Using Radio to Empower and Engage Communities

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 to Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Thank you for joining the New Tactics online community for a dialogue on Using Radio to Empower and Engage Communities. Human Rights groups are finding new ways to reach their audience through radio.  This dialogue, held from May 26 to June 1, 2010, brought together human rights practitioners using community radio to empower communities, shortwave radio to reach communities limited by government-run media and radio stations, and other innovative uses of audio to share critical information. 

What is community radio & how is it connected to human rights?

Community radio can be defined as a not-for-profit, community-owned and community-run radio station. It is truly informative and uncensored, fostering the participation of all individuals and groups in a community, and reflecting and respecting different opinions.

Community radio is about, for and by a specific community serving those living, working and loving in and around the same set of political and socio-cultural conditions. It allows marginalized communities to generate and share their knowledge and experience, and to actively participate in discussions and decision making. Furthermore, community radio addresses a community needs and concerns, through a diversity of programs and content.

What are other types of radio and how are they useful for human rights work?

Online radio and shortwave radio stations have been used to circumvent government monopoly by having servers outside of the country. Shortwave radio has also been used by NGOs and other pro-democracy campaigners to communicate with each other and with their constituencies on humanitarian and governance issues in crises. Other organizations use podcasts, which are attractive to younger generations and which can be accessed on cell phones, to educate on topics such as sex trafficking, fighting government corruption, and genocide.

Lastly, public radio is a powerful tool in reaching out to a wide audience and providing instant assessment (e.g. through live phone in programs). Cheap to run, easily broadcast in local languages and accessible in even the remotest regions, public radio  can be used to spread information on the human rights situation of certain groups, and to bring together human rights activists or activists and government officials as needed. Public radio should complement community radio and both need to be accessible to listeners in order for them to fully understand the world around them.

How does radio empower and engage communities?

In communities that for too long have been excluded from decision making in their societies, letting their voices be heard on local and community radio empowers and mobilizes and is the key to positive social change. Examples come from all over the world. The radio has influenced individuals and groups to successfully pressure governments make policy changes regarding unprotected poor people. It is a powerful tool for educating and informing communities on all aspects of life such as in Egypt and Israel, where multilingual programs promote democracy, human rights, tolerance and acceptance through news programs, discussions of current events and human rights issues, and entertainment.

Community radio, where listeners hear people from their own community making recommendations, has influenced better health, hygiene and agricultural practices, as well as school attendance. It also brings about empowerment by educating people on their domestic and public rights and encouraging communities to be more open about HIV/AIDS. Community radio also provides a message of peace and refuge to victims of violence and help to listeners in making informed choices about democracy. Phone-in programs reveal human rights violations, political issues, and corruption and provide listeners with advice on how to act in light of these situations. Community radio has also become a natural organizer and contact point during emergencies and to meet community needs.

Share resources and tools

What are the challenges/opportunities for radio + human rights?

Often funding and training are major challenges in using radio for human rights work. At times, the ignorance by media practitioners on the importance of human rights education to sustainable development combined with a lack of understanding on the part of some human rights activists on properly engaging the media is another problem.

However, there are also great opportunities in combining radio and human rights work. The vast majority of households own a radio, even in rural areas, making it an effective channel for communication. Audiences can be researched to effectively design programs and air the intended message.

While there are other challenges in using radio for this work, such as censorship, radio stations have found ways to circumvent it by road casting - producing radio programs that are put on cassette and then shared with willing public transporters. Others have resisted government suppression and won.

Finally, mobile phones have greatly increased and improved the opportunities in this area. They have facilitated closer engagement and sharing of information by text messages. Text messages also complement radio programming, providing news updates that are not as easily censored, and sensitize the public to the program. Finally, texting is a solution to jammed lines during call-in programs, allowing more people the possibility of sharing their opinion.

Conversation Leaders

SLamwaka's picture
Sharon Lamwaka
Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence
rpeace's picture
David Kwesi Ghartey-Tagoe
Radio Peace
birgitte jallov's picture
Birgitte Jallov
bassem's picture
bassem samir
المؤسسة المصرية الديموقراطية
Rebbie's picture
Rebecca Sako-John
League of Democratic Women (LEADS)
sgraceg's picture
stephanie guyer-Stevens
Outer Voices
dkuttab's picture
Daoud Kuttab