Tapping the potential of community radios  

Published: October 23, 2018 22:17:06 | Updated: October 25, 2018 22:07:07

Compared to the continued increase in the number of television audiences across the country, the number of radio listeners not long ago dropped to a nearly non-existent level. The situation has lately changed noticeably, especially in some rural areas. Thanks to the start of village-focused broadcasts by 17 community radio stations in 2011, large numbers of rural people have turned back to radio. Around a dozen more such radios are in the pipeline. It evidently demonstrates the impressive inroads made by these broadcasters. Launched by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), they are operated on frequency modulation (FM). The radios work broadly under the ambit of Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication. The platform is linked to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

With Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set to open the latest of similar stations, run by the state, in Gopalganj on October 31, the number of community FM radios under Bangladesh Betar will reach 33. It is undeniable that the operation of community radios, unlike commercial FM outlets, has considerably changed the people's mode of access to information. Their programmes are mainly aimed at creating awareness of various social issues and disseminating vital life-related information among rural audiences. These radios have, evidently, heralded a new era in bringing about a change in attitude of the rural people towards some basic facts of survival. Although presented in entertainment-coated forms, the programme contents touch upon vital issues. They range from the ills of child marriage, dowry, eve-teasing to ways to women's empowerment, literacy, crop yields and diversifications to income-generation outlets. Tips on hygiene and disease prevention also occupy a major place. On the other hand, the fishing community living in the coastal areas can now get updates on sea conditions and weather from these radios.

The NGO-run FM radios cover 13 upazilas and serve 4.6 million listeners, but the broadcasters feel constrained by their short range, 17km, of spectrum. The regulator, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) should look into the matter. These FM radios can broadcast a total of 135 hours' programme daily. They remain mainly concentrated on the areas close to local towns. It means the broadcasters are in favour of choosing their sites near areas already fed by scores of audio-visual media outlets. The interested listeners in the remote areas, thus, remain largely deprived of the 'alternative radio' broadcasts. Apart from increasing the number of these stations, they ought to be opened in regions with little access to radio broadcasts. The much publicised mission of the FM radio network -- giving voice to the voiceless rural people -- has, veritably, been shoved into the backburner. Intervention by relevant authorities is warranted in this regard. 

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