Developing communities through radio


Community media focus on community participation with the goal of transforming society. They are conceived to inform people and allow them to participate in decisions that affect them. They can facilitate the empowerment of vulnerable communities – populations who are isolated geographically, culturally or linguistically and whose representation is generally ignored by mainstream media – such as women for example. The objective is to create a public social sphere where anybody can contribute and be heard.

In that sense, radio is possibly the most important medium for such form of communication in developing countries. It is a portable source of real-time access to information. Radio is financially very accessible – we estimate that over 75% of households in developing countries have access to a radio. Local radio has to potential to act as an actor for development and as support for the promotion good governance.

Community radio are driven by the community for the community. They are not in pursuit of profit but operate according to a social agenda, promoting an inclusive sustainable development. Such radio stations become true social service providers. They involve the populations in decision-making and participation processes, stimulate public debate, promote civic rights and help held authorities accountable towards the citizens. Breeze FM in Zambia is a great example of what can been achieved. Every week their programme “Budget tracking through local radio” gives the community the chance to question local officials about how government funding is being used locally.

Most of the stations benefitting from the UNESCO project are humble, and their transmitters only reach a few districts, but they are enabling isolated communities across Africa to voice their concerns and to access news on issues of local interest. These local stations have the unique ability to inform and educate while being anchored in the community’s history and traditions.

By broadcasting in local languages, local radio can communicate effectively about the issues that matter most locally. Local voices can be heard discussing health issues, for instance, education, gender equality or even disaster risk reduction. In Tanzania, Loliondo FM constitute the only radio to broadcast from and for Ngorongoro district. Additionally, the station serves a Maasai community, located in Ololosokwan village and act as the only source of information as no newspapers are being delivered in the said village. The station broadcast in local Maasai language as most members of the community do not speak Swahili, as such news reports are translated for these listeners one hour after the original broadcast.

The UNESCO project “Empowering Local Radio with ICTs” aims to raise the diversity and inclusiveness of community radio stations through the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the use of free and open software. The journalists of the local stations receive trainings to include ICT in their daily operations and thus, raise the quality and geographical range of their broadcast. Mobile phones are used to conduct interviews, interact with the station through SMS and call-in. Participatory processes are increased; and traditionally excluded populations – such as women and youth – are included with dedicated programming directed towards their specific interests.