Radio: Twiddle that dial

By Alex Macbeth
Posted on Friday, 12 June 2015 11:43

Baloha FM had only been on air for five weeks when a deadly storm struck the village of Mwakata in north-west Tanzania, killing more than 40 people and destroying hundreds of homes.

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The radio station’s founder, Samada Maduhu, found himself catapulted into the emergency relief effortinearlyMarchofthisyear: “The district commissioner, MPs, representatives of NGOs [non-governmental organisations], UN agencies and officials from ministries were here broadcasting information to the victims,” he recalls.

In the following days, people stranded by the torrential rains were found because they were able to call in to the radio.

Such community engagement often lies behind the impulse to create a local radio station.

Micheweni FM, situated in a remote rural area on the Zanzibar Archipelago island of Pemba, began in reaction to local conservative voices preventing young girls from attending school.

“You only need to educate one girl and she can change the whole world,” says Ali Massoudi Kombo, manager of the station, which is the only media in the district of more than 130,000 people.

Micheweni FM only began broadcasting in 2010, yet girls now outnumber boys by two to one in classrooms, according to the local government’s district planning officer, Hamadi Massoudi.

From the remote shores of Lake Victoria in the north to the nascent gas fields of Mtwara in the south-east, Tanzania’s approximately 30 community radio stations now broadcast to an estimated 16 million listeners, nearly half of the country’s adult population.

With elections scheduled for October this year these stations will play a strong part, and a broadcasting code has been issued to make sure its contribution is positive.

“We have examples of hate radio in Kenya during the 2008 elections but radio is also a powerful device in managing conflict,” says John Nkoma, director general of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).

Joseph Sekiku, chairman of the Community Media Network of Tanzania (COM-NETA), which represents 28 community radios, welcomes the guidelines but says the $1,000 application fee for a community radio licence prevents many applicants from being able to get on air.

The Code of Community Broadcasting, expected in 2016, will address the specifics of how much revenue radios with a community licence can earn and should help the rural broadcasters become more sustainable, says the TCRA.

“Most of our revenue comes from sponsored programming,” says Sekiku, the founder of Fadeco Radio in Karagwe, a rural region in north-west Tanzania.

He gives the example of COMNETA’s partnership with the UN Development Programme’s Democratic Empowerment Project, through which the 28 member stations will broadcast sponsored civic education programmes in the run-up to elections.

Many community stations survive simply because they have become pillars of their communities.

Citing increased food security, immunisation campaigns and literacy drives, Hamadi Massoudi says Micheweni FM has been the key agent of change in his district’s upward surge: “The radio has had a bigger impact on the community than any government campaign in my lifetime.” ●

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