Community Radio is mostly an analogue platform in India. Licenses are given by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, to broadcast in the FM band of the electromagnetic spectrum (88-108 MHz). Today there are more than 150 operational community radio stations in the country. Assuming each radio station reaches an average of 150,000 people, the medium reaches a lot of communities which mainstream media cannot and does not cater to.
While this micro-medium is quietly staging a mini-revolution, the fact that news and current affairs are not allowed on community radio also cannot be ignored. Combine this with the fact that mobile phone subscription has crossed the 800 million people mark and internet penetration (mostly through cheap smartphones) growth rates are also very high. This growth and interest in being connected through mobile phones and the internet is clearly an opportunity – one which community radio stations cannot afford to miss.
Today there are many community radio stations, while broadcasting through analogue terrestrial platforms, use the digital media space unwittingly. For example, most community radio stations have a mobile phone numbers through which they invite feedback from the community, or encourage listeners to call in for phone in based programming etc. Other radio stations in the country are streaming their content through the internet.
The challenge is to see how these community radio stations, being analogue terrestrial radio stations engage with the digital communications sector. Since the 1995 Supreme Court judgment which stated that airwaves are public property, the community radio movement is one of the few movements which is community based and addresses media as a freedom of expression issue and not a service delivery or a governmental development model. Therefore the effort is to see how the same communities who are invested already in community radio, may be able to invest in addressing issues related to the internet as well.
The Maraa team is sending out a research team to interview 100 people in the Bundelkhand region. There is already a community radio station there called Radio Bundelkhand and now the expectation from the maraa team is to interview people who live fairly close to the radio station. The main objective of this survey is to see how some of the most marginalized and poor communities do or do not access digital media, such as mobile telephony or the internet.
The research will be carried out from 30th of November to 5th of December, and this project is being supported by the Ford Foundation in New Delhi.