Thursday, September 5, 2013

Helen Hambly Interviews MSc researcher Mahmuda Anwar

HH:  Mahmuda, you have been doing field research on community radio for agricultural and rural development in Bangladesh, is this right? 
MA: Yes, over the past few months I visited 5 of the currently 14 community radio (CR) stations in Bangladesh. I interviewed their staff as well as a sample of their listeners, particularly women who listen to the CRs.

HH: What are a few key highlights from your study?

MA:  Since 1971, radio has played a key role in communicating with people during and after the War of Liberation. It was the first and only media. The current government radio infrastructure includes 12 stations. In 2000, the government began to liberalize the air waves. Initially, commercial radio stations emerged and there are now 20 private radio stations in the country, most of which are based in Dhaka or other urban areas. The government has a positive attitude towards radio and in 2008, the first community radio license was granted. By 2012, there were 14 CRs. Another 2 stations will soon be opened. All community radios are at the sub-division level and serve their local, and often, rural audiences.
HH: How is radio helping farmers and their communities in Bangladesh?

MA: In some cases, farmers report receiving local news and market information from the CRs. This is very important so that farmers can negotiate fair prices with wholesalers. For the first time, through CRs, rural people are receiving information about government services. Radio is being used for rural education, including 2 or 3 radio stations that I found were offering English language programs which help students to develop their language proficiency. Mothers kept saying how much they appreciated this language practice because their children did not have to take extra tuition to obtain English proficiency. The cultural and social values of community radio are also important. For instance, it can be entertaining programs that teach singing to children or more serious programs that offer young women counselling on health issues because there is nowhere else these women can turn.

HH: What programs seemed of particular benefit?

MA: I think the social issues programs are important. For example, topics such as early marriage are brought out into the open. In one case, an announcer at the community radio heard about a 13 year old girl being married and brought this to the attention of the local administration who then brought in the police to stop this illegal practice.  Another example, is how during the 2013 tropical storm Mahasen hit the south of Bangladesh and knocked out all telecoms. Only the 2 community radio stations in the region were operating so the first responders used the CRs to inform the people of the emergency measures. One old lady who was affected by the cyclone told me, “we heard the news of the storm by listening to our community radio and only the radio can help us to get the right information.”
HH: You are in Sri Lanka this week to participate in the Innovative Uses of ICTs project team. You’ll be visiting radio stations here and comparing your experience with your research in Bangladesh. What similarities and differences do you see so far?

MA: So far I have been able to visit 3 radio stations in Sri Lanka. They have been very different because here in Sri Lanka the government through SLBC is operating regional radio stations which are expected to serve the more rural areas. The radio stations I’ve visited so far are run by paid employees. In Bangladesh the CRs are mainly volunteer staff who are from the community. Often these volunteers include young people who are seeking new skills and work experience. In Bangladesh there seems to be a very strong relationship among the CRs because they want to collaborate on programs and share scarce resources for activities such as training. In Sri Lanka, radio stations are either part of government SLBC network or are operating competitively as commercial radio stations.
HH: Are new technologies such as Frontline SMS useful to radio stations in countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka?

MA: Yes, in the case of listener feedback, the CRs in Bangladesh have a mobile number that listeners use to provide feedback, report news from the community, seek information or make requests. For a fee, the mobile provider maintains this information on their server and makes it available to the CRs. (The photo here is an example of this feedback). The Sri Lankan radio stations have told us that they also have call-ins from their listeners, but so far, these aren’t recorded in a database or by a mobile provider. So it is possible that the new technologies like FLSMS could either save radio stations money or create user-friendly databases of feedback from listeners which can be helpful for future programs and monitoring.
HH: Thanks Mahmuda for sharing some of your initial results and best wishes for the completion of your studies!

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