Using Radio to Empower and Engage Communities

79 posts / 0 new
Last post
Using Radio to Empower and Engage Communities

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. 

Our featured resource practitioners who led this dialogue include:

  • Birgitte Jallov works with community radio for empowerment & social change in Africa, Asia & Europe
  • Rebecca Sako-John of the League of Democratic Women (LEADS), Nigeria
  • Stephanie Guyer-Stevens of OuterVoices
  • David Kwesi Ghartey-Tagoe - Station Manger of Radio Peace, Ghana
  • Sharon Lamwaka - Executive Director of the Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • Bassem Samir - Editor in Chief of elma7rosa radio, Egypt
  • Daoud Kuttab - Community Media Network, Jordan

Dialogue Summary

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.

[Photo credit: William Self]

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

How do you define community radio?  Why is radio so powerful for human rights work?  How is radio connected to economic, social, cultural rights?  How is radio connected to civil and political rights?

Share your reactions to these questions and/or add new questions by replying to this theme-comment (or a participant's comment).

How do you define Community Radio

UNESCO and others have developed a definition for Community Radio. AMARC (the world wide association of community radio stations) also has its definition at  Basically community radio is a not for profit volunteer based and community owned and community run radio station. Not for profit doesn't mean that it can't make a profit from ads or sponsorships, it just means that any income made on radio is reinvested in the station after paying costs and not given to the stock owners or the administrative board.

What is community radio? as defined by AMARC

Thanks, Daoud, for starting this conversation about community radio and what defines it.  As I was reading a publication by femLINKpacific titled Empowering Communities, Informing Policy: The Potential of Community Radio, I came across a nice quote from the AMARC defining community radio:

"When radio fosters the participation of citizens and defends their interests; when it reflects the tastes of the majority and makes good humour and hope its main purpose; when it truly informs; when it helps resolve the thousand and one problems of daily life; when all ideas are debated in its programs and all opinions are respected; when cultural diversity is stimulated over commercial homogeneity; when women are main players in communication and not simply a pretty voice or a publicity gimmick; when no type of dictatorship is tolerated, not even the musical dictatorship of the big recording studios; when everyone's words fly without discrimination or censorship, that is community radio."

What do you think community radio is?

What is Community Radio

I am really enjoyng the discussions that have started around community radio. Thanks Daoud for starting off.  In Ghana, there is the Ghana Community Radio Netwok (GCRN) which is made up of all on-air community radio stations. The network has tried to enhance the AMARC definition. Community radio is thus:

Radio that is about, for, by and of a specific, marginalized community, whose ownership and management is representative of that community; which pursues a participatory development agenda, and which is non-profit, non-partisan and non-sectarian.

There are 4 basic elements in this definition and they must exist to make community radio what it is. We could discuss this further in detail.

Defining Community Radio & the connection to human rights

I'd like to share this link to a great listing of community radio examples on wikipedia. The examples of community radio come from around the world and show the connection between radio and human rights efforts. Here is a list of a few with the connection to human rights:

  • Bolivia: community radio was established by miners and funded by trade union dues.
  • Hungary: the first community stations started as "pirates", broadcasting politically free speech.
  • India: in 1995 the Supreme Court in India ruled that the "airwaves are public property" and paved the way in 2006 for Community Radio Guidelines which permit NGOs and other civil society organizations to own and operate community radio stations.
  • Jordan: highlights Daoud Kuttab's post regarding how was established by internet (2000) to bypass government restrictions.
  • Nepal: the first independent community radio station was established in 1997 by the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (Nefej) regarding freedom of expression and right to information called Radio Sagarmatha. In addition, Radio Sagarmatha's 'Safa Radio: The Clean Air Campaign' works with the Nepal Environmental Scientific Society to measure air pollutants in Kathmandu and broadcasts information about the capital's air quality.

How do you define your community radio station? In what ways are you meeting the needs and concerns of your communities?

Community Radio and its Connection with Human Rights

Community Radio is such a powerful tool that today marginalised communities are able to generate and share their knowledge and experience, to participate in discourse and decision making at every level.

 Community radio in Ghana is playing a major role in the promotion of good governance and civic education. A series of community consultations have taken place between radio community workers and rural community members in relation to the development and production of a series of radio programmes dubbed: Community Participation in Local Governance. (CPLG). This has been with the active participation of the poorest of the poor in the community where illiteracy is very high.

The radio programme is facilitating a process of public dialogue through which people define who they are, what they want, and how they can get it. Rural communities are finding their voice and articulating their concerns. Community radio is giving them a new lease of life.

The power of community radio as a medium for communication

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the power of ommunity radio in Ghana, David!  It is so great to hear about how well you think radio is being used there. I hope that we will hear more about the Community Participation in Local Governmence program later in this dialogue!

I wanted to share another interesting thing I found in the femLINKpacific article on community radio - the Principles of Community Radio:

  1. Creating a diversity of voices and opinions on the air
  2. Provide a diversity of programmes and content
  3. Encourage open dialogue and democratic process
  4. Encourage participation, sharing of information and innovation
  5. Give voice to the voiceless

I think these are important principles to keep in mind when considering the use of community radio.  Do you find them relevant?


elements of community radio

In addition to what was stated bove, I think Community radio goes a long way to inform the people at the grassroots on key issues and also provides a platform on which they can voice their opinions.

Definitions of community radio

Hi, it's interesting to see that there are different ways to define what is community radio - based on a lot of agreement of the essential central mission of community radio. But maybe it's useful to say that there are many small privately owned radio stations in different parts of the developing world that define themselves as community radio even if they don't exactly fit the criteria outlined by international organisations.  It's important to include them in the picture when looking at how radio is contributing to human rights and development.

Definitions of community radio; how it connects to human rights

Dear Francesca, Daoud, David, Bassem, Stephanie, Kristin, Nancy, and all the rest of you taking part in this dialogue!

I agree with the mentioned definitions of community radio. When seeing community radio not so much as a radio for 'a community of interest' as a radio for a geographic community, living. working and loving in and around the same set of political and socio-cultural conditions, then the 'pure' version of a community radio is a radio of, by, for and about the community it serves. Each one of the four prepositions being of equal and deep importance for community ownership and ultimately justificaiton and sustainability:

Of - a radio belonging to, managed by and grown out of the cultural traditions, the dreams, the longing and plans for the future if the community. Empowerment from having a voice is important. But empowerment growing from owning, managing, and running a community radio bears traces even deeper into the soul of a community.

By - a radio  with programme policy, profile and programmes produced by groups of community members: doing their own programmes about their own lives in their own radio. The analysis and learning process growing from presenting and producing about ones own life, can be an important aspect of the empowerment growing out of community radio: not just the listening, or just the being interviewed, but by being the ones to develop the outline of programmes important - designing the content - putting the elements together to spur dialogue, debate and the continue growth of knowledge and insight and a basis for action... 

For - A community radio focused towards a listenership made up by all the many communities within the community: working through a conscious composition of its editorial groups including members /representatives from all the communities within the community, and thus in a simple way, on a daily basis, ensuring that the radio addresses, effectively, sensitively and usefully the many issues and concerns and dreams to be tackled...

About  - dealing with all aspects of community life - through the representatives of the groups working in and around the radio. To many communities - especially those marginalised and vulnerable - the arrival of a community radio in the community means for the first time hearing relevant news in the own language, and for quite of number of these: for the first time -actually - understanding and thus receiving information, debate in a language understood --- the basis for entering into the debate and taking part.

But - while ideal, many radios do not include all of these aspects. In a number of countries communities a community cannot hold collective ownership of something; in others an association of a community cannot own - and sometimes not even run - a medium; or: community members, not formally qualified as journalists and registered cannot have a voice on air...

As Francesca mentions above, many community-oriented radios do not 'comply' with the full definition of 'community radio'. In Zambia, for instance, Radio Breeze FM is, actually, a commercial radio station. But due to the commitment by its management and producers, community priorities and community voices are of core importance in programming in important and interesting ways. In Mozambique the latest official figures document that of the 60 'community radios* about 12 % of the community radios are owned by the Catholic church - but community-oriented in content, operating with community editorial boards and community production groups; 35% owned by the state, managed and produced by state-employees, but with a community-orientation in the programming; the remaining 53% owned, managed, run, produced by the communities. And in many countries the 'community radios' do not give the space for the community to make up the editorial groups, producing all of the thematic programmes, but employ journalists, not even always from the area, to develop the programmes...

Whatever the constitution, framework and everyday reality of an nations 'community radios' - and of the individual community radio: moving the focus of communities and their radio from the center to the community itself in as many areas as possible, provides a caleidoscopic range of variations of aspects of empowered living, where life is seem fuller, and where request for accountable information from authorities and an involvement and role in future developments slowly take root. This means important change in many communities needing this.

No more now. I will do my best to come back over the two coming, last days of this dialogue - having only been able to enter this late.

Warmest from here,

- birgitte

Definitions of community radio; how it connects to human rights

Hello Birgitte. It was good information breaking down the definition of Community Radio the way you have done. Just to add a little bit to your submission. I will say that all community radio will do their work best if they are able to define who their listenership is. One could have signals reaching far thus availble to a number of people but who are the core target group? If a community radio is able to address that then it can move on to draw up policies, good programming among other. That is why in my definition I indicated that Community Radio in pursuing a participatory social development agenda should do so with the Marginalised and Disadvantaged Communities.

 Defining the Marginalised the 2000/2001 World Development Report of the World Bank states:

Poor people (who) live without fundamental freedoms of action and choice that the better-off take for granted. They often lack adequate food and shelter education and health. Deprivations that keep them from leading the kind of life that everyone values. They face extreme vulnerability to ill health, economic dislocation and natural disaster. And they are often exposed to ill treatment by institutions of state and society and are powerless to influence key decisions affecting their lives.

Indeed such people form the Primary Listening Communities (PLC) of Radio Peace in Ghana.


Knowing your community, your listenership

Dear David,

Thanks much for your comments. I actually did not mean to substitute the definitions of community radio already given, but rather to add my own experience and reflections to yours and the others given.

I in general agree with and like your formulation:  Community Radio in pursuing a participatory social development agenda should do so with the Marginalised and Disadvantaged Communities.

I agree it is important to ensure that all (all!) communities within the community are involved in the community radio - also the groups who do not immediately throw themselves on the mike and mixer, i.e. including the marginalised and disadvantages groups you define well.

The way I have worked with this in a more thorough and long-term manner - in Denmark, in Mozambique and in Lao PDR - has been by ensuring that the community reached by the radio is mapped: which sub-communities make up our community? Geographic, social, cultural, political - and working to have all represented in production groups, and in other groups around the community radio. In this way all groups had reason to feel and know that 'this is my radio', and the need to address concerns of 'producing for them' no longer being important... This of course is an ideal - which often works, but not always. But when it works, it is really powerful!

I do not say this to substitute what you say, but rather to complement it! :- )

The PLC in Ghana you refer to above, are they your priority /focus listeners? Or are they organised in some kind of listening groups?

Good to be talking!



Knowing your community, your listenership

Hello Birgitte, thanks for sharing your experience on the subject. It is very informative. Actually, our PLC's are very much involved in programme development on issues that effect them. Community consultations are held and using Participatory Research Appraisal (PRA) tools including FGD (Focus Group Discussions) consensus is reached on issues that affect them and those issues are then designed for radio programmes using the authentic voices of community members in their own language. No formal listening groups are formed, but the fact that a specific community has participated in the programmes production on their own issues they listen. The main economic activities within our catchment area are fishing and farming so these occupatonal groups share their experiences on radio they naturally form their listening groups. Monitoring and evaluation as shown that. The radio station mainly work with volunteers from the community and therefore a lot of training takes place before we enter a community.

The effect has been that problems raised by the community members which included; lack of access roads, inadequate public toilet facilities, schools, washed out bridges, etc. have been resolved as a direct result of our participatory programmes.

Rural community members (Volunteers) who had no knowledge in broadcasting and new technologies are now very well equipped as community broadcasters. 

We have also invloved our community in what we call Community Participation in Local Governace (CPLG) and the reponse and effect has been tremendous.

On the whole I must say that each community is unique and the approach of engagement could vary from community to community but at the end of the day what we are all striving for is DEVELOPMENT. Development achieved on the terms of community members.. 

What are other types of radio & how are they used?

Define other types of radio (inside or outside the realm of community radio): shortwave radio, public radio, online radio, etc.  Why are these types of radio useful for human rights work?

Share your reaction to these questions, your experience, your thoughts, your ideas, or add new questions by replying to this theme-comment (or a participant's comment).

On line radio

I have had experience with online radio since 2000 when I helped establish the Arab world's fist Internet radio. The reason we went this route was the fact that in our country radio was a governmental monopoly, so to circumvent that we set up a server outside the country and used that server to broadcast on line. Later we found a way to get the online signal downloaded in a nearby country that is allowed to use independent radio and was able to rebroadcast our signal back into our country. Today many are using the global reach of online radio to reach audiences around the world. What is important about online radio is that you are able to save audio reports that include actualities for as long as the web site is up. This allows for people to visit and listen to programs, news casts or separate reports as many times as they may want

Shortwave radio in Zimbabwe

Thanks for sharing your experience using online radio, circumventing the governmental monopoly on radio.  I wanted to share the experience of a former Humphrey Fellow that works in Zimbabwe - he has worked with shortwave radio (also to circumvent government's monopoly on radio) in Zimbabwe and shared information on this on a blog post on our website:

pruhanya wrote:

Short Wave radios

Zimbabwe has three short wave radio stations operating from outside the country because of the monopoly over air waves by the state. There is Voice of America (VOA) Studio 7 operating from Washington DC , Short Wave Radio Africa (sw radioafrica) from London and Radio Voice of the People (RVOP) which broadcasts from the Netherlands .

The most popular of the three is VOA Studio 7. The three radios broadcasts from outside Zimbabwe but they have their reporters operating from most parts of the country.

NGOS and other pro-democracy campaigners use these stations to communicate with each other and with their constituencies on various issues such as politics, health, education and other issues related to the humanitarian and governance crisis Zimbabwe is facing.

In order to do this, some NGOs work with community organizations such as unions, opposition parties as well as village heads to form listening clubs in their areas. They then source short wave radios that they distribute to these groups so that they can listen to news. They also give community leaders contacts of these radio stations to air their concerns.

VOA studio 7 broadcasts in three different languages, Ndebele, Shona (the two main indigenous languages) and Eglish. To hear the live broadcasts of news visit the following websites Radio Voice of the People also broadcasts in the three languages while SW Radioafrica broadcasts only in English.

Do you use shortwave radio to reach audiences? Please share your experience!

Question about On line radio


Your ground breaking use of technology to launch an on-line radio to overcome the challenge of the government monopoly of the airwaves provides a tremendous example for others.

I'm interested to learn from you and others involved in on-line radio: Are there other kinds of challenges that on-line radio faces that more traditional radio does not?


more ideas re online

Online radio has generally the same challenges as regular radio or regular media. Online is naturally much cheaper than terrestrial because you don't need an antenna or a license, but the down side is that you have less audience. The trick is to use online radio as a conduit or connector with other traditional media including terrestrial radio. The idea then is that you are looking for the multiplier effect by convincing radio stations to rebroadcast your signal. Online media needs much more advertising than traditional radio because the word of mouth advertising of the terrestrial radio doesn't exist here. Naturally some of the new social networking sites like Facebook and twitter are useful and often free or very cheap to market the brand.

Also podcasting is key in this area. If you can get young people with some of the newer generations of cellphones to subscribe to the RSS account, you can have many more people listening to a particular program using podcasting.


Podcasting for human rights

I'm glad you brought up the use of podcasting, Daoud!  A New Tactics intern, Ali, researched the use of podcasting by organizations as an alternative or supplement to radio.  Here is a list of podcast projects that she found and wrote about in her blog:

Ali Nardone wrote:

Is anyone else out there using podcasts now?  It would be great to hear about how you are using this new technology and what the challenges have been.

podcasting for the global community

Hi there Kristin,

Right now Outer Voices is embarking on a new podcast, designed to bring international issues to a younger audience than the average public radio demographic here in the United States. We're doing this because of the dearth of international news in American media, and young people in particular are lacking in information to guide their decisions as global citizens. But to do this well, we can't possibly make it work without the target audience themselves  guiding us. So we have created a youth advisory board, consisting of high school students in our local area, which is Sonoma County, California, drawing from across the socio-economic spectrum, to advise us in how to shape the podcast so that young people will actually listen to it. It was us bringing our big idea to them, and hoping that we were correct in the assumption that they would want it. And there was always the chance that there would be no interest at all. But that has not been the case. The students are eager for a chance to advise us, and the professional journalists who are contributors,  in what they want to hear. Not only that, but they also want to be able to continue the dialogue online in a blog where they can add information that they've dug up about the issues they're hearing about. They seem very excited to be a part of a "real" media-making - different from being relegated to simply "youth media" which, as great of a training ground as it  is, is not often taken seriously and listened to by non-youth - at least in this country. 

So the podcast is sort of a cross between public media and community based media, with the community being the students who have taken this podcast on as their own to care for and advise. We are just now in the startup phase, working on our second podcast, so have not had a public launch yet - but it's been very exciting to create something so different from the ground up. I'm interested to hear about any experiences people might have had with working with youth in this kind of advisory capacity, or in media making.


What are other types of radio and how are they used?

The public radio is a powerful tool to reaching out to a wide audience. It can provide you on the spot assessment on how the audience has received your message if it is a live phone in programme. I have found this the most beneficial tool in reaching out to a wide audience although it is also restrictive in the sense that persons without access to telephones are excluded and sometimes where there are numerous calls, the lines get jammed and only a few call get through. To stimulate interest in the dialogue, a corss section of the public are informed to listen in and contribute to the discussion/ debate. This has proved a good strategy especially where it is perceived that the public is ignorant of the true situation of a human rights situation or there are strong opposition to a proposed policy or law necessitating the voices of the excluded or affected to be projected to add value to the discourse.       

The public radio can be used in many ways. It could be used in passing on information on human rights situation of certain persons, groups etc as news items or in a commentary or documentary. The pubilc radio could feature discussion programmes around an issue bringing togather human rights activists or a mixture of human rights activists, government officials, politicians or other citizens depending on the topic. This gives the audience diverse views from the standpoint of these guests. You could conduct a vox  poll which could aired to complement the discussions in the studio. 

The radio is one way to dealing with the issue of ignorance of fundamental rights  and ways to enforce them especially in Nigeria. I had personally used the radio to provide information to the public on where to go to seek legal aid in cases of violations of human rights. The radio is cheap to maintain and could be accessed everywhere even in the depths of the forests. You can hardly see a cattle rearing Fulani without a radio dangling by his side in the bush. It also has appeal as it is broadcasted in many of the major languages including pidgin English unlike the internet which is more expensive and thus excludes Nigerian tribespersons who can not read and communicate in the languages used on the internet.     

However public radio is expensive in Nigeria if you have to sponsor the airing of the programme especially a s most of the radio houses are more concerned with making profit as against seeing the discussions as issues of public concern and thus not to be taken as of commercial value. One way out of this is engaging the officials of the broadcast industry to understand the importance of the issues to contribuing to sustainable development and security through advocacy calls and sensitization. This engagment could have many gains like free air time or reduction in rates.              


Combining ideas from community, public and online radio?

Thanks for sharing your experiences on using public radio in Nigeria!  Public radio is very strong here in Minnesota and is supported financially by listeners (and advertisers, of course).  It is something that I rely on to get honest and important information about the news.

Reading your post about public radio, the posts on community radio and Daoud's comment on online radio, has opened up many new ideas for me about how we could use audio/radio to share more human rights tactics!  Wouldn't it be great if New Tactics could record interviews and stories from human rights practitioners (like yourselves) and share them through our website (online radio), on public radio (where that exists), and community radio?  We could have interviews in different languages (oh if only the New Tactics team spoke 20 languages) and they would be available for free for download! 

Of course, as Rebecca mentions, this could be expensive.  Especially for online radio - it is expensive to store these audio files.  This is something to think more about...

But - I would love to hear what you think about this idea of providing audio clips of human rights activists telling their stories, tactics, experiences, challenges, and successes in their own words!

radio for new tactics

Hi Kristin,

New Tactics most definitely could use audio to share more tactics, and even create its own on-going podcast. There are a variety of ways to record skype conversations and other online conversations now that are of usable quality. and free software, like Audacity, available to edit them into audio files. Unless you're going to make all your archives available here isn't any need to store it all online, though now online storage has become far less expensive than it once was. You can check and see what your server offers in that regard. Mine has almost unlimited storage capacity now-  not true a few years ago!

Other types of radio, their use : public radio

Hi Rennie - and all the rest of you!

Thank you for bringing the role of public radio up! While the focus of this discussion is on community radio and its potential, I agree firmly with you that when developing national policies around radio, community radio seen - as we have extensively done in this dialogue -. as a tool for development, voice and human rights, I find it very, very important to advocate for a continuation of (or introduction of) a firm, independent national public radio with a public service mandate - alongside the powerful community radios (or CMCs or whichever shape they are in): while community radio can be a wonderful and powerful tool for community development of identity and empowerment - for inclusion, voice and accountability - a community radio as described in the former discussion on definitions, will never - and should not - cover the need for and role of a national public service broadcaster. Such a radio service will ensure a broad, well researched radio service, run and covered by journalists, trained and with a capacity to provide its listeners with an overall understanding of the world around them. The community radio can then add all of the empowering and 'making-sense-of-it-all' empowered community aspects.

But these two are two parts of the same world with different, complementary roles. The information and communication needed will not be complete for a community and an individual without the other.


- birgitte 


Other types of Radio

Hello, I like your submission. In Ghana, Public Radios are state owned and financed with tax payers money. Thei main role is to provide information on government policy and issues. Some programmes are done around agriculture, fishing, entertainment etc. though. Community radio on ther other hand is independently owned and their role is engaging community members in participatory activities towards radio programme productions. The difference is the public radio mainly gives out information and does not adopt participatory approaches to their programming.

Using public radio

The public radio in Uganda reaches all regions in the country with programming decentralised into local languages. In my work, I have used a public radio in northern Uganda for spot messages, and talk show programmes on the need for a law that criminalises torture. The advantage with the public radio is that it covers the whole country.

I remember when I was part of a group of women behind Mama FM, a community radio station in Kampala, we travelled on top of this hill [Naguru Hill] to look for a location where our transmission equipment would be fixed. I was amazed to learn that other FM radio stations where using the public radio transmitter to boost their geogrphical coverage.

When it comes to audience, the public radio is more listened to by the community.

Details of the public radio stations can be got at:


Radio Khyber and state funded public radio.

I would like to bring up the example of an FM radio station in Pakistan called Radio Khyber, which I think brings up questions about the boundaries between community, public and state radio, and issues of remaining independent while receiving state funding. Radio Khyber, which broadcasts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwest Pakistan, was set up in 2006 by the Pakistani government to counter the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups who dominated the airwaves in the area using illegal FM stations. During the time the Pakistani government established Radio Khyber, the militant leader Maulana Fazlullah, nicknamed the “Radio Mullah,” used radio in the Swat Valley to give fiery sermons denouncing the West and the Pakistani government while his militant group waged a campaign against the Pakistani Army to take over areas in the Northwest Frontier Province from 2007 to 2009.

When Radio Khyber began broadcasting, the Pakistani government mandated that it only play pop songs and give short news bulletins from the state run radio station Radio Pakistan. Yet when the Pakistani Army mounted an offensive against militants in the area the station made a decision to cover more local news and concerns. According to the CSMonitor the station programming turned into “call-in talk shows, news bulletins phoned in from reporters across Khyber, and feature programs on health, education, women's rights, and security – all in local dialects of the Pashto language” The station also has three female broadcasters, something that breaks social taboos in this region of Pakistan.

Yet because the station is funded by the government and it broadcasts in a militant stronghold it must tread carefully “trying to avoid backlash from either the militants – who criticize the playing of music – or the Pakistani government, which dislikes its news coverage in this sensitive region.” reports the station receives constant threats from militants. In late 2009 Radio Khyber and two other similar stations funded by the government in North Waziristan faced closure because salaries had not been paid for two months—this at a time local listeners were demanding that the stations broadcast for more hours during the day.

The case of Radio Khyber is interesting because the station has many aspects of community or public radio, but using the definitions posted above it would not be community radio. The station is not funded by the community and salaries are paid by the government, but on the other hand it fosters participation in the community through call-in shows and played a vital function of informing the public during a time of crisis and war. The station also gives women a voice in a conservative region of Pakistan. Yet because the station is state funded it is restricted in what it can say about the government. So my question is how can we make sense of radio stations like Radio Khyber that are funded by the state but perform a vital community service and engage the local community? What is the potential for these types of stations in engaging and empowering the community, and discussing human rights issues that could embarrasses the government that provides funding? Does state funding automatically restrict on-air content? Are there examples in “developing nations” of public radio stations funded by the government that remain independent?

How does radio empower & engage communities? Share your stories.

Share your success stories here – what has worked and how?  What are you doing on radio?  How has radio been used in development work, poverty reduction, mobilizing/organizing/building movements?  We want to collect these stories because they inspire people to think of new ways of doing things.  It opens up the realm of possibilities and empowers activists with new tools for their toolbox!

Share your stories, thoughts, ideas and questions by replying to this theme-comment (or a participant's comment). is a completely self funded Internet Radio Station launched in September 2009 to be an independent radio station works to disseminate the values, of democracy, human rights, public and political participation, as well as the liberal values like tolerance, acceptance, and coexistence through a news service, entertainment service, and multilingual service.

The Main Stakeholder of Online Radio is the Egyptian Democratic Academy (EDA) which is youth non-profit organization established in July 2009 by a group of young people believe in Democracy, Human Rights, Liberal Values, and political participation. Promoting the values of freedom of opinion and Expression, political and religious tolerance, accepting the others and the use of New Media tools and techniques in such promotion is the core interest of EDA. is the main project of EDA's New Media program. question


Thanks for sharing this brief overview of your internet radio station I'm interested to learn more about how your organization - Egyptian Democratic Academy - launched your internet radio and how developed the radio programs you've chosen to launch.

Would you be able to give us an example of a typical show format from one your recent programs?

about EDA

thanks nancy for you question 

The Egyptian Democratic academy 

An independent political research organization ... founded by a group of young Egyptians who are interested in the overall social work ..Politically active..and who believe in the importance of youth's role in reform,change and development of their beloved nation Egypt .

Founders of the academy aim to achieve the following through the activities and events of the academy:

  1. Objective and effective consolidation of the value of democracy assuring that it is the way to achieve the goals and aspirations and dreams of the Egyptians towards progress, stability and prosperity .
  2. The concept of deepening the real democracy - rolling of the majority while preserving the rights of the minority- to be lived and as a way of life as an effective mechanism for solving problems in all areas of political and social life .
  3. Clarifying that the absence of democracy ( as a real concept and effective exercise) from our lives is the direct cause of the spread of corruption in all aspects of life in Egypt .
  4. Seeking to raise awareness of the need to establish objective criteria for the selection of candidates, including how to differentiate between them on the basis of the programs and ideas, not on the basis of personal interests and benefits .
  5. Confirm that all Egyptians are equal before the law and all of them have the right to exercise their political rights both in nomination and in election, and that the differentiation among the Egyptians is based on the experiences a candidate can bestow to his country.

about el ma7rosa based on the international treaties and conventions issued by the United Nations in general especially the International Bill of Human Rights in particular, taking into consideration the principles of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the freedom of opinion and expression as a base and general framework on all of its production. also completely adopts the Declaration on the Fundamental Principles concerning the Contribution of the Mass Media to Strengthening Peace and International Understanding, and promotion of human rights, combating racism, apartheid and incitement to war of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on its twentieth session, on November 28, 1978.

Human Rights, Against Torture & Impunity and For Democracy

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has been using a local radio station that broadcasts in Hebrew, Arabic and English to promote human rights, the struggle against torture in Israel, the fight against Impunity and for the protection of civilians.  The show is weekly and delivered by PCATI's executive director, Dr. Ishai Menuchin.  It can be found on "All for Peace Radio" our show is

“Music, politics and everything in between”

Program Concept:

The program consists of political discussions of current events and human rights issues, interlaced with a variety of international music tracks, in particular protest songs and other politically motivated music.   In particular, the program uses commemorative days and celebrations, (e.g. Naqba Day, May Day, the Armenian Genocide Remembrance, Holocaust Day, Martin Luther King Day, Israeli Independence Day etc.), to broach political questions and foster critical debate.  In the course of each program, Dr. Menuchin conducts interviews (with call-in speakers), mainly human rights advocates and activists, academics and other individuals who can offer illuminating perspectives on the issues at hand. Once a month, the program will feature a studio guest.  In addition, the program makes use of recorded material, such as audio footage from demonstrations that will bring in voices from the field. 

The following is an overview of special programs planned during the project implementation period:

  • Special program on the occasion of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (26 June).  Programming will centre on the issue of torture, and will include interviews with torture victims and their relatives, as well as human rights advocates working on the issue.
  • Program marking Naqba Day (15 May), to focus on the relationship between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
  • Issues relating to the post ad bello cost of the 1967 war.
  • Comparative discussion on human rights defenders in Israel and other countries.
  • Periodic coverage of the activities of the human rights community in Israel/Palestine, aiming to expose ongoing human rights violations.
  •  Discussions on periodic reports and publications covering events in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The power of voice

Hi everyone - this is Michael Bosse from Equal Access ( We use local and community radio as part of our programming in a range of counrties in Africa and Asia. After working in this field for ten years, I've really come to appreciate that there is something special, a kind of magic ability to empower and mobilise that comes from sharing the ability to have your voice heard in the media with communities that for too long might have been excluded from decision making in their societies. It seems so simple, but I've seen over and over again, in so many contexts, that this is the key to positive social change in many communities.

I would like to share an excerpt from an article written with my colleagues, Gemma Quilt and Jaya Luintel about Equal Access' work in Nepal. We train local people (Community Reporters) to use digital audio recorders and create their own radio programming for broadcast locally and nationally.

"For the first time then, it seems that many of these community members feel an ownership of the radio and its content and also an understanding of the power expression and access to the public sphere to create social change.  It is no longer an external medium controlled by unseen intermediaries, but an integral part of the community, with a face that they recognize and voices that echo their own.  One reporter even described how a woman in her village had curbed her husband's drinking by declaring to him "if you don't stop drinking, I will speak to the Community Reporter, then all of Nepal will know your story".  In terms of approaches to development and citizen participation, this change in attitude towards the role of media and radio is critical.  Empowered with the 'power of voice' Community Reporters and the communities they live in will not only seek to speak truth to power but will also use their voice to bring about social change in their communities.  Not only is the Community Reporter able to promote the so called 'voices of the voiceless', but having reporters who come from within the community, rather than outside, ensures the community is engaged in the radio program and its agenda for encouraging social change.  As described by community members in Nepalganj, Community Reporter's like Naina, Nisha and Apsara are able to encourage the often difficult transition from listening to participation and action: "We always use[d] to listen to the musical programs in radio. But it was Apsara-aunt (Community Reporter) who came to us and helped us form a (listener) group. This radio program helped us to know different issues….(and) encouraged us to do something in the community" (Community Member in Nepalganj where Apsara is the Community Reporter)."

The power of voice - example from Burundi


Thank you so much for sharing this example of how radio can provide a "voice" for community members to be heard. I want to share this tactic example from our New Tactics on-line tactics database from Burundi.

Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) used its power as a media entity to influence individuals and groups who could help fix the situation in the Burundi’s hospitals, where poor people were being held against their will because they could not pay their bills. Eventually, in partnership with local NGOs, RPA successfully pressured the government to order the people’s release.....A key element of this tactic was identifying the target of the broadcasts: What group or groups would have the power to change the situation in the hospitals, and at the same time be receptive to the message? In this case it was government officials, who were morally bound to act after the stories became public. This tactic also demonstrates the power of stories. The victims’ stories, once in the hands of individuals with access to a podium, changed national policies.

The use of radio made it possible for the voices of these victims to be heard, and heard not only by the broader community to understand the violation that was taking place but also by people who had a responsibility and power to change the situation. Radio made it possible for this community knowledge to be leverage to change the situation for the individuals who gave testimony as well as a broader change in policy so new victims would not be created.

It was very interesting to learn about how the community in Nepal saw the radio program as providing the community members themselves with a voice.

Do other have stories about ways that your radio programs have made openings for change possible?

The power of voice - Lao PDR, Xieng Khouang

Dear Michael and Nancy, Dear all the rest of you!

Building on your strong stories above I'd like to share an example from Lao PDR, where a community made up by three ethnic groups and with very little information received traditionally by the two, started up a community radio. The impact assessment carried out after the radio had been on air for one year, documented the importance of the radio being produced by the community members themselves: hearing the voices by people they either knew or who clearly was from the same community,speaking the same language in the same way, meant that recommendations shared were actually followed by the listeners. This meant a sudden surge in vaccinations, in change of agricultural routines, in hygiene practices, in children coming to school every day, etc...

A summary of impacts included:

  • 60-70% more ethnic women use health facilities when pregnant
  • 50% more women bring their kids to vaccination – increase especially among Hmong, who used to refuse vaccination
  • Important decrease in numbers of diarrhea-related illness due to improved practices like water sources & treatment
       (boiling it)
  • Parents taking more responsibility for kids’ welfare (before: school) v New agriculture techniques demonstrated :     

          “With Khoun Radio we can know things that we did not know before.
          TV shows or national radio talks about other places far away from us; 
          Khoun Radio talks about things that are close to us.
          We can go and see what it says on the radio (e.g. about model farmers). "                                                        
          - Focus Group – Adult Men – Hmong village

Radio in times of crisis and in human rights learning

PDHRE-Peoples Movement for Human Rights Learning has promoted using community radio in the Human Rights Cities. During the violence following the presidential elections in Kenya, Radio Koch which operates in the Human Rights community of Korogocho broadcast a constant message of peace and offering refuge in the community to those targeted by the violence. Radio Koch has continued to offer programs on human rights at the local and national levels. Another example of radio  as a tool for human rights learning comes from the  Human Rights City of Kati, Mali. There regular program on the Kati Community radio featue Q&A sessions in which people in the community call in or are recorded on the streets and in the marketplace as they ask human rights experts and activists questions  related to human rights in the daily lives of people. 

Using radio to create discussions on human rights in China

Thanks for sharing these radio stories from Kenya and Mali!  I wanted to add another story of a radio program that started in 1997 by a Chinese exile Han Dongfang, that broadcast to Chinese listeners.  The purpose of this radio program was to discuss Chinese labor issues,

The program is aired on Radio Free Asia, a US-funded short-wave radio station broadcasting in Chinese to the mainland. The program is 10-minutes long and airs twice a week, occasionally with a third program featuring news on workers’ demonstrations. Han Dongfang, host of the show, receives phone calls from people from all over China, including not only workers and farmers but also university professors, business enterprises, managers, government officials, students, etc.

At first, the callers would want to discuss how upset they were with the government and Han realized that this was not a constructive conversation.  He then worked to encourage callers to discuss their day to day problems:

...the conversations encourage worker callers to discuss their personal life and problems in the workplace.  From this, information on human rights violations and political issues emerge. Most of the complaints are about the poverty caused by mass unemployment and lay-offs, mistreatment, corruption as well as health and safety issues. Han then informs the workers of their rights and gives them ideas of what they can do in light of the situation. People also call to notify him of workers’ demonstrations. Some government officials and state enterprise managers call in to acknowledge the corruption (sometimes their own) and express the same opinion, which motivates Han to keep going.

To read more about this tactic, visit Using a radio program to create informative discussions on human rights

What I have found interesting about this 'tactic' and about other stories shared in this dialogue is that the whole point of 'community radio' is to make human rights issues local.  It is about encouraging listeners to call-in to share stories about their daily life because that is where human rights live - in peoples' daily lives.  Thank you for this great conversation and please continue sharing your stories!

Very Grateful

This is to express my sincere appreciation for the creation of this platform to share ideas on Empowering Communities. I have learnt a lot through the sharing of experiences and the information provided. I hope the ideas would be put together in the form of a manuscript and made available on line. I am indeed grateful to the organises and the opportunity afforded us. Thank You.

Dialogue summary to be written & disseminated

Hi David - thanks so much for the kind words. I am so glad that you've enjoyed taking part in this online dialogue! I have also learned so much for all of you!

I wanted to let you know, and everyone else following this dialogue, that we will be working on writing a dialogue summary.  It will take a few months (we're a little behind) but when it is finished, I will post it on this dialogue page beneath the intro - and I will also email all of you that participated in this dialogue to let you know that it is up.

Radio in times of crisis and in human rights learning

Dear kmodrowski,

Your powerful story from Kenya, where the community radio offered refuge during the violence, reminded me of other stories, where the community radios may not mention that they can be a refuge, but where they, by the fact that the radio is seen to be 'ours', becomes a naturally point to go to in emergency situations.  Three examples:

  • In Mozambique, where I worked with community radio and media development for six years, community radio in many communities  became the natural organiser and contact point of emergency assistance in many of the hard hit communities during the great floods in 2000 and 2001.
  • Furthermore: in spite of increased rains, but due to information shared by the community editorial groups of the Dondo Community Radio in Central Mozambique during the flooding in Mozambique, people for the first time followed the hygiene advice - and instead of the usual 150-160 people dying from cholera during the annual rainy season, 0 people died after the radio going on air in one of the researched communities -and this development continued the following years;
  • In Tanzania, in the Masaai community in the north, Radio ORS FM, the local Maasai community radio, became the message centre for the nomadic community: for instance telephoning the radio to share information about water availability during dry seasons. After the radio started working in this way considerably less cattle and goats died during the dry seasons. (ORS = Orkonerei Radio Service)
  • But the Maasai community radio also became the refuge during personal emergencies. A tough and powerful story was shared when we carried out an impact assessment of the radio station: Naserians Story (the full report available here:   ,

Naserian’s story:

Naserian was married and had a very young daughter – about 10 years old. The husband wanted to marry off the girl child to an old witch doctor. Naserian did not accept and her husband decided to punish her severely – also to show his other wives in the boma not to counter his decisions: He stripped Naserian naked and tied her to a tree where he continued beating her for a long time – until she appeared lifeless. Somehow she managed to get away and came to the radio in a terrible condition. The radio got her to the hospital, paid the bills and upon recovery they provided her with three cows, a calf and a sheep to start a new life with her children.

 After several months Naserian decided to take the case to the court anyway, hoping to actually get back at her husband. Instead the court told her to give all the support she had received from the radio to her husband: the money for the hospital bills, the cattle and the sheep. And she was told that the husband should decide the fate of her girl child.

 IOPA and the radio challenged the court’s decision and won. (IOPA = Institute of Orkonerei Pastoralist Advancement)

Human Rights is the mother of all community change!

'Human Rights is the mother of all community change' was voted the 'most significant change' in radio KKCR in Western Uganda in an impact assessment in 2007, after discussing how the radio had impacted on life and empowerment in the community.

The Kibaale-Kagadi.Community Radio (KKCR) emerged as part of an East Africa Community Media Project”, where the objective not was to focus on community radio only, but to serve, effectively, the objectives of the URDT (Uganda Rural Development Trust) working broadly with community development in the district. KKCR started its broadcasts in August 2000, at the right time for URDT and was used as a tool to further operationalise what the organization was already doing.

KKCR was seen by the community as an important core informer and mobiliser - and the voice of the community. The two critical factors in KKCR’s success have been location of the radio in a matured and fully functioning institutional framework, with evident systems in planning, implementing as well as monitoring and evaluating of the organisation’s programmes. Related to the institutional framework are the specific programme components themselves: ensuring all programmes being at the core of community needs and challenges. Examples of such programme themes, which found a more-than-ready listenership include land, domestic violence, education of girls, exploitation of women, etc.

KKCR has not been without challenges. For example by “holding the radio in trust” for the community, URDT is challenged to continuously reflect on itself and to assess whether or not it is acting as a true mirror of the community. Similarly, community participation has always been difficult to moderate during politically charged seasons, such as during elections times. At these times, the radio aims to play a neutral yet informative role, but different community members, coming from different political persuasions also want to use the radio at this time to communicate their agendas. Another challenge is that Kibaale has been a land of many conflicts, especially those relating to land and resettlement. According to the station manager “we try to avoid fuelling the conflict, while at the same time informing people about what is going on or at least offering them an opportunity to discuss”.

The station management continually ask itself these questions:

  • Does the radio serve the purpose of giving voice?
  •  Is it demand-driven?
  •  Does the programming seriously address community issues?

Some of the stories collected for the impact assessment give evidence to the winning expression of change heading this message - and the demonstrate how KKCR empowers and engages its community (for the full report:

The value of knowing your rights:

“In this community the Police used to behave as if they were completely above the law. If they wanted to extort money from you all they did was to arrest you and put you in detention without any charge or with very flimsy charges. We never thought even for a moment that there was a law which protected us as citizens.”

“Since the programmes on radio started, now everyone knows that you cannot be detained for over a certain number of hours (28 hours) without being charged. The most interesting thing for us now is that KKCR brings the top Police Officers to explain to us what they do, how they do it and why they do it. We then take turns to ask specific questions, including citing cases where there may have been abuses by the Police in the past. This has changed the way the Police works and now one no longer hears of cases of unlawful detention. We know our rights”

“Another example reflecting how people’s rights were being abused in the past was the frequent battering of women, especially after their spouses had been drinking. This problem has now been thwarted, first by the guidance given on a programme, which talks about household relations. This programme is reinforced with another one, which challenges women to know and invoke their rights. These days you even hear children on Sunday (in the children’s programme) talking about the need to protect children’s rights. Some are, for example, on record for having demanded to be taken to school following radio programmes which stipulate among others the right to education for all children”.

Another story told by the elders of Igulika – but we heard similar stories from other communities::

 “After the radio came and discussed a lot of issues - among them the issue of land rights which is very sensitive here in this area – we become much more articulate and we know our rights and the (limits of the) rights of others. We had a concrete case here in Igulika, where one of our neighbours was about to be cheated. We alerted the radio, and the presenter came here to fully understand the case, and the put it all on the radio, which helped us learn – and those with bad intents stopped their plans.”

“It is really a very different feeling to little by little know about our rights. Can you imagine not knowing – as it was before – and just sitting around in ignorance without any clue as to whether your gut feeling (that something is terribly wrong around you) is right and you are about to be cheated big way, or whether you are the one, who is missing the point? It is such a helpless situation to be in. Our life was like that before. Now it is different. Thank God for that --- and the radio!” Daniel smiled his toothless smile as he made the last point.

Better livelihood  -  For life and fighting death 

In Igulika a powerful case was presented by a softly spoken, strong and radiant middle-aged man. And this was not just of livelihood options – but of life itself: Omuhereza Katende is now the Director of “Bwikara United People Living with HIV/AIDS Association” BUPHA.

If it was not for the URDT and its radio KKCR I would be dead today. I fell ill before the radio went on air and I would not have dreamt about telling people around me that I was HIV positive. But the radio brought empowerment, and after discussing time and again with the people there, I gained the courage to take charge of my own life. KKCR gave me time and I started doing a regular programme, telling about HIV and AIDS. Four years ago I took the step to say out loud that I was HIV positive.”  

And Omuhereza Katende continues his powerful story:

” The programme is now fighting stigma and discrimination and we have created an association of people living with AIDS, which does counseling and gives information both on air and in other ways. We can see that the rate of infection has started decreasing – and this is because we have sensitized people and convinced them to get to know their status. And also, there are simply fewer people dying from AIDS now. The antiretroviral treatment we also tell about, and it is now administered through the URDT for this area. Also we advocate the important aspect of a balanced diet to go with it – on the radio we tell people what they can do with kitchen gardens and so on. And besides from strengthening people living with AIDS, this also helps the healthy people fight malnutrition!

Besides from information and providing me and us with a space on air - and a voice, I am also being paid a honorarium as a volunteer, and I got a bicycle from KKCR.”

And Omuhereza Katende’s colleague continues: 

“I am Miriam Kairu. I am the treasurer of BUPHA and HIV/AIDS councilor. When the AIDS programme went on air I was in bed, could not leave the bed at all. I had an antibody test taken, and realized that I was positive – and actually I already had AIDS. Gaining information on what to do and since then surviving on ARVs meant that now I have taken up the responsibility to mobilize and inform others to also be tested and know their status. Furthermore I have been a councilor with TASO for 2 years now. “

As the Kagadi hospital, servicing the whole area, has difficulty accessing testing materials, 1030 people are now receiving medicine for the opportunistic diseases based simply on a a clinical diagnosis. These people are all members of the BUPHA on top of the 700 who have been tested and are receiving ARVs. All together BUPHA has 30.000 members. 

[1] ORS FM started broadcasting in Tanzania in 2002. Radio Mang’elete went on air early 2004.

Community radio empowering women...

This is a subject which can only be begun in this forum. But it should be mentioned because of its importance!

As David from Radio Peace in Ghana has written: community members traditionall excluded from having a voice in the public are and should be of special importance when planning community radio. As one of these 'communities within the community' women make a particularly important use of the community radio - in many different ways. Including these:

  • In most of the impact assessments, evaluations and reviews I have carried out of community radio, one of the first issues to be brought up by the women in focus groups or in one-on-one interviews is domestic violence: women and their children are usually much less beaten up and abused after the arrival of the community radio - for fear of exposure...

  • A series of stories are shared in my own article on women and community radio in Mozambique. Feminist Media Studies, September 2007. The article includes personal testimonies by women overwhelmed by the fact that they do, indeed, have the same rights as men - and the 'Chimoio Declaration' of 2003, formulated by women from all of Mozambique's community radios during a women's community radio festival.

  • 'Now we are seen as real human beings!" is the title of a review, impact and sustainability assessment of Radio Mang'elete in Kenya in 2007. This phrase was voted the 'most significant change' by the women's´group responsible for the radio station. The stories shared in this story-based impact assessment are powerful witnesses of the role community radio can play in relation to women's human rights. For the full report:

  • A very special story around this situation is shared by Radio Mang'elete in South Eastern Kenya - a radio run by 33 women's groups:

A group of women insisted that the issue of alcohol consumption had been so successfully dealt with by the radio that it needed to stand out on its own as the most significant change which had happened to the people of Akambaland. They added: “Drinking for our men was like a full-time job, and some even took pride in drinking from different locations and failing to find their way home. If they ever found their way home they would either harass the woman and her children or simply go to sleep without even knowing the conditions at home. Our men had actually started taking liquor which is mixed with certain chemicals (to make it more potent).

 “Even women had joined in these free-drinking-sessions”. Said one woman who had stopped drinking after listening to the radio programmes: “Many of us simply drank without thinking about the implications of this to our personal lives. We sometimes consumed large amounts of alcohol without remembering to wear our knickers. This put many women at risk of being sexually assaulted”.

 “On a scale of 1-100 we would say that the problem of alcoholism has been overcome up to 85 per cent.”

I look forward to seeing some of the many stories all of you out there have on how CR empowers - also - women and provide a link to information of rights!


Radio empowering communities without other sources of info...

Radio VOP, Voice of the People, is one of three short wave radio stations in Zimbabwe. VOP collects information, stories and data from all over Zimbabwe through a vast network of stringers, who – clandestinely and with risk for themselves – treat it in a studio outside the country and beam it back in for a few hours a day.

 During a review of the radio in 2009, the following powerful impact statements were collected from all over the country. Read for yourself:

 Listen to the voices – on Radio VOP helping listeners make informed choices for democracy

  • “I have made important decisions from information I have gathered through Radio VOP, especially in matters to do with politics and this has made significant changes into my life. Right now there is an inclusive government which was born out of the decision I made when I voted VOP on countless occasions urged people to go and vote.” - Male 43, Ntepe rural
  • “From Radio VOP I get the relevant and correct info about what is happening in Zim as compared to what the local stations are feeding us with. The station is playing to the correct tune of what a news provider is mandated to do to its listeners. The contents are not loaded with too much propaganda buts gives its audience fair, balanced, accurate and well researched info. Bravo to its ethical reporters.”   - Male 33, Gwanda south rural
  •  “In Karoi and Chinhoyi towns we have had chances to hear stories discussed at different platforms and later well investigated and given both sides of the story and keep us well informed.”   - Female 25, Karoi town 
  • “Radio VOP has made difference in information dissemination in the rural outskirts keeping us well informed about what is happening in politics, economics and socially. We are in better place to understand how political decisions are made since we hardly get newspapers here and Zimbabwe Broadcasting stations are hardly accessible. In Hurungwe some members of parliament have been exposed for their social shortcomings, political violence where an injured victim during June told us his touching story after he was maimed with a bullet and the suspect is still yet to be arrested. Its one of the best stories ever reported from Hurungwe.”  - Male 38, Hurungwe rural
  •  “Radio VOP has reported issues without fear or favour despite the harsh media laws in the country. Many of us have made decisions upon the information we gather from VOP."  - Female 30, Gwanda urban

Listen to the voices – on Radio VOP’s election coverage around the March and June elections 2008

  • “Before the March harmonised elections, Radio VOP made a series on SADC guidelines and principles on free and fair elections and it assisted many to understand how elections are run. The elections of councillor, member of parliament, senator and president was done during one day and Zimbabwe made its history as there were no incidences of violence. Through Radio VOP, I made an informed decision and currently it is giving us updates on constitution making, which is important for us.”     - Female 28,  Kadoma rural
  • “VOP has created a plurality of voices in an environment where we are subjected to propaganda by the state run ZBC. With its stories I have managed to make right decisions. In the run-up to last years’ elections VOP covered a lot of stories, especially on violence which made me vote for the right party.”    - Male 34, Gwenda urban
  • “I am a cross border trader and I travel a lot between Harare and South Africa. Last year during the March/June elections when violence broke out in my rural home in Shurugwi, I only heard about it via VOP. When I rushed there I found that things were bad. Some families had actually run away to the cities and I immediately organized to move my family from there to Beitbridge with me until things cooled down.”  - Male 50, Beitbridge peri-urban                                                                        
  •  “In 2008 after the March and June elections when there was a lot of violence and uncertainty in Zimbabwe, VOP added a one hour programme during lunch hour, which increased our time of getting objective news. During that time we managed to hear from public figures like Welshman Ncube, Enos Nkala, Obert Mpofu a ZANU PF official. It is rare to hear ZANU PF officials on private radio stations, but VOP manages to get comments from some of these die hard politicians.”   - Female 36, Pumula East
  • “Radio VOP covered the violence that went on after the 2008 March elections as victims and those that were affected brought it out. In particular from Mberengwa we had several reports about the violence that was taking place. This, I think, also frightened the perpetrators as sometimes they will be mentioned by name.”  - Male 64, rural, from Mberengwa
  • Political leaders from all political parties who are free to say what they want to say are given a chance [in Radio VOP]  including those parties that only surface during election time and it gives everyone the chance to be heard.  Some reporters take news tips and complainants from us and make follow-up  to well investigated stories to our advantage”   - Male 38, Hurungwe rural
  • “VOP always holds officials accountable by questioning why things are done a certain way. When the June 2008 election results did not come out at the expected time periods, VOP was one of the few stations calling the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission officials to get answers as to why people were being kept waiting.”   - Male 23, Hyde Park, peri-urban

Listen to the voices –  What Radio VOP gives us, the listeners?

  • “Radio VOP has changed my way of viewing things as they are told. It has come as an eye opener, to make me and my family know the untold side of politics. I cannot afford to miss it these days.”   - Female, 31, Masvingo rural
  • “It gives us something to look forward to daily”  - Male 23, Hyde Park, urban
  •  “Radio VOP gives us an alternative voice... It is filling a vacuum.” - Female 42, Midlands Semi-urban
  •  “You hear the voice of people from all walks of life on VOP: the big guys in leadership, the mothers in the rural areas and some in the diaspora.” - Male 50, Beitbridge, peri urban
  •  “As compared to the state run media organisations, radio VOP is managing to give us a chance to say our views through interview on air, but we think it must do more on this issue.” - Female 35, Mwenezi, rural
  •  “Radio VOP gives ordinary people the chance to speak about their situation.” - Male 18, Midlands peri-urban
  •  “Radio VOP has helped us a lot, because when we were coned by the chief, he was traced by the radio to give his account.” - Female 31, Masvingo rural, Nyajena
  •  “I have made important decisions from information I have gathered through Radio VOP – and this has made significant changes in my life… the state media has become a ZANU PF mouthpiece, it continues to lie to the public, so without VOP we will have no alternative news.”  - Male 43, Ntepe rural
  •  “In Kariba we are glad that once we get stories of poaching we end up having the suspects arrested and had another one when the suspect bolted out of the hospital. It was never reported anywhere else and w are well informed through radio VOP!” - Female 26, Kariba town
  • “Generally all stories are followed up as most of the reporters are on the ground and well-connected to everyone who has something to tell to the outside world.”  - Male 30, Makonde near Chinhoyi
  • “Radio VOP has reported issues without fear or favour despite the harsh media laws in the country Many of us have made decisions upon the information we gather from VOP.” - Female 30, Gwanda urban

Listen to the voices – on the social sustainability of Radio VOP: what if VOP went off air?

  • “That would be like a death sentence to my child. Some of us do not have the strength anymore and we rely on this news to hear about the environment our city based children and fellow Zimbabweans are living under.  We have no other source of news. It would be terrible.” - Female 63,  Lupane rural
  • “If radio VOP goes off air, it means that it will be another score for government especially Zanu PF to control the free flow of information and make people be subjected to limited voices.” - Male 32, Midlands urban
  • “It will be beyond our control but if I have the power, the station must continue and become our Bicorn  CNN, covering Zimbabwe and beyond through informative, educative and entertainment programmes. We will be affected, as no other radio station will give stories the way Radio VOP does. Will not get stories from the remote rural areas being a voice to be heard. This must not happen especially during these hard and trying times when the country is still yet to getour  media reform. It will be devastating for us all.”  - Female 28, Kadoma rural
  • “It would mean ordinary Zimbabweans not having a voice through which to air our views. Even the officials themselves especially from the 2 MDCs would not be able to reach their constituencies because they are not covered by other media. This is also their platform. It’s a platform to exchange ideas as a nation” - Male 35, Byo urban
  • For us students it would mean one less resource material. Radio is for us a source of intellectual information. More so for us History students who have a keen interest in politics and the international relations Zimbabwe has with other countries.”  - Female 18, Byo City Centre
  • “Instead of going off air, we are actually pleading for Radio VOP to increase time of broadcasting. If this radio closes, then we will again have to suffer media black out “ - Male 28, Zaka rural
  •  “If radio VOP is closed, then we are likely to be fed with propaganda. To me, closure or ban of VOP means chaos because there will be no one to hold these big guys accountable.”  - Female 31, Masvingo rural
Where does one start? Share resources & tools.

For those that are interested in incorporating radio into their human rights work, share resources and tools that could help them get started: manuals, guides, videos, podcasts, funding sources, advice, etc.

Share these resources and tools by replying to this theme-comment (or a participant's comment).

Radio online is a tool for documentation

It is important that when you think of radio online you think of it as a tool for documentation and for raising awareness. By recording an interview and posting it on a website for people to read and hear you are proving that this interview (or any other content) is authentic because the original persons involved can be heard in their own language. Video online is also useful these days for the same reason plus video online allows for people to see cases of human rights violations. But online audio content allows people to distribute news reports or news bulletins to a wide audience. We rarely get people to deny things when we have a documented audio file to prove it.

Re: Radio online is a tool for documentation

Great point, Daoud!  Recording interviews (by using radio or other means) and storing/sharing this online is a great tool for documenting human rights violations.  I had never really thought of this approach before.  We have hosted a Tactical Dialogue on the use of video in which we talked a lot about the use of video to document and raise awareness (such as the organization WITNESS).  We have also hosted a Tactical Dialogue on documenting human rights violations where Daniel Rothenberg talks about his project's use of radio for a project (the Iraq History Project) whose goal was to prepare an account of political repression in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein and after the U.S. led invasion through the personal stories of victims and their families.  He wrote:

"We have presented the material gathered in books, newspaper inserts and on call-in radio programs in Arabic and Kurdish that have been heard by an estimated audience of over 500,000 Iraqis."

Certainly, interviews with survivors are an important source of information on human rights violations - community radio allows everyone to have a voice by simply picking up their phone.

I would be curious to hear of other examples where interviews from radio programs are used to document human rights violations - please share your stories!


Using Radio to Empower and Engage Communities

Since community radio has already been defined, I shall not dwell any longer on that but rather go to using radio to empower and engage communities. Radio is a very powerful tool of communication. One voice has the power to speak to millions of people about particular issues concerning and affecting the community. For those of us doing human rights work, this then becomes an important engagement tool.

Radio helps us educate people about their rights in various ways: through interactive talk shows, spot messages, feature stories, sponsorship e.g., news sponsorship, etc. The advantage of using radio is its affordability even in very poor households. In Uganda, even the poorest and remotest located households will have radio sets in their houses. And so, when community radio is used to inform, educate and entertain people, you can be sure that you will have an audience listening/tuning in.

In December last year, I travelled to Gulu in northern Uganda to visit internally displaced people's camps on a CVT funded programme. Gulu is a region that is recovering from more than 2 decades of rebel actrocities of the Lords Resistance Army rebels. Because there are over 50 IDP camps scattered in northern Uganda, we used a community radio station based in Gulu to mobilise clients to gather at 1 camp for focus group discussions. The turn up was amazing with many clients saying that they found this kind of meeting very useful in their recovery from torture. We were able to achieve this through the use of radio to mobilise people.

Allow me to keep this posting short so that my readers are not overwhelmed with long mails. 

Sharon Lamwaka.

Tool: Suitcase radio

Thanks for sharing this, Sharon!  The Center for Victims of Torture also uses radio in the Democratic Republic of Congo to tell communities about their services. 

You mention that you were able to utilize the radio station in Gulu - it is great that you have been able to build relationships with these radio stations!  It made me think about those advocates that do not have radio stations to utilize in their communities - and I remembered the 'Suitcase Radio.' 

suitcase radio imageThe suitcase radio is a complete FM radio broadcasting station contained in a suitcase!  FemLINKpacific used the suitcase radio in Fiji because it provided the following key components:

  • complete FM broadcast station capable of operating within or beyond existing commercial power networks;
  • the 13.8/28 volt DC power requirement permits battery operation from solar or other charging sources to reach that last mile tha tis so important in educational broadcasting;
  • suitable for portable or fixed operation with all components operating from a single DC source;
  • equipment can be easily modified with plug-in connections for easy maintenance and operation;
  • this unit provides a complete broadcast station in a self-contained unit tha tis fully portable. It can also be utilized as a permanent FM broadcast station;
  • the console portion of the system is ideal for community access to existing networks;
  • has the option of a 30W or 100W unit;
  • it readily accepts any audio source for re-broadcasting, including satellite and off-air programming. [This information was found in the femLINKpacific publication Empowering Communities, Informing Policy: The Potential of Community Radio]

In addition to the suitcase radio being used in Fiji be femLINKpacific, it has also been used in Mali and probably many other places. 

Have you used a suitcase radio? How did it work? What are the challenges? What needs to be determined before deciding to use a tool like this?

[Photo by WANTOK Enterprises LTD]

The Wantok suitcase radio - a discussion of pros and cons

Dear Kristin, Dear everyone,

I have worked with many communities who have used the Wantok suitcase radio - with very (very!) different results and experiences. Some have been excited and devoted 'Wantok' fans. Many others deeply frustrated.

I think that the usefulness of the suitcase radio comes from realising its strengths and limitations - as in all situations in life...

In Niger, the UNDP with many national partners in 1999 ventured into a powerful community development programme, where the establishment of a community radio in each district was an aim. When I carried out a mapping of the media landscape with a focus on community radio in 2008, 102 community radios where already on air in Niger - and very few off air. Many of these radios had begun with a suitcase radio, and having thought that this package included 'a radio station' that could function for years and years, had to many of the stations and people met, been a great disappointment: the reach of the antenna was far from the expected coverage of the community, the quality (at least the version of the early 2000s) was amateur and broke easily. The stations experienced that they had to find someone who could help them identify the problems, then go shopping for substitute parts - and if expensive: raise funds to be able to do this and maybe be off air during this period... The equipment make-up in the stations thus comprised creative combinations of the still functioning parts from the suitcase combined with pieces bought in the local market or donated by partner organisations. Many mentioned that having the suitcase as the start up equipment, had been a costly disadvantage. 

In other communities, often where less community involvement in the production meant less different users, the equipment actually survived several years.

All communities met, had found ways of substituting the antenna: in a densely populated city, a 5-30W transmitter and antenna may reach a defined geographic community, but in rural Africa or Asia, this is just not good enough: a community usually (depending upon topography like mountains and forests) would get quite far within the 250 W limitation given by legislation in many countries. The suitcase did not meet this need by far.

In communities,where the suitcase has been used as a mobile console for training or community outreach - and as such not as the only equipment available in the community - the capacity and life-span has been found adequate.

Finally (from me here and now) the suitcase with its obvious limitations brings to the fore the old discussion of whether to purchase (i) sturdy equipment of recognized brands, with spare parts and ample room for repairs and an expectable long life-span - available at a higher cost, or (ii) cheap, OK equipment, with maybe a slightly weaker sound quality, which it does not pay to repair, but which will be thrown out when no longer functioning and replaced by new.

Many of the community radios we are talking about in this dialogue are stations, that have received support from partners to get established, and most often also to cover some of the running costs via partnerships of different natures. Many stations will have difficulty raising funds to replace equipment once established. Some stations will be placed in locations, where it is hard to get at replacements. Many radios are situated in locations where nature poses challenges: with heavy rainy seasons/rains, moisture, dust etc. And as the nature of community radio is to involve as many community members and community groups as possible, there is an important natural wear and tear. 

For all of these reasons, and based on all of the stories I have encountered, I must say that I would recommend the purchase of sturdier equipment with a longer life span than what the suitcase offers. This is naturally provided that the radio station is being established in a calm, planned manner.

In emergencies, when a radio has to be established overnight to meet urgent information and communication needs, a suitcase radio with beefed-up transmitter and antenna capacity can, however, be seen to be both appropriate and cost - effective.

 I trust there will be many other experiences among you, you take part in this dialogue, which can provide additional aspects to this beginning of a discussion of pros and cons of the Wantok Suitcase radio.

Experience Sharing

How I have used radio in human rights advocacy work.

First of all, know your target audience. This helps in designing context specific messages that will benefit your audience. Last year, a colleague working in the area of HIV/AIDS activism shared with me how his organisation had spent so much money on media awareness programmes but were not seeing any impact. I asked him if they had given careful thought to the target audience before choosing which media house to use. For instance, statistics in Uganda currently are showing a high rate of new infections among married couples and mother-to-child infections. Most of these mothers go to hospitals paying little attention to newspaper supplements. Would an awareness message in the newspapers then be the most appropriate channel of communication? No, it is not. For the married couples, how about involving religious leaders to talk about faithfulness during sermons to supplement newspaper information? When I helped my colleague with this audience analysis, he fully understood the importance of the word AUDIENCE ANALYSIS as you decide what you want to communicate.

In the media, we do not communicate to impress. So the trick is, keep it simple and very ordinary. The important thing to note is that we want to empower the community to for instance become our 'other voice' - our secondary advocates in the fight against human rights violations. This 'other voice' if I may juxtapose is perhaps what newspapers refer to as Op-eds.

Sharon Lamwaka.



Topic locked