What is Participatory Radio?
A definition and two examples from South Africa
1. What is Participatory Radio?
Participatory Radio and Community Radio
What is it That Makes a Radio Station a
Community Radio Station?
What Makes a Participatory Radio Participatory?
Requirements of Participatory Radio
Is a Participatory Radio Feasible?
2. Participatory Radio in South Africa
Eyabantwana Radio Station - Children's
Vukani Community Radio in Cala
The generic term for self-managed radio broadcasting is COMMUNITY
RADIO. A representative of a South American radio station defined
the term at the Sixth World Conference of Community Radio Broadcasters:
"The answer is not very complicated: it is sufficient to look at
the objectives of the station. What does it aim for, what are its
goals? The determining element is the social nature of the medium.
Commercial radio stations define themselves as profit-making institutions.
As a communications medium, they have to show the same social and
cultural responsibility that all good journalists have, and have
to base their programming on service to their communities. But,
when a conflict arises, when they have to choose between God and
mammon, the owners of commercial radio stations will be inclined
towards the latter.
Our choice is different. And in that we find the precious jewel,
the non-negotiable characteristic of our radio projects: Do we work
primarily for our own ends, or to help improve the social conditions
and the cultural quality of life of the people in our communities?
Community radio stations are not looking for profit, but to provide
a service to society. Naturally, this is a service that attempts
to influence public opinion, create consensus, strenghten democracy
and above all create community - hence the name Community Radio."
Participatory Radio is a form of Community Radio. What follows
is our attempt to define Participatory Radio and the conclusions
that we draw from this definition.
Participatory radio stations are managed by people who have taken
the initiative themselves and decide together on all matters that
concern them. Decisions are arrived at on the spot. Concepts are
developed within the community. Content and forms are aligned to
the needs, the culture and experiences of the community.
Radio is but one means to further develop emancipatory impulses.
Grassroots groups are thus enabled to articulate their needs. By
means of simple technology everybody can communicate, share their
experiences and further develop their own projects.
The essential question regarding the establishment of a radio station
is not one of technology but rather the question of how the community
will be able to control the medium technically, politically and
culturally. The establishment of a radio station in a village or
district of a town requires a minimum of community structures. Otherwise
the result will be a radio project imposed from above, which can
prove valuable if it provides high quality information and achieves
close links to the people - but that is a different approach. However,
the programmes do not then originate in the community, and therefore
the people of that community will have difficulties identifying
with the medium. It is not part of a participatory approach to nip
in the bud initial attempts at self-organisation through massive
input from outside.
The ability to speak is a characteristic of mankind. Unlike speech,
reading and writing are abilities which the majority of people in
the world are denied. Radio opens up possibilities for communication
without the prerequisite of being able to write. But that is only
feasible when people can run a radio station on the basis of their
own realm of experience. Thus, for example, in Burkina Faso an attempt
was made to build on the oral tradition. The imposition of radio
concepts and structures in the European or North American style
is a form of cultural imperialism.
Grassroots participatory groups must be given the opportunity to
learn from their own experiences with radio broadcasting. Hence,
the radio station will develop, and the self-confidence of the radio
broadcasters will be enhanced. In this process everybody gets a
chance to gain experience. If it is feasible the training of the
members of the radio station should be organised in the participatory
group itself. This facilitates the participation of women since,
as a rule, they are responsible for the problems of managing everyday
life and are, accordingly, less dispensable and cannot easily take
time off. Therefore, and especially in the initial phase, it is
possible for the members of the radio project to attain similar
levels of knowledge and skills despite structural and patriarchal
constraints as well as different educational backgrounds.
Participatory initiatives have to protect themselves against the
danger that people who have had access to a better education on
the basis of their social background try to occupy positions that
will only cement their own privileged position. Participating in
a "Course on Radio" without prior experience that stems from the
relevant cultural background will therefore also prove to be counterproductive.
In such cases the disempowerment of the disadvantaged is reinforced,
they are not given the opportunity to transmit their culture within
and through the medium of the radio.
A training programme in the fields of radio technology and journalism
has to be keyed to the experiences and conditions of the community.
No paedagogy that strives to be liberating
in a true sense can distance itself from the oppressed by treating
them as the "deprived" and providing models for emulation from the
side of the oppressors. In their struggle for liberation the oppressed
have to be their own role models.
The participatory approach, as based on the method of Paulo Freire,
is the basis of many projects that go beyond literacy campaigns.
One example is the project in Uruguay that was aimed at the development
of a popular literature. In the field of media, newspapers, books
and films can be mentioned. The concept of radio schools was developed
in Columbia. However, before radio broadcasting could be used for
Participatory Radio, a technological development towards small and
inexpensive radio transmitters was required. Another prerequisite
was the mass production of audio technology. Nowadays a radio station
can be run with relatively modest means, and it is possible for
everybody to learn about and have a command of its technology.
'Participación', the participation of the entire people in
the political reorganisation of society, was one of the primary
concerns of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. This democratic
participation requires communication, lines of communication which
run from the bottom to the top, so that vertical power structures
can be transformed into horizontal ones. The radio is one of the
most important means of communication. Small radio stations were
to be established, operated as well as controlled not by professionals
but by the people concerned. This project was realised in the Matagalpa
region, where we established three participatory radio stations.
Within the last three years we have been involved in the establishment
of participatory radio stations in South Africa. Up to now, we were
involved in the construction of two stations:
in Khayelitsha / Kapstadt
Radio Station is located in Khayelitsha, a township near Cape Town
in South Africa. The radio station was initiated by the Children's
Resource Centre (CRC). The CRC was founded in 1983. Its aim was
to develop, within the Apartheid system of South Africa, new ways
of opening up opportunities to children from the repressed majority
and to strengthen their self-confidence.
Judy Simons is one of two radio coordinators. Even as a child
she was active in children's groups. She says with regard to the
objectives of the Children's Radio: " Having worked with children
for the past twelve years, we in Children's Resource are acutely
aware of the enormous potential which the electronic media have
in terms of child development, whether it be in areas of education,
distance learning, recreation, cultural development, promotion of
multi-lingualism to name but a few.
We believe that children should be actively involved in the planning
of the programme content, the gathering of information, the actual
production of programmes, the presentation of their own material
in their own languages and the evaluation of programme material.
In developing a children's radio station, children should also become
familiar with the technological aspects of the station. This again
offers tremendous potential for educating a broad spectrum of children
in the fields of technology and science.
We have always envisaged that the Radio Station should be run
by children, with children for children."
Cala is a small, disadvantaged and isolated town in the Transkei,
a former homeland in South Africa. It is not easy for the people
in Cala to communicate with the outside world, as the communications
infrastructure is unreliable and breaks down frequently. Cala is
surrounded by a number of rural settlements that do not have a telephone
system, postal facilities and media. CALUSA (Cala University Students
Association) - a grassroots organisation that emerged from the struggle
of young activists following the Soweto riots - established a radio
station in Cala after three years of preparatory work. One of their
discussion papers states: "The kind of media
we have today serve the interests of the ruling class. In the light
of this we argue that the content of our programmes must reflect
the interests of the oppressed and exploited. Our radio will be
'community' in the sense that for the first time marginalised communities
will gain access to the medium of radio. The target groups of Vukani
Radio are the economically and politically marginalised people,
the working class, the dispossessed, the oppressed and exploited.
It is in their interests that the radio station will be run. The
kind of programmes must reflect the interests of our target groups.
This, to us, means fighting the dominant, corrupt, capitalist ideology
which has, up to now, torn apart our families, our organisations
and the society as a whole."
Vukani Community Radio has been in operation since
March 30, 1996.
Awake! Arise! Fight!