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Coppi Arbeitsgruppe für angewandte Technologie in der 3. Welt e.V.

What is Participatory Radio?

A definition and two examples from South Africa

1. What is Participatory Radio?

  1. Participatory Radio and Community Radio

  2. What is it That Makes a Radio Station a Community Radio Station?

  3. What Makes a Participatory Radio Participatory?

  4. Requirements of Participatory Radio

  5. Cultural Autonomy

  6. Journalistic Qualifications?

  7. Is a Participatory Radio Feasible?

2. Participatory Radio in South Africa

  1. Eyabantwana Radio Station - Children's Radio

  2. Vukani Community Radio in Cala

Participatory Radio and Community Radio

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:

What is it That Makes a Radio Station a Community Radio Station?

"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.

Childrens' Radio 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.

What Makes a Participatory Radio Participatory?

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.

Requirements of Participatory Radio

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.

Cultural Autonomy

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.

Journalistic Qualifications?

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.

Paulo Freire.

Is a Participatory Radio Feasible?

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.

Radio Participacion '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.

Participatory Radio in South Africa

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:

Eyabantwana Radio Station

Children's Radio
Kinder Radio
in Khayelitsha / Kapstadt

Girl with mikrofone Eyabantwana 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."

Vukani Community Radio in Cala

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: Pelisa "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.
Vukani means: Awake! Arise! Fight!

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