CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR COMMUNITY RADIO PROGRAMMES IN NIGERIA

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TEXT OF A PAPER PRESENTED BY IS’HAO MODIBBO KAWU. EDITOR, DAILY TRUST NEWSPAPER, AT THE NATIONAL VALIDATION SEMINAR ON BUILDING COMMUNITY RADIO IN NIGERIA, CHIDA INTERNATIONAL HOTEL ABUJA, NIGERIA. APRIL 05-07, 2005.

SUMMARY:

This paper explores the challenges and opportunities for Community Radio Programming in Nigeria. It is contended that as a new niche of broadcasting, community radio offers a democratic platform of programming, which is all-inclusive, democratic and community-based. It is also a platform that demystifies the cult of professionalism that for long has been at the heart of radio broadcasting programming praxis in most of the world, including Nigeria. The Community Radio platform is one that envisages the use of volunteers coming from diverse backgrounds who input programming from this diversity; it offers a lot of scope for originality, while at the same time posing a variety of challenges for the practice of Community Radio Broadcasting, especially in the context of the complex reality of Nigeria.

INTRODUCTION

I started my career in broadcasting as a Studio Manager Trainee, in the defunct Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, on February 15, 1977. I had joined the NBC in the sweep of the excitement associated with the World Festival of Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC  77. The tremendous impact of broadcasting as the vehicle to get this Pan-African event to the homes of millions of our listeners was not lost on me, even as a young studio manager. I became very conscious of the vital place of programming in the entire context of radio broadcasting. Anyone familiar with the medium of radio, even in a cursory manner, knows how seriously programming is taken by broadcast personnel and broadcasting organisations.

It is however imperative, for our own sake at this National Validation Seminar on Community Radio in Nigeria, to also place the issue within some historical context. The medium of radio emerged in the 1920s. The first Director-General of the BBC, John Reith, understood the vital role of the new medium and the role it could play in the consolidation of British Imperialism.

By the 1920s, Western countries were entering a phase of deep economic crisis which culminated in the Great Depression which emerged in 1929. At the political level, the Western societies were in ferment, manifested in the emergence of mass, militant working class movements in many European countries on the one hand, and on the other the birth of the Fascist and Nazi movements in many countries all across Europe. Democratic politics, of the classical Bourgeois type seemed to have entered a phase of deep-seated crisis and decline.

For most of the African countries, the colonial system was heightening its oppressive hold on society, especially with the reverberation of the crisis associated with the Great Depression into most of the colonial countries. The prices paid for the cash crops produced in our countries fell disastrously, leading to manifestations of anti-colonial resentments in many colonies. Already, by this period the Pan-African Movement associated with W.E.B. Dubois and George Padmore had begun to sow the seeds of what would become the anti-colonial movement.

One of the many responses to these developments was the launching of the Empire Broadcasting Service by the British authorities. The Empire Broadcasting Service was targeted to win the hearts and minds of the colonial peoples, to consolidate the colonial system and eventually win allegiance and recruit troops for the inevitable war, which everybody knew was coming, especially when Hitler and the Nazis assumed power in Germany. The Second World War: September 1, 1939 to June 1945, was the outcome of this worldwide historical process.

The Empire Broadcasting Service was the precursor of the emergence of broadcasting systems in all the colonial countries including the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) in Nigeria, which eventually became the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). This format was retained until the re-organisation of broadcasting by the military administration in 1978, giving birth to the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and the states governments’ owned broadcasting corporations. Of course there were the Regional Broadcasting outfits such as the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN); Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS); and the Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Service (ENBS), which were the active markers of Nigeria’s First Republic, 1960 to 1966.

RADIO PROGRAMMING IN NIGERIA

As we have indicated earlier, the origin of Nigerian broadcasting is rooted in the struggle for the heart and mind of the Nigerian as a colonial subject, in the context of the turbulent events of the 1930s. The colonial authorities appreciated the important propaganda value of the new medium of radio and thus deployed it to shore up their colonial enterprise in our countries. Nigerians were recruited to be part of the programming policies of the colonial system. When the Second World War came, most people especially in Northern Nigeria became familiar with the voices of two of their own children, the Late Alhaji Bello Dandago and the late Alhaji Isa Kaita, who were broadcasting out of Ghana into homes in Nigeria, using the medium of the Hausa language.

The programming philosophy was often very paternalistic, and had an end that was obvious: to mobilise support for Britain’s war effort; to counter the propaganda influence of Nazi Germany in the colonies and also to assist the continued colonial hegemony of Britain in the colonies such as the Gold Coast and Nigeria. The medium of radio and its programming content and output were therefore tightly controlled as a monopoly of the colonial state. With Independence in 1960, this tight control on the medium of radio and the content of its programming shifted to the post-colonial authorities. The focus became using radio as a medium of national development. Radio programming began to emphasise the development process of the newly-independent country: teaching basic literacy; assisting in health campaigns; innovative agricultural practices; stressing of national unity, etc.

However, the general philosophical ambiance within which radio programming continued to be practiced hardly shifted from the colonial origins of the medium and praxis. The flow was still TOP-DOWN, the content almost always elitist and the authoritarian control by the Nigerian state continued, just like it was during the colonial period. The medium was seen as a potentially ‘explosive’ one, which, had to be firmly under control by the state. The ambience therefore had a limiting influence on the ability of programmes on radio to be adventurous, or move beyond a boundary determined largely by policy; accepted practices over a long period; the traditions of self-censorship in the context of an ill-defined professionalism.

This is the general context which has conditioned the practice of radio programming in Nigeria. This was to be exacerbated, with the intervention of the military into the politics of Nigeria from 1966. The fact that every coup d’etat needed to be announced on the network of Nigerian broadcasting meant that the successive military regimes paid an usual attention to the radio and its use. This scenario further affected the evolution of radio programming for a very long time in Nigeria. This was without prejudice to the enthusiasm of the practitioner to make the best use of the medium to make major contributions to the development of radio programming in the country.

The re-organisation of broadcasting in 1978 saw the emergence of states broadcasting corporations. This in turn led to the evolution of a new programming philosophy called Grassroots Broadcasting (GRB). The new stations in the different states of the Nigerian Federation endeavoured to programme for the different communities in their states, using local languages and often bringing into the studios the local talents of the areas. This new format was a major advancement in the general development of programming in Nigerian broadcasting. But the weakness remained the authoritarian hold of the Nigerian state on the medium of radio, especially in the context of the military dictatorship that held the country literally to ransom for a very long time. This in a nutshell is the context that conditioned the radio programming praxis in Nigeria for a very long time.

A NEW AWAKENING

By the middle of the 1980s, African countries were beginning to witness a new surge of popular feelings amongst broad masses of the peoples of the continent. The post-colonial state entered a phase of illegitimacy largely as a result of the collapse of the structures of governance. The corruption of most of the African regimes resulted in the collapse of welfare structures in practically every African country. As part of the regime of illegitimacy, many of the countries began to implement Structural Adjustment Policies which further eroded the capacities of the state to play a meaningful role in the lives of the people. The African people entered a new phase of struggle for democratic development of our societies and the institution of democratic pluralism in various countries. This new democratic phase, which emerged in the 1990s, came with various baggages. For our purpose, one of the most significant has been the opening of the niche of Community Broadcasting in many newly-democratic countries in Africa, such as Mali, Ghana, Senegal and Benin Republic, to name a few.

Although this process has made a tremendous stride in various African countries, opening up the awareness of the people, demystifying the medium and helping in democratic consolidation in these countries, it is a different scenario in Nigeria. The entire radio spectrum in Nigeria continues to move at snail speed in terms of the possibilities of their being open up for community participation. There seems to be reluctance on the part of the Nigerian authorities to let go, where the community radio niche is concerned. As we have seen, our democratic process remains underdeveloped and wobbly at best, largely because there is still an authoritarian pall cast upon the entire national space, including the Community Radio niche. It is therefore our duty to help open up this niche, to assist in the deepening of the democratic process in Nigeria.

What is Community Radio? AMARC, the World Association of Community Broadcasters, describes community radio as follows:

 When radio fosters the participation of citizens and  defends their interests; when it reflects the tastes of the  majority and makes good humour and hope its main purpose; when it truly informs; when it helps resolve the thousand and one problems of daily life; when all ideas are debated in its programmes and all opinions are respected; when cultural diversity is stimulated over commercial homogeneity; when women are main players in communication and not simply a pretty voice or a publicity gimmick; when no type of dictatorship is tolerated, not even the musical dictatorship of the big recording studios; when  everyone’s words fly without discrimination or censorship, that is community radio..In a related vein, the point 1, of the Community Radio Charter for Europe, says of Community Radios, that they: Promote the right to communicate, assist the free flow of information and opinion, encourage creative expression and contribute to the democratic process and a pluralistic society.

Most commentators argue that the community radio niche is in fact a very important one for the opening up and consolidation of the democratic process in society. The Canadians say that one of the advantages is that the “successful community radio stations involve lots of people and share common direction.”

Furthermore:

Community broadcasting provides an outlet for innovative programming, alternative ideas and a diversity of content that is often not available from other sources. It is a valuable source of locally produced content …Community broadcasters play an extremely important role in supporting local talent and developing local culture.

On its part, the African Charter on Broadcasting also describes Community Radio:

Community Broadcasting is broadcasting which is for, by and about the community, whose ownership and management is representative of the community, which pursues a social development agenda and which is non-profit.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR CR PROGRAMMING

The basic platform is that we agree that the time has come in Nigeria to open up the niche for Community Radio. As has been noted in other parts of the world, but especially in Africa, the Community Radio has become one of the great achievements of the new wave of democratic opening and consolidation that has swept our continent. We might literally argue that there cannot be a democratic consolidation where there is no niche to open and develop Community Broadcasting. The examples of Mali and Ghana are very instructive; with their enhanced democratic growth, as compared to the continuing problems associated with the democratic development of Nigeria.

What seems to be different is that in Ghana and Mali, they have very highly developed Community Radio projects, while in Nigeria, the state retains its stranglehold on the radio spectrum, not allowing, at least up till now, the emergence of Community Radio.

So many factors can be responsible for the peculiar situation in Nigeria.

There is the incompleteness of our democratic transition, with the inheritors of power after the termination of military rule not actually being the real actors in the democratic struggle. The continuation of the authoritarian stylesof the military period has continued even in the next context of civilian administration. The bureaucratic approach of the National Broadcasting Regulatory Authority, more tuned to the pecuniary benefits of the Community Radio niche rather than a commitment to assisting the consolidation and deepening of the democratic process in the country. If our movement and initiative can then nudge towards an opening up of this niche, the challenges and opportunities in Community Radio programming will then come in very handy.

 

THE BASIC STEPS

  • Know Your Audience

The basic step is to be able to define what group it is that we want to broadcast to. It is assumed that interested groups will produce programmes that suit their needs and of their communities. In defining the groups, we would also be defining the geographical areas: this means that once we know our audience, we will know where they live and work, and consequently, where the signals of the radio station will reach. This of course is related to the budgetary imperatives that will, at the end of the day, determine how we will be able to operate.

  • Sketching Our Programming

Once we have an idea of our audience, and by extension who will produce our programmes, we can then begin to sketch out our programming philosophy, including even beginning to think out our on-air schedule. Community radio programming is often much different from what is aired on commercial stations. Community radio stations strive to engage community members in expressing local social, cultural and political issues. But too often, they suffer basic handicaps resulting from underdeveloped capacity to produce programming that relate effectively to the community’s concern.

Frequently, community radio staff and volunteers do not have formal journalism training, with the stations often affording them their first opportunities to act as public communicators. But in recent times, even this problem is finding solution through efforts by various civil society groups, governments and international donors helping community radios to develop basic skills. In Nigeria, the community radio movement can also explore the large reservoir of trained manpower that can be pulled in to help develop skills in the programming area.

Giving consideration to programming early, in the planning process is important for a host of reasons. This is because different programming formats will require different resources. For example, spoken word programming, in broadcasting, like news and documentaries, will need tape recorders and a good training programme. Music programmes will need CD players, turntables, etc, while programming mix could determine studio design and the corporate structure of the radio station.

Other factors that will condition the programming format of the community radio will include the power need of the transmitters, given the knowledge already factored in, of our audience. This is directly related to our Transmission Budget, where we appropriate our antenna and transmitter needs. As we have indicated, Studio Design is often determined by the programming plan. We will also work on a Capital Budget to meet the costs of improvements to the buildings and rooms that will become our studios. These points raised here are vital because at the end of the day, they condition the programming context of the Community Radio.

USEFUL PROGRAMMING TIPS

  • New Programmes

 While the Programming Committee will come up with ideas for new programmes, in the main Community Stations often rely on volunteers to put forward programme ideas. There must be the guarantee that all ideas and proposals are carefully considered.

  1. Ideally it is also important that programmes be made by teams (e.g. 2-6 people) so that work will be shared and ideas multiplied.
  2. Programme Types

 These include:

  1. Those made by volunteers within the station itself, such as local current affairs, sports, etc.
  2. Those made by groups within the community
  3. Content

All programmes, whether music or speech-based should focus on local issues and local talent. Planning of programme should be done with these in mind, because caught up in the mechanic of programming we might lose focus. This does not mean that national or international events cannot be dealt with, but in so doing, we must ALWAYS take a local or community angle.

  1. Style

Community stations don’t aim to have a particular style, but have to go deep to the level of the attitude to the listeners. We must avoid talking ‘at’ the listeners but treating them with dignity and respect.

SUMMING UP

The Community Radio niche is still uncharted terrain in Nigeria. It is therefore going to be work in progress for a long while yet. However, the experience of sister African countries provide us useful lessons that we can factor into our own practice. There is also a reservoir of programming expertise that we can creatively adapt to the needs of community radio in Nigeria.

It is safe to conclude that the Community Radio offers an original opportunity to develop genuinely people-based broadcasting and programming that demystifies radio as a medium of communication. This is because by its nature, community radio is popular and is in tune with the democratic consolidation so necessary to help achieve success in the struggle against underdevelopment in our country.

REFERENCES

  1. “Community Radio”: Audio on line & Community Radio – Training Materials – APC. File: /user7/My%20Documents/
  2. Audio%201%20Community%20Radio%. 3/27/2005
  3. Community Radio Charter for Europe, Part 1
  4. Community Broadcasting Online © 2005.
  5. African Charter on Broadcasting.
  6. “How to start an FM Community Radio Station: Community-media.com. 3/27/2005.

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