Community Media/MARAA/Community Radio/Participation/Management

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Areas of participation by community in Management

Often, in smaller towns, villages, the lines begin to blur between private radio stations and community radio stations, or even public radio stations. This is especially true in terms of language or dialect, programming, participation in programs, etc. However, there can never be blurring on one count, and that is management and ownership. This is one area which firmly establishes the community in community radio. Having said this, its hugely challenging to convert this theoretical idea into a practical reality. Firstly, who exactly constitutes the community? Secondly, how are representatives selected from this larger group? And on what basis? Thirdly, will community groups who are traditionally farmers, or traders, be able to manage a media outlet like radio? Fourthly, what if certain people will later 'misuse' the radio for political, economic, personal reasons? These and many other questions plague possibilities of community ownership and management. Also, it is a subtle difference between management and ownership. Radio stations can be community owned for years but yet there may be no ownership. However, its impossible not to have management when ownership is present. Thus, management would be a subset of ownership.

If you already are a part of the management committee, then some of these pointers may be helpful to you. Also, if you want to offer your support as a part of the management committee, you might find this part useful. Contact your radio station to find out if you can be a part of their management committee. Usually there will be a procedure in place, like periodic elections, some kind of membership model, or subscription model etc, through which a committee is selected.

  • Financial management of a radio station is critical in terms of ensuring sustainability as well as keeping a culture of transparency with your public. Publishing all your accounts and making it available in the public, is a sign of goodwill which will make people believe in your radio. First make sure that a monthly statement of income and expenditure of the community radio station is obtained and made available. Encourage discussions within the management committee on analyzing expenditure and planning on income generation. It is a good idea also to see which are the main areas on which money is being spent. For example, if lots of money is being spent every month on transport for staff, and is grinding down your radio station, then a slight reconfiguration of strategies might be in order. You could increase the number of phone in programs to offset physical transport of staff. Similarly, one would need to analyse main sources of income. It might be a problem, if some advertisers are dominating your airtime or if there are too many government sponsored programs dominating your airtime. One might need to make a renewed pitch for more donations, or increase in subscription to avoid suspicions of your radio station "selling out to commercial interests".
  • Managing the personnel of a community radio station is critical to the smooth running on a daily basis. This means evaluation of staff in terms of performance - a calculation of inputs, outcome and outputs. Its a good idea to have a representative of the staff on the management committee so the views from the other side of the fence are also represented. Further, full time staff can give their problems, challenges and positives in writing before every committee meeting, and these can be discussed. It has been noticed that sometimes there are problems in this area which need urgent attention. For example, there have been instances where some people acquire skills, say editing, very quickly, and then refuse to teach younger volunteers these skills. They are afraid of losing their power and sometimes losing their job. Sometimes staff begin to believe that they are indispensable. These are clear danger signals for the radio, and the management committee will need to take cognisance. At other times, personnel stop going to the field, and it no longer becomes a community radio. The reporters are no longer the bridge between community and radio. They start believing that they are the community and no longer make attempts to go out and get voices on the people.
  • Administrative systems in community radio are often the most hated and boring responsibilities :) but are extremely important for the long term organizational development of the radio. The management committee can galvanise this part by insisting on compliance with administrative regulations. These are mainly, reporting systems by personnel, minutes of meetings, log of equipment, cue sheet of programs, documentation of process, impact documentation, feedback collection and documentation, maintenance of accounts (income and expenditure), systems of keeping bills, maintaining documents which elaborate on rules and regulations concerning programming, advertising, recruitment, sponsorship, and so on. The station manager usually oversees this aspect on a daily basis and can report to the committee on this aspect. However, each and every person right from volunteers to station manager must be familiar with and respect administrative regulations.
  • Facilitating public and social audits are critical to any radio station. This is because it is easy for any radio station to get carried away with internal issues which will come up while running and managing a station. Then the radio station becomes like a fortress opaque to what community thinks about the station on overall terms. Even though staff might be collecting feedback on a regular basis, this tends to be about programming (specific) rather than the station as a whole (overall). Therefore each management committee should commit itself to organising and holding public social audits every six months or every year. This basically involves heavily publicising the event, so as to encourage maximum participation and diversity in the event. Then a common and accessible place must be chosen for the audit. The members of the management committee should make a presentation summarising the previous 6 months or previous year, noting main achievements, main programs, performance of personnel, summarising income and expenditure. This can be followed with questions, suggestions and comments from the public. All of these must be duly noted for consideration and action. The next session will be the road ahead. This means a projection of what will be the focus areas of the community radio next year, and taking suggestions and advice from people on what should the focus be on. The last component (optional) is the public discussion on program schedule. Usually this part has mixed results. This can be taken or rejected depending on your convenience.
  • Managing technology and equipment in a community radio is also an extremely critical part of management. Usually what happens is that a lot of people come to the radio station. These can be from various backgrounds and a diverse set of people with varying technical skills. This means that the equipment will face quite a lot of wear and tear. Faders come out of mixing consoles. Computers are afflicted with all kinds of viruses. Cables keep breaking, microphones go missing, field recorders stop working and this list is never ending. Further, the management committee can expect consistent demands from the station manager and the staff, for requests to buy new equipment with the oft repeated statement "our equipment is outdated and useless". Now this is a tricky position. Sometimes it could be true, and old equipment can be a real hindrance to innovative programming. On the other hand, volunteers and staff could just be tempted with new equipment, just as any of us are tempted with new technology. It is critical to have some expertise in the management committee, to decide what to buy, what to upgrade, what to throw away, and what to continue using. Further, it is important to plan out technological growth. For example, if you've just got a basic set up, then you might want to invest in a phone in unit, keeping in mind you want to increase participation, but not necessarily through physical visit all the time. Or if you've got a significant grant for your radio station, you might want to set up small ICT kiosks in your coverage area, so people can produce programs, and send it directly to the studio.
  • As part of the management committee, you are often seen as the face of the station. It is important that the members of the committee recognise this double edged sword and use it wisely. Since you will be in some sense, the "Trustees" of the radio station, it is upon you to spread the word about it whenever you meet people, who you think can help the radio station. It is also important to send out reports, and maintain communication with the police, intelligence, government agencies, civil society groups, artistes, hospitals, and other local institutions in an effort to maintain good public relations with the outside world. Often the staff will be too caught up to do this strategic PR work, and this is something the management committee can do in tangible terms.