Empowerment radio: voices building a community

On the occasion of the launch of her book ”EMPOWERMENT RADIO”, Birgitte Jallov here shares her answers to the Panos London questions.

Empowerment Radio by Birgitte Jallov

Birgitte Jallov

By Birgitte Jallov

Throughout my adult life, working with community radio and communication for development, I have seen that giving people a voice, and an opportunity to speak for themselves, is  – more than anything else – what leads to the empowerment required to trigger an avalanche of positive personal and community change. Increasing numbers of individuals, organisations and institutions have seen the powerful impact generated by community radio stations, identifying it as the potential ‘missing link’ between development support being provided and true development actually taking place.

What is ‘Empowerment Radio’?

Any small radio station has the potential to become a community radio station, where the empowerment of individuals and the community grows from the power of being in control of the station, taking part in determining an editorial line, broadcasting hours and organisation. It is empowering to broadcast in the local language spoken in the way that only this community speaks, with all the cultural and traditional references and sayings which belong here. Empowerment grows when individuals and community realise the incredible knowledge they possess and the power of collective sharing. It produce analysis, gives people an insight into their rights and puts them in a position to question (carefully and cleverly in many contexts) dispositions and often deviation of the common good.

It is when community radio becomes the organising platform for concerted and inclusive community analysis and action, that a good and important information-only medium moves beyond borders, and is empowered to generate change.

How can the book spur the creation of ‘Empowerment Radio’?

Many community radio stations hold an important number of ‘empowerment radio’ traits, and even more ‘community radio stations’ are just very far from it. Sometimes the community or its partners have no intention of creating a radio station which stimulates change, but more often empowerment and change have been the intention, which has not been reached – by far – due to lack of understanding and insights into what it takes.

These are the situations the book has been written to support, building the creation process up from the beginning, adding element by element – every one important for the final result and the overall sustainability of the radio station. The book shares the good examples from all over the world, where community radio services have been a motor in community development, and which have inspired the frequent assertion that community radio is important in striving meet the Millennium Development Goals – and all that they aim to encompass.

Why has ‘Empowerment Radio’ been written?

The book will help communities, their organisations and their partners make decisions for their station in their community – and it can help facilitators and funding partners identify sustainable choices – all along bearing in mind, as the book states time and again:

Empowerment Radio by Birgitte Jallov

…there is, there should not, and there cannot be one model for ‘community radio’. Every community radio is by definition different, reflecting the individual community: its history, identity, culture, language, and tradition. But in the creation process of every community radio, the same reflections are needed – step by step – to get the right radio off the ground.

I make no secret of firmly believing – based on evidence shared in the book – that when well planned by the community, this type of radio can change the face of the community, and the lives within it. This does, however, in no way mean that community – or empowerment – radio can solve all problems. The book stresses how important a national public service radio of some sort is, meeting a whole different set of information – and communication – needs of a population. And it touches on some of the many complementary benefits communities can derive from matching radio with internet, mobile radio and all of the many social media platforms that continue to develop. But ‘empowerment radio’ with its collective organising and consciousness-raising potential, and derived community development capacity, for partly illiterate populations in the exact language spoken by the community, where any one can take part in production, and where it costs nothing to receive (even when it may not be from a receiver owned by the family itself) – well, for these marginalised and vulnerable communities in many parts of the world, there is still nothing better and more effective than empowerment radio.

Birgitte Jallov was the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Panos London 2007-2013