Peripheral voices, central concerns: community radio in India

IN Books | 21/08/2002
Peripheral voices, central concerns: community radio in India

 

Peripheral voices, central concerns: community radio in India

 

It is not as if community radio, in the widest sense, has been completely absent in the long history of radio broadcasting in India. Though its form has varied over time and regions, instances of decentralized, rural and local radio that addressed the needs of the marginalized have been many.

 

Peripheral Voices, Central Concerns:

Community Radio in India

 

Comparative Media Studies Project

 

Prashant Sharma

MA Anthropology of Media

SOAS

 

 

St. Xavier’s School, Delhi, India. 1979. Every Wednesday afternoon, at 1.00 pm, the public announcement speakers in each classroom would crackle into life. It was the weekly ‘broadcast’ of Xavier Radio.

 

The idea was simple. Every week, for half an hour, students would present a variety of programmes to the school - plays, songs, music, speeches, debates - ‘live’. The responsibility of producing and hosting the programme would be rotated amongst different classes on a weekly basis. The microphone was in the principal’s office, and Wednesday afternoons would see groups of nervous and excited students huddled around it. Over the year, almost everyone would have had his (it was a ‘boys only’ school) say.

 

The investment needed to run this effort was negligible. The public announcement system had already been in place and it was merely being put to more use than if its role had been restricted to official announcements.

 

Xavier Radio was small and was regulated (strict teachers, with strict eyes would oversee all aspects of the production and delivery), but it was important to the student community. It represented modes and moments of expression that made more sense than classes ever did. For a half hour every week, students could speak to each other, as a group. It was their effort. They had produced everything. And to a large extent, despite the omnipresent ‘moderators’, they were free to choose what they wanted to speak about.

 

In 1983, Xavier Radio was brought to a close. A new principal had taken charge, and the weekly half an hour ‘broadcast’ was seen as a waste of precious academic time. Now, students would see the inside of the principal’s office only if they had got themselves into some serious trouble. Those that did, would notice that the microphone was being used as a paperweight. And a very dusty one at that.

 

The concerns of community radio in India have much in common with the example outlined above. Both address the issues of communities producing their own radio programmes, of regulation, of the negligible costs involved and of the importance they have for the community concerned. Then there is of course, the strikingly similar life cycle they seem to have gone through. They have had a presence in the past, and then, quite simply, they died.

 

The difference is that community radio is beginning to show signs of life again. For a variety of reasons, it now seems imminent that community radio in India is going to play an increasingly important role in the progress of the country. It is this development that this paper will attempt to contextualise, examine and analyse.

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