This article, which discusses reasons why participation is an elusive term in relation to Nkhota Kota and Mzimba Community Radio stations in Malawi, is a part of Peter Mhagama’s research work for his PhD titled, “Community radio as a catalyst of development and social change: A case study of community radio in Malawi.”
When establishing Nkhota Kota Community Radio, there was lack of proper community consultation and involvement. Many people around Nkhota Kota area reported to have just woken up one day only to hear a community radio broadcasting to them. The reason for this is that the Member of Parliament for the area initiated the establishment of the station with funding from UNESCO.
Consequently, at the beginning some people failed to relate to it because they thought it was a propaganda tool. It took a lot of community sensitization for people to embrace it as theirs. In addition, due to reliance on donor funding, it sometimes it takes too long for donors to hand over radio stations to the communities.For example, OSISA signed a 3 year contract with Mzimba Radio to provide funding from 2009 to December 2012. At the time of writing this article OSISA was still providing funding. This has implications on participation because there is little community input at station policy level.
When it comes to management of Nkhota Kota Community radio there is selective participation because only people who are more knowledgeable in the community are invited to find solutions to the problems at hand. Of course, not everyone can be consulted. How- ever, providing opportunities for participation in this way privileges some social actors while excluding the majority.
Each of the two community radio stations did not involve ordinary people in formulating programme schedules because they thought consultation takes long. Instead, staff members formulated the programmes as a starting point. This also begs the question of who is appointed to work in the radio station. The situation leads to self- appointment or selection which may ‘other’ marginalized people from the very community media which is sup- posed to serve them.
The centralization of community radio stations at a particular location covering 100 square kilometer radius, as is the case in Malawi, also affects the way people participate. Due to transport problems, radio reporters only visit areas within the proximity of the station to record programmes thereby affecting community participation negatively. Local people especially those at the furthest end of the signal also experience transport problems to travel to the radio station due to poverty. Finally, community radios are established in communities al- ready served by other stations. To influence people to switch to a community radio demands a lot of time, money and effort. To borrow from a famous phrase, it is like ‘preaching to the already converted’.
Department of Media Communications
University of Leicester, UK