Heather Gilberds

Heather Gilberds (Jagaran Media Center – JMC): Heather has always been a strong advocate for independent media development and activism. Her interest in grassroots media and development stemmed from travel in South-East Asia and extensive involvement in community radio. On return to Canada Heather worked in radio at the University of Alberta’s campus station. At the time of her fellowship, she was studying for a Master’s degree in communications at Carleton University.

Principles of Community Radio – Finding the Untold Stories

12 Aug

The second day of the workshop at Radio Jargaran proved to be as rewarding as the first. I was the only presenter and the focus of my session was community radio principles and producing feature documentaries. In Nepal, the principles that define community radio are not very clear and the boundaries between community radio (CR) and commercial radio are often blurry and at times virtually indistinguishable. Moreover, there are so many CR stations that they are usually in competition with one another for listenership. For instance, radio Lumbini is less that 10 km away from Radio Jagaran, has very similar issue-based programs, covers the same reach, and has the same target audience. So, the question was raised, how can Radio Jagaran produce programs that are different from other stations. My response to this was that, unfortunately, one station has no control over what another station broadcasts. The only thing to do is to make programs that are innovative, interesting and relevant and that attempt to find angles of stories that are overlooked by other media. I described the film documentary “The Six O’Clock News”, produced by Ross McElwee ,to illustrate this point. McElwee,committed to the principle that there are numerous sides to every story and frustrated with the fact that every station in the U.S. nonetheless broadcasts the same stories every night on the 6 o’clock news, decided to make a film where he discovered the stories that were not being told. He would identify people who were in the background of an event, travel across the country to find them, and tell the same news story from their perspectives. This notion of telling the untold stories also reminds me of the play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” written by Tom Stoppard, which tells the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the perspective of two of its minor characters.

In the current climate of media in Nepal where community radio stations are ubiquitous, the question to ask is, what are the stories that are not getting told?

In terms of ensuring that high quality CR is being produced, I also explained that regular evaluation of all programs according to international standards and principles of CR should occur monthly. Programs should be evaluated according to the following mandates:

-Is it truly participatory, i.e. produced by the community for the community?
-Is it interactive? What methods are being used to engage the community in an ongoing dialogue with the programs?
-How many groups are being represented?
-Has it made a difference in the lives of people in a community or in the life of one person?
-Is the program receiving listener feedback? by who and in what ways?

The second part of my session focused on producing feature documentaries. From what I can tell, this is a format that is not readily used by the program producers at Radio Jagaran. The primary model of shows appears to follow a report-based format comprised of an introduction, one or two interviews or vox-pops, and a brief editorial about the issue by the presenter. Although this type of radio certainly has its place, it is often not overly interesting to listen to and does not effectively engage listeners. I encouraged the producers to think about ways they can incorporate feature documentaries, which use more of a story-telling format, are issue-focused rather than event focused, and follow a topic over a longer period of time. I gave the example of inter-caste marriage. A report based program would take a current instance of inter-caste marriage, identify the major players, and interview those who are involved in the case. A feature documentary, on the other hand, may address the same issue by telling the story of inter-caste marriage over three generations and profile a number of people who at one time or another transgressed caste-based marital codes of conduct.

Many of the program producers are very interested in feature documentaries and have asked if I would help them figure out ways to incorporate this format into their shows. I think that the staff at Radio Jagaran, an enthusiastic and talented group of individuals, possess the ability and the drive to produce exemplary radio, and could become a model of CR if they begin to expand their conception of what a radio show is comprised of and explore new ways to tell the otherwise untold stories.

Posted By Heather Gilberds

Posted Aug 12th, 2008

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