Africast 2008, a biannual conference on African broadcasting, took place in Abuja, Nigeria 21-23 October, 2008. This year’s theme was “Digitisation and the Challenges of Broadcasting”.
During a special session on community broadcasting, Jummai Umar, Citizenship Program Manager for Microsoft Nigeria and Anglophone West Africa, presented a paper Amplifying the People’s Voices: Community Broadcasting in a Digital Era. Jummai has kindly allowed us to publish her paper here.
Vox populi, vox dei, “The voice of the people [is] the voice of God”, as stated in a letter in 798 from the scholar Alcuin of York in present day UK to Charlemagne also known as Charles the Great, whose empire included much of present day Western and Central Europe. Through time People’s voices have been and remain a critical instrument in the development and sustenance of any society. This is more so in this era of the ascent of the Information Society, Democracy (government of the people, by the people and for the people) and the rule of law, assertion of human rights, empowerment and development of the people at the grass-roots.
In order to communicate government policies to the people as well as elicit and encourage the people to give voice to their own ideas, which they will own thus ensuring sustainability, on issues such as nation building, government at different levels had always used various media prominent among which is mass media, town hall meetings etc. Today, though not utilized, the media of choice for our environment is Community Radio (CR). Arguably, CR is the “poor man’s GSM. As Charles Akolo Katsibi in his 08 October 2008 article in the Daily Trust titled Community radio in Nigeria’s democracy! succinctly asserts “The proliferation of media houses (print and broadcast) with diversity to ownership-private, group and or government is a clear definition of what is known as media pluralism.”? However, a closer look at this development indicates that all of these media are concentrated in the urban centres of the society. Except, of course, for the wider coverage and accessibility of radio, village dwellers do not have the presence of a media outfit.This is a gap that only CR can address.
Bruce Girard in a paper presented at the first International Workshop on Farm Radio Broadcasting titled The Challenges of ICTs and Rural Radio posited that “more than ninety years after the world’s first station was founded, radio is still the most pervasive, accessible, affordable, and flexible mass medium available. In rural areas, it is often the only mass medium available. You can corroborate this by taking the time to chat with the typical Nigerian night watchman colloquially called the Maigadi. You will be surprised to be updated on current situations related to the US Election, Chechnya, Palestine, China trade surpluses, global economics and world politics. Predawn Hausa broadcasts from BBC (UK), Deutsche Welle (Germany) and VOA (USA) educate and empower these people with information. We must ask ourselves, why do these nations invest in foreign language radio services?
Low production and distribution costs have made it possible for radio to interpret the world from local perspectives, and to respond to local needs for information. More than any other mass communication medium, radio speaks in the language, and with the accent, of its community. Its programming reflects local interests and it can make important contributions to both the heritage and the development of the cultures, economies and communities that surround it. Again we must ask ourselves, if radio and other mass media give the average person living in the rural areas a voice and how amplified are such voices?
Community broadcasting as a precursor of present day online social networking is unique in its focus and structure. Think of community broadcasting as pre-Internet YouTube, FaceBook and MySpace. According to Liora Salter in an article in the Canadian Encyclopaedia titled, ‘Broadcasting, Community’; “Community broadcasting is designed to fulfil social and cultural needs by allowing members of the audience to participate in decisions about programming and, in the case of radio, in the ownership of stations. It serves local communities, reflecting the diversity of their views and needs, and provides access to volunteer participants. It is public broadcasting, but it is not operated by a government or a government agency.”
Sadly, Nigeria has been, and continues to be, left behind and according to Prof. Umaru Pate from University of Maiduguri in an interview with Daily Trust Newspaper of August 23, 2008 said concerning community radio in Nigeria “One thing I must tell you is that in the whole of West Africa today, it is only Nigeria – which is incidentally the biggest of all and the richest, too – that does not have a policy on community radio stations. All the other West African countries have policies and not only policies; they have existing, robust and very well functioning community radio regimes. Here in Nigeria, there have been attempts by individuals and groups to convince the government to initiate and promulgate a policy on community radio, there are some impressions being given particularly in some government cycles that we have a policy on that but if you take your time to go through the NBC policy, they cannot be described as community radio per se considering the cost and other prohibitive requirements”.
When broadly allowed, in Nigeria, CR will positively empower our people and crystallize our fledgling democracy. However there are several challenges as Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, in his 18 September 2008 Daily Trust article observes that “Community broadcasting opens up access which might be very difficult to understand for those who have lived within the dictatorial ambience which unfortunately has operated for a long time in Nigeria’s broadcasting policy. The bureaucratic argument that the radio spectrum must be tightly regulated had been the ruling mantra in the Nigerian tradition for a very long time. But that has also gone hand-in-hand with the deformed nature of Nigeria’s democratisation. So up there, within the ruling elite, the bureaucrats controlling the processes of regulation of broadcasting, and the commercial broadcasters, there is an alliance, which has not been particularly disposed to the opening up of the access to community broadcasting in Nigeria. Of course, it has been very easy to manipulate the red herring of security, amongst many reasons to slow movement on that track.”
Community broadcasting in the digital era:
Media convergence around digital based Internet Protocols (IP) is a reality. According to Jennifer Makunike-Sibanda – Regional Director, Federation of African Media Women, Southern African Development Community (FAMW-SADC), in a paper titled ‘Improving Access to Rural Radio by ‘Hard-to-Reach’ Women Audiences’, said: “First and foremost, I wish to underscore the point that the convergence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has to date brought to the fore the emergence of the phenomenon of creative divergence – this positions knowledge as the new prime resource in the world economy. Secondly, there has been a noted tendency by countries in transition to a knowledge economy (k-economy) to forestall development which is identifiable with the satisfaction of human needs – namely, a needs-oriented development or people-centred development which should be a necessary condition for development”.
To buttress this notion we note Stella Hughes – Senior Programme Specialist, UNESCO, Paris, France, in a paper titled ‘Community Multimedia Centres: Integrating Modern and Traditional Information and Communication Technologies for Community Development.’ Where she declares that “In the era of the knowledge society and the knowledge economy, access to the infrastructure to share information and knowledge is paramount for social and economic development. It is evident that the traditional forms of knowledge acquisition are insufficient to foster an inclusive knowledge society. People and communities in the developing world need access to the mechanisms that provide multiple sources of rapid information – and information exchange – which traditional ways of accumulating and exchanging knowledge cannot deliver.”
She further said “only when the Internet and other ‘new’ ICTs are combined with ‘traditional’ community radio, can all members of a community – irrespective of languages spoken or level of learning – be fully included in the process of accessing, identifying, producing and exchanging information relevant to their needs.”
Amplifying the People’s Voices:
There is no doubt that the past decade has witnessed an unprecedented achievement in the area of information and communication technology (ICT) to the extent that even the developing economies like Nigeria now have access to ICT equipment that have great potentials of amplifying the people’s voices. With many mobile phones being equipped with cameras, and video cameras, internet outlet for posting broadcasts, sites such as You Tube, FaceBook, MySpace, personal online sites and blogs, accessing and uploading information has become easy. Many media houses now rely on information and live pictures and videos captured by private individuals (i-report) to report on events as they happen. GSM operators in Nigeria have equipped the rural dwellers with similar opportunity to contribute to information and knowledge sharing, except for the absence of community radios where such generated voices of the people could be amplified. The digital era has opened up a huge space for often marginalized persons to have a voice. It was once believed that mobile phones were not for all, or that they might in some manner jeopardise the security of the society. This has been found NOT to be that case, as I am also confident that CR will enhance the security of the society if allowed to flourish.
We are witnessing digital migration as analogue broadcasting technology gradually gives way to digital broadcasting technology with more sophisticated technological and information transmitting backbone. The main benefit of digital broadcasting is the efficient use of the radio (broadcasting) frequency spectrum, thereby freeing that frequency spectrum.
However, in line with the adage “use it or lose it” the inability or unwillingness of Federal Government to licence CR stations will be undermined by advances in technology which are providing alternatives. If Nigeria does not put in place structures to licence and control CR Stations then they will develop via other means in an increasingly globalised environment which the Nigeria state will not be able to control. For example, a few years ago a prominent Nigerian journalist made unsuccessful efforts to secure a domestic FM Broadcasting licence. Today, he operates an AM Radio station out of Spain that broadcasts to all of West Africa.
Internet Radio is arguably an advanced form of a digitally converged Community Radio station. We are not talking about radio stations that stream their media across the Internet like the BBC in the UK, but Radio stations that exist exclusively on the Internet. Firms like Com One, Revo, Roku, Terratec and Tivoli have each developed and market their own brand of tabletop or bookshelf radios that use Wireless Ethernet/ Wireless Fidelity and commonly known as Wi-Fi which is the most common wireless IP networking standard. These Internet radio receivers cost from under N10,000. Users can tune these radios in the same manner that most of us use our existing radio sets. The reception is digitally crystal clear with no static with the current choice of up to 10,000, and rising, existing Internet radio stations from all over the world. It is a matter of when, not if, Nigerians will use this media.
Twenty years ago a group of El-Salvadorans and Canadians combined radio broadcasting and new ICTs to help bring about social and political change, democracy and development in Central America in a way that could now be referred to as Radio2.0. In 2003, a book titled ‘The One to Watch: Radio, New ICTs and Interactivity’ Edited by Bruce Girard asserted that “The Internet and other new ICTs are changing radio in the developing world. But far from making it less relevant, they are opening up hitherto unimagined possibilities:
- Broadcasters, who used to have to travel for hours or even days to find a public library to research a programme, now have instant access to the Internet;
- National, regional and global radio news agencies are making world news and alternative perspectives available to even the most remote communities;
- The radio/ telecommunications combination is helping to keep communities together, despite the distances imposed by migration.
The cases presented in this book are among the first examples of the convergence of radio and new ICTs for development, and the book underscores the significant potential of the combination. In this convergence, radio promises to take on even greater significance and value. For this reason, we believe that radio is the one to watch.” As many of us are aware Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and Africa Independent Television (AIT) are watched, while Voice of Nigeria (VON) is listened to, overseas and especially by Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Some aspects of Internet Radio are challenging, especially those areas dealing with international jurisdictions and the limits of national sovereignty. For example, as Nigeria through the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) facilitates the roll out of last mile IP access how will the Nigeria state control anyone from setting up a Nigeria centric Internet radio station on a web server based in another country. How will the Nigerian state exercise jurisdictional control over a foreign based “VIRTUAL” Internet radio station that “apparently” broadcasts “from Katsina,” about Katsina, and in a Katsina dialect?
China among other nations have developed sophisticated, expensive and as some have argued in the long-run futile initiatives to comprehensively filter all Internet traffic. Furthermore, our current IP infrastructure makes this problematic as Nigeria has found in dealing with the relatively less sophisticated problems of “Internet 419” and “Yahoo Yahoo boys.” As the first in a series of steps, we humbly advice government to open up the CR window, so that there is a framework that it can develop and adapt, which will eventually encompass Internet radio as that sector opens up.
It must be noted no CR station has even been involved in any subversive or anti-people activities anywhere in the world. As noted earlier, security has been used as a red herring to side track the opening of a CR policy window. However, in the case of the Genocide of Rwanda, it was found that Government owned Radio stations were culpable of instigating the genocide.
As noted in Spore Vol. No. 109 published by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, in Feb. 2004 “The next generation of rural radio is already with us. Once prized for their ‘proximity’ to local news as well as local listeners, progressive rural stations have added on several news layers of quality, thanks to the Internet. Research by local stations can now easily have a global spread, and programmes can be shared all over the world, as happens between diaspora migrant communities and their home villages.”
In January 2005, LG Electronics released the World’s First Digital Broadcast-Enabled Mobile Phone. Today any of us with minimal exposure can upload, store and broadcast video streams from our mobile phones by leveraging on initiatives from firms like Qik, World TV and Cybersoc.com. This has been the direction of Community Broadcasting and it is happening around the world without us. Two years ago CNN asked its views to submit “iReports” and to date CNN has received more than 175,000 videos and photos. According to the Max Digital Media Newswire article titled ‘CNN Celebrates Second Anniversary of iReport’ of Thu, 21 August 2008 “CNN’s user-generated content initiative now generates an average of nearly 15,000 iReports each month.” These technology enabled services are empowering other people that we are expected to compete with, and we are not yet empowering ourselves as a nation to even try and successfully bridge this growing divide. Clearly as a Nation we have not used our opportunities advantageously, and sadly we are all losing.
IP broadcasting and IP radio in particular, leverages on the Internet. Globally the Internet like radio is pervasive and becoming increasingly so in Nigeria. The Internet like radio is simultaneously global in scope while being local in nature. Recent Internet services are making it an oral medium like radio. Oral media are coming closer to our inherent African comfort zone as a people with our rich oral traditions. The Internet like radio involves people in an interactive medium. According to Bruce Girard in his paper ‘The Challenges of ICTs and Rural Radio’ he postulates that “It has been said that the Internet is a window to the world – offering a view that includes a wealth of knowledge and information. Local radio is a mirror that reflects a community’s own knowledge and experience back at it. The convergence of the two just might offer us the most powerful tool we have yet known to combine research and reflection to harness knowledge for development.” Such convergence cannot happen in Nigeria until a critical mass of functional CR stations exist.
CR can pass on knowledge useful to the daily lives of the people much more effectively than GSM phones or the use of cyber-cafes. Health and wellbeing, agriculture and food security, justice and accountability, national security and democratic stability, business and the economy have all been shown to improve through the knowledge gained and empowerment achieved through CR.
To date (Oct. 2008), Nigeria has issued only ten CR licences and only the station at the University of Lagos is operating. As of July 2005, Mozambique had 45; Senegal 14, Malawi 10, Ghana 8, Namibia 6, Republic of Benin 5, Sierra Leone 4 and Sudan had 4 functional CR stations.
The Chinese philosopher Lao -Tzu (604 BC – 531 BC) in his book The Way of Lao-tzu stated that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We thus request that government through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) consider issuing CR frequencies/ licences as a first step/ pilot to at least 1 qualified rural cooperative, as guided by NBC rules, in each of the 6 Geopolitical zones. We understand that the NBC is ready to oblige once they secure the requisite clearance from Mr. President. Thus, our prayer is that Mr. President, with all deliberate speed and due diligence, approve at least six CR frequencies as pilots so as to open the way for a broader implementation, and full opening up of the CR window.
Nigeria is a signatory to the African Charter on Broadcasting, which is a legally binding multilateral document. This defines Community Broadcasting as the third tier of broadcasting. CR that is owned and operated by and for a community and broadcasts in its dialects is in the truest sense the “poor” persons’ ICT. It should be noted that the basic low-end equipment for CR Stations with a range of 15 to 30 km costs from N700,000 to N2,000,000. This is exclusive of power, accommodation and overheads.
An excellent draft policy was developed in 2006 by a 17 member committee chaired by the pre-eminent communicator, Prof. Alfred Opubor. This was deliberated on, by the 37th National Council on Information in Enugu in January/ February 2007. To the best of our knowledge, all that remains is to present the policy draft to the FEC for deliberation and approval. We unequivocally add our recommendation for approval by the FEC.
The way forward for Nigeria thus begins when the Federal Executive Council (FEC) considers and approves, in line with due process and the rule of law, the existing draft COMMUNITY RADIO (CR) POLICY which we aver is in line with the National Vision and the laudable development strategies of your administration.
Knowledge is the key to our survival, advancement and salvation. Technology, infrastructure and finance are extremely important. But human experience demonstrates that it is thinking based on true knowledge that positively develops individuals, societies and mankind as a whole. Economies grow as a part of this. We humbly pray that this administration considers, endorses and adopts the above suggestions. A “servant leader” will be considered successful if the people can be empowered with knowledge to sustainably improve themselves, those around them, their own material circumstances and prepare better for the future of those yet unborn and the environment they will live within.
DIGITUS Vox populi, vox dei – The digital voice of the people [is] the voice of God.