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Siyade Gemechisa Reports from AMARC in Amman, Jordan!
Tuesday November 14, 2006
Removing Barriers, Increasing Impact
A Report from the AMARC9 Conference
by Siyade Gemechisa of the Prometheus Radio Project
At this mornings opening panel, communtiy radio activists representing Mali, the United States and Austrailia discussed the different challenges they faced in their countries in strenghtening the social impact of communtiy radio.
Prometheus Radio Project volunteer University of Pennsylvania researcher, Kate Coyer, started the panel discussion by speaking about the lack of sufficient government support of Low Power FM (LPFM)s in the United States. "The lack of sufficient support for LPFM community radio stations in the US is made even more apparent by the government's measurement criteria of the impact of community radio, where impact (and potential for funding) is measured by 1) the amount of people served in the community and 2) how much money the communtiy radio station is able to fundraise", stated Coyer. She added that this form of measurment itself is a barrier to the social impact of CR, since in most cases it is the poor and/or rural communities (which have small populations and little money) who have to prove they are worthy of being funded and supported by government funding. Coyer summarized that community radio activists must ensure that the right questions are being asked at the governmental level to assess the social impact of communtiy radio- questions that can really reflect the positive role CR plays for so many people.
Next, Fily Keita from Mali- West Africa (which has 200 community radio stations) spoke about the impact of CR in his home country. When Keita, a member of AMARC Africa, asked members of his community if radio has helped the communities to solve their problems, he was surprised to hear that the response was "no". Community members said that problems like poverty, health and environmental issues still plagued the country. He realized that he'd been asking the wrong question. Later, people changed their answer to "yes", when they were asked if CR improved their daily lives. They said they enjoyed being able to listen to programming in their own language all of the time, rather than for only 15-minute parcels of time throughout the week. Keita also mentioned other barriers in his country, such as lack of proper equipment, lack of resources to reach rural communities, and lack of proper programming training for volunteer programmers. "However, there are ways to improve the social impact of communtiy radio such as 1) using existing national networks to lobby governments on a national and international levels, 2) re-inforce the capacity of training resources, and 3) improving technical capacity to allow the sharing of trainings over the world wide web", concluded Keita.
Last on the panel to speak was Shane Elson from Community Broadcasting Association Australia (CBAA) in Austraila (which has 300 community radio stations). To re-iterate the concerns of the other panelists, Mr. Elson reminded the confernece participants about the 3rd sector status of community radio in society worldwide. While commercial and public radio are funded through advertisment agencies and governments respectively, community radio is dependent soley on the financial support and hard work of volunteers. Elson then touched on the barrieres caused by language and culture within the CR community, sharing an illustrative story. Recently, in Austrailia there was a Conference on Poverty, which had a registration fee of 400 Austalian dollars. "Who really was at that conference that knew anything about poverty?" asked Elson.
Elson's anecdote served as an example into what he called 'high politics'. This kind of dialogue that is so far removed form the actual experiences of small communities is an extremely large barrier to the improvement of the social impact of community radio. The danger of this type of marginalization and exclusion from mportant dialogue is that it leads those CR stations that do exist down the path of 'we know what is best for our own' mentality. While inherently it is true that communities know what is best for their own, in Austrailia the concept is derived from a more reactionary perspective to the blatant marginalization by the government and upper-middle class citizens in Austrialia. On a postive note, however, Elson conluded that attending international conferences such as AMARC and being able to share simialr experiences with other community radio stations is helpful in better serving one's community back at home.
While the AMARC9 conference serves as a convergence space for 400 radio activists throughout the world who would seem to have very varied experiences with community radio spanning six of the seven continents, the recurring theme is that we radio activists must continue to change the one largest barrier to improving community radio- unsupportive governments. Communities throoughout the world must continue to diligently demand accountabilty from the governments which are in place to serve us. What more appropriate form of media is there to serve communities than community radio?
Signing out form Amman, Jordan - AMARC9 Voices of the World- Free The Ariwaves!