Feb 14 2013

How best to celebrate World Radio Day

Published by at 12:25 pm under Articles,Jordan,Media Activism

By Daoud Kuttab

February 13th has been declared by the United Nations Education and Science Organisation (UNESCO) as World Radio Day. In addition to traditional public statements and protocol activities there are some concrete things that can be done to help make the world a better place to live in with help of radio.

Radio is a fabulous media, an instrument that allows people to communicate. It allows people to communicate without paying for it. Not every one can afford to buy a newspaper or even have it accessible in their village. Not only is radio free (except for the battery costs) and accessible, the information transmittedby radio can be understood by all citizens rich or poor,learned or ignorant, Even those who are unable to read and write (including those with seeing incapabilities and persons who are illiterate can enjoy radio.

Radio  allows people in all locations and places to consume its content. People can hear radio while driving, others follow radio at home, and recently radio is accessible to those owning a cell phone – almost every person over 14

Not only can you hear sorthing music on radio, maneuver away from traffic jams or follow the latet local news, radio has also been an instrument of public discourse. Independent radio allows serious and necessary discussion on current affairs. Talk radio, if done right, can be one of the most effective democratic tools.

Economically radio, especially citizen owned and operated community radio is credited by the World Bank and other international experts as directly responsible for poverty reduction. Community radio has helped improve the lot of people and their quality of life.

In the Arab world, unfortunately, radio has been a monopoly for governments for many, many years. The Arab Spring has allowed people to have access to radio waves, often with little or no restrictions by the new governing powers. Countries like Tuns, Libya and Yemen radio has become a communications tool for people after decades of being a mouthpiece of the ruling powers.

Even in countries such as Egypt and Syria where FM broadcasts is still not allotted to independent broadcasters, dozens of independent media activists have established their own radio stations using the opportunities that the internet provides. Some are also using satellite broadcasts to share news, music and discussions. With smart phones being able to access internet connections, radio can enjoy independent broadcasting available to anyone with an advanced mobile phone.

The success of radio stations is taking place in spite of governments not because of governments. It is reasonable to understand the need of the public to regulate an finite number of stations that can be made available on the FM dial. Such regulations, however, should be easily available to local communities without restrictions, bureaucracies and with no or little fees. Governments genuinely interested in pursuing freedom of expression and freedom to hold governments and those in bed with governments accountable.

Jordan has began a process to privatize the airwaves in 2003 with a temporary law. This law is inadequate and ineffective in encouraging the proliferation of radio throughout Jordan. Among its undemocratic details is a clause restricting the licensing of a radio station to the entire cabinet with a provision that the cabinet can reject a completed and technically approved application without giving any reason.

The excessively high broadcast and telecommunications fees must be greatly reduced and civil society owned radio should be encouraged rather than delayed.

While radio is and should be made even more available, the public as well as regulators must not allow radio announcers to use the microphone to spout out hate speech.

The best way to celebrate Radio Day is to enact enabling laws and create guidelines and regulations that make the ownership of radio readily available to individuals or groups. Nothing can say democracy, freedom of expression and accountability more than a freely available and interactive radio culture. The Arab people have been denied for too long the opportunities that independent radio can provide.

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