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Think Pieces

The GKC Think Pieces section is an interactive platform that brings together experts and authorities on various subjects to provoke thinking as well as discussion with personal opinion and analysis on contemporary issues related to governance.

06 March 2013

Community radio for governance

R. Sreedher

When thinking of how information aids the process of governance, a project by the name Radio DATE comes to mind. DATE abbreviated Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Education.

Conceived in 1990, Radio DATE was broadcast from all stations of All India Radio (AIR) across India. As the programme’s name will suggest, it was meant to educate listeners on substance abuse. The programme also tried to get responses from smokers, drinkers or people having drugs.

AIR got 146,000 responses, all of which remain documented by ICMR’s department of oncology. What findings did the programme arrive at? It provided a database of tobacco habits of the population. For example, it gave insights into the use of a tobacco toothpaste in certain parts of the country or reverse smoking as practiced in Andhra Pradesh.

The programme offers us an illustration of how AIR was used for a mass data collection. It was done so cost-effectively and got a clear pan-India picture of tobacco habits. All the information was absolutely authentic – in people’s own handwriting on a post-card. It also threw up interesting anecdotes for the listener – for instance, a Pan-parag ward in a Jaipur Hospital where oral cancers due to Pan-parag were the order of the place.

All 1,46,000 people responding to the programme received a kit and a poster highlighting the information ICMR would have liked to disseminate through this programme (in different languages).
An evaluation of the date received following the programme’s completion (it was a six-month project) showed that 3,000 people said they had stopped smoking.

ICMR asked government doctors to approach the 3,000 people who gave up on smoking and follow-up feedback showed that 75 people said they followed all methods they were told but said they were unable to stop smoking.

This is an example of behaviour change communication achieved through the medium of radio. Matters have only progressed over the years as community radio has made penetration through the country and the 12th five-year-plan envisages 2000 community radio stations to cover the length and breadth of the country.

Community radio is yet deeper than All India Radio with more contacts with the masses. The example provided above illustrates how, for good governance, the government can depend on good data through community radio stations and pin-point the grey area at the start of any people-centred programme delivery undertaken by the government. It can get the viewpoints directly from the people, thus eliminating paid data-collectors or middle men and ensure integrity of the data collected.

In doing so, community radio can get views from grassroots. Community radio, in the process can inform policy makers of what will work and what won’t.

Take the example of an improved bullock-cart worked out by Prof Ramaswamy of the Indian Institute of Sciences that was supported by BHEL. But the farmers of Thanjavur never adopted the bullock card – they did not want a smooth bullock cart that entailed high maintenance. Indeed, their requirement was not an improved bullock-cart. They actually wanted low-cost tractors.

What does this signify? The views of the end-users or beneficiaries can be ascertained using community radio to understand the needs of the people before any scheme is made or while a policy is being deliberated upon.

Community radio can also help young people come out with their leadership qualities – an essential for good governance. This is best illustrated by the example of Vandana Kote, a young leader from Baramati, Pune, whose leadership qualities came out due to her voice over community radio.  Community radio can propel grass-root leaders to challenge the status quo of our society, so essential for good governance.

There have been innumerable other cases. Like how the village pradhan had to undertake the repairs of a village bore-well after community radio Nama Dhwani aired the people’s grievance, thereby creating a crescendo of opinions and forcing the local self-government to address their problem.

But the case that takes the cake is how radio helped create scientific temper around the issue of the solar eclipse. During a solar eclipse in 1982, the government telecast the Hindi block-buster film Sholey over Doordarshan so that people remained indoors. Yet in the case of the total solar eclipse of 1996, the same Doordarshan showed people in Kolkota’s Diamond Harbour enjoying the view of a solar eclipse. The role of radio in changing this mind-set is too good to be ignored.

Communication advocates have or long argued that communication can contribute to governance by influencing opinions, attitudes and ultimately the behaviour of the key stakeholders, including leaders, bureaucrats, and citizens. This is easy to achieve through the medium of community radio. 

(Till recently the Director of Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia, Dr R Sreedher has a rich experience of working with the electronic media beginning 1972, particularly All India Radio and Doordarshan, in various capacities. He is presently Professor Emeritus, Apeejay Stya University. He was involved in the launching of the Gyan Darshan group of Television channels, including Vyas, the higher education channel of the UGC, and Eklavya, IIT’s TV channel.)