Inaugural Address at the World Radio Day: Diversity in the Newsroom, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (New Delhi), 13 February 2020

New Delhi, India

By Eric Falt, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka

Namastey Delhi!
Mr Atul Kumar Tiwari, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcast
Mr Shashi Shekhar Vempati, CEO Prasar Bharati
Dr Sachchidananda Joshi, Member Secretary, IGNCA
Dr Ramesh Gaur, Director, IGNCA
Ms Archana Kapoor, person behind The Radio Festival

My dear friends, lovers of radio and advocates of free and accessible media.

Good morning to all of you. It is my pleasure to be part of this distinguished panel. 

World Radio Day was just an idea, one day to commemorate the significance of radio in our lives and the part it plays in communicating our agenda of development to the last mile. With the relentless efforts of our wonderful partners at SMART, Archana in particular, we are here observing the day as a celebration of sound. As The Radio Festival enters its third edition, I congratulate our partners for shaping it the way it is today.

India is a land of diversity. It is incredible how radio in this vastly populated country has managed to reach and communicate personally to almost everyone, irrespective of their gender, class, creed and ethnicity. According to Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) report, Broadcast Radio today reached a staggering 99 per cent of Indian population, while FM radio reaches 65 per cent, making it the most powerful medium of mass communication. But, as it is said, with great power comes great responsibility.

Friends, we at UNESCO believe that, with such an expansive reach, the onus lies on the radio today to ensure equal representation from every pocket of the society—both in the newsroom and on the airwaves. On this World Radio Day, UNESCO calls on radio stations to uphold diversity, Vividhta Mein Ekta (Unity in Diversity), keeping with the true spirit of broadcast in India.

All India Radio, also our partner in co-organising this event, has over 415 radio stations in about 23 languages. It is one of the oldest and largest radio broadcasters in the world that caters to the widest range of listeners. What can be a better example of diversity radio than AIR? 
Radio, after a century of existence, has certainly evolved more than we ever expected. Transistors have given way to computers and mobile phones. The invention of the podcast in the last decade has made it possible to develop new kinds of radio scripts and create programming that is free of the constraints of live broadcasts. With the rise of social media, citizen listeners have also become part of the broadcasting experience, and even help shape their programmes. Radio stations, whether FM or digital, must now deal with this new form of citizen participation. Radios are also bridging the information gender divide by making women the narrator of their own stories. They have now given more space to women, who have been regular listeners since the early days of the medium. 

When we talk about diversity on airwaves, we cannot rule out the significance of Community Radio (CR). As an alternative medium to public and commercial media, as well as social media, CR is characterized by its accountability to, and participation of, the communities.

At UNESCO, we believe that CR can also be used as a tool for good governance. It can be used for information dissemination about societal and individual entitlements, and disaster risk reduction. Moreover, it can enable the most vulnerable to become active participants in decision-making process.

CR represents the underserved communities who have been left out by the education system, especially those who cannot read and write; it is a media which does not need expensive internet bandwidth to operate; rather it promotes the spirit of sharing of resources. CR is the most appropriate technology for information and knowledge dissemination, not only India, but for the entire world.

That brings me to the next important point that I want to convey. How many of you know about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Well, we just have a decade left now to work towards achieving the Agenda 2030. We, at UNESCO believe that when it comes to communicating the goals to the last mile, Community Radio becomes an integral part of the entire process. CR stations in the most backward districts of the country has helped governments to generate awareness and engage the communities for key national missions.

I take this opportunity to also acknowledge our very important soon-to-be-launched publication ‘Communicating the Sustainable Development Goals- A Toolkit for Community Radio’, which is developed by SMART in close association with UNESCO.

The toolkit is intended as a practical users’ guide that seeks explicate and simplify the SDGs for CR stations and hence, the community members. The SDGs recognize that ending poverty and other interlinked deprivations must go together with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth, most importantly, leaving no one behind.

And recalling agenda 2030, the world pledged to leave no one behind. If we want to leave no one behind we have to give voices to those who are furthest. Far and wide—absolutely nothing can beat radio here!

Thank You.