Wednesday, January 23, 2013
In the Bengali capital Dhaka media have been developing rapidly the last few years, but the largely illiterate countryside still lags behind. In order to keep information flowing to and from the isolated communities local media-pioneers have founded Community Radio, with support of Free Press Unlimited. 'Because of Community Radio farmers can finally realize its potential', states Bazlur Rahman, co-founder of this rural radio-project.

Community Radio puts problems rural class on the national agenda

Approximately 60 % of the more than 160 million inhabitants of Bangladesh live on the countryside. 'This enormous group, previously ignored, now finally has a voice in everyday media', says Dessi Damianova, program coordinator of Free Press Unlimited. Because poor Bengali farmers are now represented in the nation's media, their problems appear on the national agenda. For the first time, elementary health-care and girl's education in rural Bangladesh are being discussed by national politicians. The programs of Community Radio consist of news magazines, alternative education methods, entertainment and items about social/economic issues, produced by and for the rural class.

In order to enhance the number of quality programs, the radio stations recently have been reinforced with professional staff, laptops and new radio-equipment. The editors will also follow intensive journalism courses in the near future, organized by Free Press Unlimited. 'Together with Bangladesh Network for Radio and Communication we have successfully lobbied with the national government to support Community Radio. Currently radio-stations are appearing everywhere in rural Bangladesh. In two year's time 16 have been founded. Another 20 are waiting for a license from the authorities', says Damianova.

'People just walk into chat with the editors'
In a country with high illiteracy like Bangladesh, radio has large potential. In the poor rural areas only few kids attend school. Instead, kids now gather around a radio and follow alternative English lessons, developed by the radio-stations. According to co-founder Amin Al Rasheed people also get a chance to engage in live discussions about their community's future, with for instance local authorities. 'Listeners participate in these discussions by calling or sending text-messages. Some radio-stations receive more than 500 texts a day!'. Damianova praises the interactive character of Community Radio: 'People consider the radio-stations to be part of the community, they just walk into the office to have a chat with the editors, this way the program developers now what's on people's minds.'

'Community Radio gives the rural economy an important boost'
Live discussions are also being held with agricultural advisors. These officials advise farmers which farming techniques are most effective and so on. Moreover, via the radio rural inhabitants become aware of farming methods in other communities. 'Because they have radio reception on their mobile phones, farmers can listen to the radio while being at work and pick up something new everyday', says Rahman. This way, the poor rural mass gets more involved with the economic development of their communities. Furthermore, people get the latest news about market prices, resources, rural projects and vacancies. 'The rural economy is given an important boost. People get more mobile, as they see a larger economic potential', says Rahman. That also counts for the radio-stations themselves. They are following trainings in order to learn about fund-raising strategies, organized by Free Press Unlimited. Many stations have already attracted advertisers. Radio Padma for example, has recently become financially sustainable.