In May 2019, even as the national/mainstream media remained occupied with the general elections and its analyses, Radio Jockeys from across the country were honoured at a gala ceremony in Mumbai not for their entertainment quotient but for their creativity for a cause. More in the news for their utterances (RJ Malishka on Mumbai potholes) or stereotype portrayals in films (remember Vidya Balan’s epic Good Morning Mumbai in Lage Raho Munnabhai or in Tumhari Sulu),these young and not so young radio professionals both from the public broadcaster All India Radio, private FM stations as also community radio stations were honoured for their creative messaging on Routine Immunization and Child Sexual Abuse.
The third edition of UNICEF-AROI Radio4Child Awards, this year, honoured RJs for their innovative and thought-provoking programming across two themes – Routine Immunization (Measles Rubella campaign) and End Violence Against Children (Child Sexual Abuse). The event was graced by UNICEF Celebrity Advocate Kareena Kapoor Khan. “I am delighted to be associated with the #EveryChildAlive campaign initiated by UNICEF as it is using different and innovative mediums to communicate the importance of immunizing every child from life- threatening diseases. Having had personal experience with the medium of Radio I think it is an excellent channel to educate young families, the youth and marginalized communities on the importance of vaccination. Also as a mother, I understand the importance of Immunization in giving every child a healthy start and I look forward to supporting UNICEF in spreading this important message.” Ms Kapoor said. The awards were a culmination of capacity-building workshops, conducted in 2018, by UNICEF and AROI for over 40 All India Radio and private FM radio professionals to help them integrate meaningful, appealing radio jingles or talk shows on the critical messages related to vaccination and other child issues.The winners were picked by a select jury which included personalities from academia, the radio industry
and the corporate sector. The awards have grown bigger and bigger since their conceptualization in 2014, when it received a humble 21 entries. This year, UNICEF received 152 entries from 17 states – up from 120 in the second edition. Of these, the highest, 18, were from Jharkhand followed by 15 from Delhi and 11 from Odisha. From the East and Northeast, radio stations from Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal too participated in the contest. From South, the awards received entries from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The awards not only showed the humane face of commercial radio but also the power of radio to influence people at large, particularly the downtrodden and marginalized. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to choose radio as the medium to share his thoughts with public at large on apolitical issues certainly gave a boost to radio listenership. Through his monthly ‘Mann Ki Baat’, he reached out to the citizens on issues ranging from examination safety to toilets. Even in advanced countries such as USA, where both print and electronic media are on their way out with the penetration of digital media in a big way, radio remains a popular medium. Unlike both
television and newspapers, one can listen to radio while engaged in other tasks, apart from the advantage of its mobility. Organisations such as UNICEF have realized the potential of the radio not only to entertain but also to
inform and educate. While the public broadcaster has been engaged in creating public awareness on critical health issues for long as part of its mandate and played a pivotal role in making India polio free, it is heartening to note that FM stations too are not lagging behind in discharging their social responsibility. As Governments, media conglomerates, communication specialists and academicians debate the future of media, another important tool with immense potential which continues to remain neglected in India is the community radio. The mandarins at the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting are yet to take any concrete steps to unleash the potential of a medium that can take development to the grass root level. While successive Governments have been taking major initiatives in health and other social sectors at the macro level, they are unable to achieve the desired objectives in the absence of an effective Information, Education and Communication (IEC) policy. It is here that Community Radio Stations (CRS) with their limited range and budget can make an effective and targeted intervention. Community Radios with a range of 10-12 kilometres can address the concerns, grievances and aspirations of the community they serve. At present, only educational institutions, NGOs and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) are allowed to operate these stations without any profit motif. However, despite certain incentives provided by Governments, the cumbersome licensing and renewal procedures and lack of proper training and dearth of resources has hindered the growth of the medium. As against the projected establishment of about 4,000 community radio stations in 2002 when the first CR policy was announced, the total number of operational radio stations today stands at a paltry 251. Government officials do not seem to be even aware of the number of stations which have obtained licences but are not operational. Keeping these factors in mind, I had set up the Community Radio Empowerment and Resource Centre at
Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, a couple of years back. The objective was to train existing and aspiring CR professionals in terms of technology, content and resources. The Centre also conducted several brainstorming sessions and training programmes in this regard. It was also envisaged that gradually the Centre would become a national depository for content which can be accessed by all stations as the current provisions require that 50% of the content has to be generated locally. Besides disseminating socially relevant messaging including creating awareness about major Government initiatives such as Jan Dhan Yojana, Ayushman Bharat, Swachch Bharat, Fit India & Ujjwala Schemes, the CRS can play a critical role in documenting, archiving, preserving and promoting local language, dialects, culture and art forms for the posterity as they are getting wiped out in an increasingly urbanized world. Besides, it can also help nurture local talent. The Government needs to take pro active steps to promote this highly effective tool.Given the right impetus, CRS has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in taking developmental, particularly public health communication, to the grassroots level.
(The author is former Director General, Indian Institute of Mass Communication; Hony. Executive Director & Chief Editor, HEAL Foundation; Member, UNICEF Radio4child Awards Jury).