The newly created network is expected to counter the spread of COVID-19 through awareness raising, encouraging solidarity within community groups, accountability and transparency. As part of this initiative, 13 community radio stations across India have been connected, with a collective reach of over 40 million people, especially the tribal and marginalized population. The network, which covers 12 Indian States and seven regional languages, is strengthening collaboration to respond to the coronavirus outbreak through online meetings and learning mechanisms.
The learning sessions focus on the following issues:
- ensuring support to and accountability of local authorities;
- creating a network of local reporters from active listeners;
- addressing issues of gender violence, emotional and psychological counselling and countering misinformation.
In one of the sessions, I learnt about the difference between government and governance. I did not know about this before. I now realize that knowledge on this topic is particularly helpful as we have been dealing with local administration, especially during the pandemic. The interaction has helped us understand the system better and how we can navigate through it.
Another participant from Kerala shared how the new network and collaborative sessions organized by it have helped in creating innovative programmes for her station.
While interacting with a fellow programmer from a different state, I got the idea of creating programmes on topics like impact of online education on children and stress management for women.
According to Archana Kapoor of Radio Mewat, while the solution to the health crisis still remains uncertain, it is of crucial importance for the communities to receive genuine information. She emphasized the role of community radios as “hyper-local” medium in spreading awareness and stressed the significance of broadcasting credible content in the regional dialect in order to inspire trust to communities. The biggest challenge community media currently face is the struggle against “misinformation”.
During the learning sessions, many questions confused the facilitators. For instance, should we recommend cow urine as a COVID solution based on a government official’s suggestion? We were also confronted with dilemmas of stigmatization of those who had tested positive. And the biggest challenges of all: what is exactly safe, secure and credible information?
With the idea of generating a genuine flow of information and countering the phenomenon of ‘infodemic’, Archana Kapoor set up a support group for community media practitioners on how to broadcast content related to the COVID-19 crisis.
As part of another UNESCO-supported project on rapid response to COVID-19, her not-for-profit organization Seeking Modern Applications for Real Transformation (SMART) created information sheets for community radio stations in India dealing with issues related to the health crisis. Translated in seven Indian languages, these bulletins have been shared with 250 radio stations with an estimated reach of 70 million people.
“Although we were aware of the government notification related to COVID-19, the medical jargons confused us. Localised content and expert interviews broadcast in the framework of this project have helped us clear the air on the disease and related issues,” shared radio Kumaon Vani in a written testimony.
UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators highlight that while the media is a platform for democratic discourse, the proximity of community media to citizens often allows to reflect social diversity more comprehensively than the mainstream media. Thus, the community media has emerged as an essential service in allaying fears and disseminating credible COVID-related information.