While the impact of globalization has led to an increase in access to information, a major concern has been the absence of community specific concerns and participatory approaches to development. In this global debate, participatory community media has gained momentum, re-building communities and including the marginalized voices in development discourses.

Community Radio (CR) as a tool for self-expression has been gaining momentum in the Indian context, building its ground through an established policy structure. In Nepal, however, despite the absence of a separate policy for commercial and community radio stations, the movement has paved way for CRs to broadcast on the FM band. The current Sri Lankan scenario on the other hand is grim with the SLBC not giving up hold over CR management and operations to communities, making them external in ownership for people. In such a situation, it becomes imperative to learn from the good practices being followed, extracting experiences in community participation, sustainability and empowerment.

Different models operate in the three countries. However, the two major categories found in the landscape of community radio include: educational-institute run stations and the non-governmental organization owned stations. On one hand, while issues of content, human resource, finance, and technology exist, participation has been seen to play a key role in defining the sustainability of the stations. Varying degrees of participation pave way to understand the impact in terms of basic community listenership, and in the level of empowerment.

The cross-country understanding of policy, genesis and current sustainability challenges becomes of prime importance in studying the South-Asian picture of the community radio, with different political backgrounds and similar socio-cultural contexts. Further, the study also attempts  to document an in-depth understanding of the impact the radio is creating in the lives of the participants and community members, which not just adds up to the credibility of the CR in the area, but also helps take the CR to another level of functioning. In this context, women’s participation in CR is seen to be of prime importance, especially in the light of the challenges they face in talking about their issues.

The study that was conducted in these three countries gave insights into the practices and challenges posed at community radio as an ICT based tool for development. With countries positioned at different phases, the presence or absence of a policy/ legal framework is critical for the CRs to grow. In this context, measures that will go a long way in making CRs a sustainable community media include- enhancing participation of community members in all aspects of CR, promoting a national policy that facilitates their growth, developing a self-evaluation strategy for them to map their performance, along with the government looking forward to CR as a medium to understand ground realities.

Suchi Gaur, 

University of Delhi