footprint across the country.
Research and Evidence
The allowance to government departments to apply for spectrum and radio
transmission licence raises an important question – in such cases, can a
community radio station retain its original non-state, non-market
identity? Practitioners point out that community radio stations were
brought in as a third tier of radio, away from the interference of the
state and least influenced by market forces. The two were dictating the
nature of the content the radio station broadcast in the government-run
radio stations and in the commercial radio.
Community radio, on the other hand held hopes of offering a fresh change
from that trend. The hope was held also because the content broadcast by
community radio stations is any time better suited to the communities,
coming as it does, in their very own dialect.
This has also been borne out by a recent study commissioned by the
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that gives a healthy rating to
community radio stations operated by civil society organisations.
An in-depth research of the existing community radio stations located
across the country in terms of their listenership, reach and
effectiveness, was undertaken by a government-appointed agency in 2016.
The results of the study points to how community radio stations run by
non-government agencies have better listenership because they have been
successful in connecting with the community.
The 19 sample community radio stations chosen for the research together
covered an area of 7,818 square km with 14.8 lakh households. According
to the draft report of the study, ‘the access enjoyed by the communities
to the radio stations was cited as a main reason for the superior
performance of the community radio stations.’
The study report goes on to say that a ‘majority of the listeners (63%),
who were interviewed were listening to the community radio station on a
daily basis.” Two NGO operated community radio stations, Radio Sharda
and Radio Rimjhim reported a listenership of over 94%.
According to the research, the top five performers provided relevant
content to the listeners because of which the listeners tuned into them.
So, Radio Sharda, a radio station airing programmes for displaced
migrant Kashmiri Hindus rehabilitated in a particular part of Jammu was
extremely popular among the people in the region. Likewise, Radio Media
Village in Kerala or Waqt Ki Awaaz in Uttar Pradesh, Radio Rimjhim in
Bihar and Vayalaga Vanoli in Tamil Nadu topped the list of radio
stations studies ‘mainly because of the quality, content and strong
local flavour in their programmes.’
The report further says, ‘These radio stations also had active
involvement of the surrounding community. It was seen that these
community radio stations had a direct and long-term connect with the
community which contributed in higher listenership of these radio
These findings will put the other forms of radio broadcasting in the
country to shame, especially because the findings of the study are not
very charitable to the performance of community radio stations operated
by the government institutions. Apna Radio, the community radio station
operated by the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, a premier
communication institute of the Government of India and part of the
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is placed at the bottom of the
As the report says, ‘It was also reported that the programmes aired by
the radio station was not popular among the community surrounding the
CRS. For this reason, Delhi CRS is ranked at the last.’
The report says, 'At the end, it may be concluded that the CRSs run by
NGOs are doing better in comparison to other categories. The CRSs run by
educational institutes depicted a high potential scenario by and large
and appeared encouraging.'
Viewed in the backdrop of the ‘Radio and You’ slogan this World Radio
Day, the comments in this finding by the government appointed agency
make profound sense. It also leads to the questions that, if civil
society operated community radio stations are indeed doing well, why
should the space for these forms of media ownership be reduced.
Bijoy Patro and
Desh Raj Singh
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