Community Media/MARAA/Community Radio/Participation/Case Study RB

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Training on: Increasing Community Participation in Programming
Venue: Radio Bundelkhand, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
Dates: 11-13th August, 2009
Participants: 14 (including station manager, producer, assistant producer, 5 reporters, 5 paid volunteers)

Objective of the training: To arrive at specific mechanisms through which community participation can be increased in the programming of Radio Bundelkhand (RB)

Process: Two trainers from Maraa were facilitating the workshop, with specific hands on activities carried out by participants, followed by group discussions and collective planning for implementation

Day 1
The workshop started off with a one on one meeting with the station manager of Radio Bundelkhand, who informed us about the current status, gaps, challenges as well as positives. Status:
Given RB has been broadcasting 2 hours (excluding 2 hours of repeat broadcast) daily for the last 8 months, the production of programmes is solely managed by the production team, wherein they record programmes on the field, come back to the studio, edit these programmes (with guidance from Producer and Assistant Producer), and broadcast them. This system has worked successfully in so far as much as that RB has not gone off air for a single day, and has a reasonably good listenership within the community, estimated at 2.5 lakh people (listenership survey has been done, but not been consolidated and analysed yet). They have worked on a rate card and working on developing a complete business plan. They have got 3 advertisements from local businesses and struck a deal with the State Bank of India (nationalised bank) for long term support (ads and programming). They are collaborating with the local District Magistrate for sponsorship of programmes on National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and water related issues. They are also in the process of applying to various funding agencies for program and management support. They also have a management committee in place which meets once in a month. However, as of yet, this committee has met four times, and their role is limited to feedback on programming.

Having said this, the entire load of production is borne by a team of 5 core reporters with support from a team of 6 paid volunteers, and supervised by Station Manager, Producer and Assistant Producer; because of which programmes are:

  • Limited in terms of perspectives
  • Dependent on “experts” for information
  • Is awareness oriented
  • Limited to interviews, songs and vox-pop
  • Is becoming an issue based radio station
  • And yet, is not consciously focusing on minorities (caste, class, religious, disability or otherwise)

The above structure has worked well in certain areas like efficient functioning and broadcast, reporting mechanisms within the organisational structure and availability of resources to the team. However, there are some challenges like marketing skills, community participation in production of programmes; follow up of issue based programmes, diversity in content, lack of information in specific areas like gender, governance, health and education. The team is also bordering on complacency since they seem to have got in to a routine which limits creativity and innovation. Their engagement with community is limited to recording their voices. Further, the focus continues to remain on five villages which are close by and feedback collection has been inconsistent; thereby weakening the link between community and RB.

This workshop was timely, as they are in a state of readiness to address the above mentioned challenges.

Session 1: Racing the Matchstick
Objective: To know status of radio from teams’ perspective and update facilitators

Each participant was given a specific statement to which they had to respond, simultaneously lighting a match. The participant who responds with the least number of matches lit wins the ‘game’. Not only is this a fun way to get an idea about the status, but also helps participants to convey their response with focus and clarity. Some of the statements were: Your best day in the radio station Best Community interaction Most difficult program to produce RB one year from now

The responses from participants indicated that this team was still enthusiastic about their work, but raised concerns like – “how to involve community, how to bring out issues, no time for follow up, community is too busy” etc. We gathered from this that although the team was working hard, they were not working smart. They had taken upon too much upon themselves while not realising that some of the load can be shared with the community.

Session 2: Four Corners
Objective: To trigger a discussion specifically on community participation through a debate

Participants were divided in to four groups, and a ball was passed around while music was played. When the music stops, the group which had the ball, was given a statement which they had to defend. The other three groups had to oppose the argument. The four statements/myths were: Participants is only limited to programming Participation should be paid for in all instances So far only 10% community participation has taken place in RB The role of reporter is only to make programs with community and edit

All four statements stirred heated and long debates and forced the participants to think harder about role and nature of participation from the community in their radio station. At the end of each instance, participants were asked to collectively arrive at an opinion whether that particular statement was true, false, or required modification.

Participation is limited to programming – The responses to this statement led to discussions on other areas of participation, for example in management, feedback, listener groups, etc. While one group argued that it would be dangerous to let community participate in other areas, the team finally decided that community can in fact participate in other areas like marketing, feedback, listening, producing and management. The final opinion was that RB can achieve complete community participation in the future if they focus much more on these aspects.

Participation should be paid for in all instances – The response to this statement was that there will be a demand from the community for limited payment since they depended on farming, daily wage work etc for their living, and it is only fair to pay community when they give time out for the radio. However, the debate was that if the radio focuses on issues which are relevant and critical to community, then they will not expect to be paid. Finally, the verdict was that community participation should be encouraged without a doubt, but no one should undergo a loss while doing so, and at least conveyance and other actual expenses could be reimbursed.

So far only 10% community participation has taken place in RB – The supporting team argued that it is indeed true because they have focused only on nearby villages, only reporters have been covering stories and community involvement is weak in other areas of the radio. The other teams argued that it has been only eight months since inception, and for a start, most radio programmes have community voice. Further there still needs to be more awareness about the radio itself, and this limits participation. Thus the team concluded that the next phase will definitely focus on increasing participation now that community is increasingly becoming aware of RB.

The role of reporter is merely to make programmes and edit – The supporting team completely agreed with this statement because this is what they have been doing so far in reality. They have also cited lack of time for anything else. Since this expectation from RB has increased, given programmes are recorded in the community; RB has to accommodate and follow up with some of the concerns and issues reflected in programs. This means that reporters now to have follow up with events, linkages with appropriate institutions, collect and provide relevant information, and most importantly, now become a link between the radio station and the people. So the scope of the reporter’s job needs to widen and diversify.

This session led to protracted discussion on following up through programming. To avoid breaking up the flow, we organised a free flowing discussion with the team on this matter. One reporter expressed that he had come across occasions wherein people wanted information on NREGA but when he approached the concerned government officer, he had asked for money to talk, citing their experiences with All India Radio. If the reporter explained the concept of community radio and that there was paucity of funds, then the officer would just keep delaying the recording, saying that he is busy. Another reporter said that plenty of senior citizens in the community had said that they had not received their pension even though they had applied for it two years ago. She didn’t know how the radio could help the community in such a situation. There were other issues like lack of women’s health care infrastructure in the village; teachers never came to the school, or there was a lack of teachers etc. This brought the discussion around to how RB could plan a campaign around a specific issue. For example, if there is no pension being given to senior citizens in spite of availability of funds, then RB could first research on who’s eligible for pension in select villages, and create a database of such persons. Then they could go an talk to the district level administration and arrange a physical camp in the RB campus. This camp could have a desk where eligible pensioners come and fill up forms and the concerned officer could sanction on the spot. This could then be followed up by the radio through using the Right to Information Act, and through producing programmes about who has been promised pension through the camp. Democratic systems like the Gram Sabha (local government public meeting) can be strengthened.

What came out clearly by the end of the day was that community radio cannot be merely for radio programs but also assumes importance as a physical space for on ground activities and events, wherein research and programming leads to action.

Day 2
Session 3: Village walks
Objective: To get the team to observe the village/community more closely, differently and with other perspectives

The team was divided in to three groups and were asked to go to a chosen village at 8 am. Each group was given the following activities:

  • Observe all the activities which take place in the village in the morning; collect 10 story ideas around these observations; identify 2 or 3 appropriate locations which could serve as a satellite studio
  • Look for water sources in the village and the different kinds of people which gather around these sources; 5 story ideas around these observations; identify 2 or 3 locations for satellite studio
  • Look for and follow the colours of the rainbow, i.e. Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red, be it in objects, places or people; establish contact with people around these colours and collect story ideas; identify 2 or 3 locations for satellite studio

The first group was not really able to diffuse their presence in the village because as soon as they entered, a crowd gathered in the village and started talking to the team about all their problems like misuse of NREGA, domestic violence, lack of water and electricity, lack of transport, corruption in mid-day meals, corruption in animal husbandry, lack of road safety etc. Women also expressed that they had to work much harder than men, like drawing water, cooking, cleaning, farming etc. They also expressed that men are lazy and do not support them in domestic work. This group did manage to record some programmes from the crowd and promised to return and record more programmes about their problems. The village was keen about producing their own programmes and local school was identified as a possible location for satellite studio The second group entered the village in a car, and this shifted the perception of the community about them. Here too the people gathered around and started talking about local problems faced. However, this group assigned different roles amongst themselves. One of them walked around inconspicuously and found that only 2 of the 6 water pumps in the village actually worked, and therefore no community gathered around 4 of these pumps, save an old man, who complained about lack of rainfall. The rest interacted with the community who expressed their problems like old age pension, no school, migration, employment. Of a population of 700, only 4 or 5 were availing ration cards. Girls could not access free bicycles as per the government scheme. One of the reporters talked to the women around a hand pump, where they discussed women’s issues. A couple of programmes were recorded and follow up was promised. A couple of homes were identified as suitable satellite studio spaces. The third group could not find all seven colours. They found orange first, wherein the ex-Sarpanch (local government chief) was wearing an orange vest. He was open to talking about his village on the radio. Next they found green in a neem tree and found some one nearby who talked about the medicinal benefits of this tree. They also saw women around the water pumps wearing yellow and blue saris who talked about their problems – similar to the ones expressed with other groups. They ran out of time and had to return, but said that they would like to go back some time and find more about these villages. However, they did manage to identify 2 or 3 locations, like schools and houses as satellite studio.

All groups presented their experiences which led to a discussion on how much more they could explore within their community and how they had only scratched the surface till now. We also raised the issue of how it was that only problems were being reflected in their observations and no other perspectives were being observed. On visiting the village more frequently and building a better rapport, it would be possible to extract other kinds of content like village histories, personal narratives, philosophies, etc.

Session 4 – Narrowcasting
Objective – To link narrowcasting to increase community participation vis-à-vis in depth feedback collection; generate a feedback show from this activity

We first described the process of narrowcasting, from selecting appropriate program, pre-planning, selecting community group, informing about date, place and time of narrowcast, implementing narrowcast and moderating subsequent discussion. The purpose of the narrowcast was discussed in great detail, following which one of the participants conducted a mock narrowcast with the rest of the team, which posed as a women’s self help group. This participant was hounded with tough questions which demonstrated the challenges of narrowcasting. The participant was unable to handle several questions asked and unsure about information on issues which came up in the discussion. This was followed up by another discussion wherein basic principles of narrowcast were discussed. These were:

  • Listen to the program at least twice before narrowcast
  • Anticipate, research and learn all possible information about the program before going to the field
  • Ask short and specific questions
  • Do not adopt a preaching tone, but seek feedback
  • Dig deeper and don’t be satisfied with initial responses
  • Be patient with group
  • Moderate discussion with focus on the program/issue
  • Suggest practical ways for the group to participate in programming if group is interested
  • Talk slowly and clearly
  • Explain benefits of community radio and how they can play a role

After this, the team was divided in to two groups and went to one village where each group conducted a narrowcast. The team returned with some feedback where they learnt that follow up on adult literacy needed to be made (after narrowcasting an education based program), wanted more radio plays and community wanted to participate in the making of such plays.

Session 5 – Film Screening
Objective: Team building activity, bring community together in a public space, build program contacts and familiarity within a given village

After much discussion, it was agreed upon to screen a mainstream commercial comedy film, which would attract lot of community members to come out and watch. Due to lack of time, there was not much time to prepare for this village film screening. Thus, the event was marred by logistical issues. First, one part of the team reached the village an hour and a half late, and the other group did not enter the village before the first team citing fear of drunk men loitering around. Secondly, it took about 45 minutes to arrange for power, to get the laptop running, and finally the decided film did not play on the laptop. Luckily there were some back up film options and another film was played. However, again this was a bad choice, since the first 20 minutes of the film is in English, and a lot of community members tuned out. Finally, some one broke the electrical wires in the grid by mistake, and it would be a good two hours till power came back. Finally, we decided to cancel the screening and call it a day. However, the big lesson from this event was not the mistakes in themselves, but the reaction of the team. Some members came forward and tried frantically to help out in every way to ensure smooth screening, while other members of the team stayed behind with the audience, and were too scared to come forward and help out. This created a division between team members, and clearly showed a lack of unity amongst the team. Perhaps this was also an indication of the beginnings of ego conflicts rising within some of the participants.

Day 3
Before beginning any sessions, the film screening experience was discussed in the light of crisis management and team spirit. Some participants did feel that they did not have enough experience in handling emergency situations. They have become conscious now that they have to plan before the event and have back up plans in case something goes wrong. They have also resolved to stand together in times of crisis.

Session 6: Cluster Model of Participation
Objective: To propose and discuss a new mode of functioning, which would result in increased community participation in programming of RB

We proposed a model wherein each of the five core team reporters would be assigned three villages. This meant 15 villages in total. Each reporter would spend at least four hours in each of his/her three villages, at least once a week. This meant that of the reporter’s six day week, he or she would spend 3 days on the field (four hours of the day). A satellite studio would be identified in each of these assigned villages, and the main job of the reporter would be to now build capacities in the community in terms of basic skills of production. For example- how much distance from the recorder for good levels, basic principles of acoustics etc, avoid swearing on radio etc. The choice of content and the production of the content would be now from this community. The team said that they could generate half hour of usable content from spending four hours on the field. This means that if all reporters spend one day on the field, they could generate two and half hours purely from the community, not only their voices, but also their production and their choice of topic. We asked reporters to visit the field and set up these “mobile satellite studio” every alternate day. Thus every other day, the content coming from the field could be packaged in to a radio magazine format, given a intro and conclusion by the reporter, mixed in with some folk songs, and packaged in to a half hour slot. We also suggested that each of these half hour slots be named after the particular village from which the content is sourced. This would ensure fair representation from all communities in and around RB, and also ensure listenership from those villages.

Note: The first two days helped determine the exact gap in terms of participation in programming. The last day was built specifically to suit the needs of RB.