Public radio stations must function as public service broadcasters, not govt, ruling party mouthpieces – PANOS

THE Panos Institute Southern Africa says political parties must limit their involvement in affairs of radio stations, and allow them to freely and fairly carry out their mandates in a manner that promotes diversity and upholds the various viewpoints within their audiences.

And the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a deliberate policy to compel government departments to sponsor programmes and run advertisements on community radio stations.

In a message to mark the World Radio Day that fell on Thursday, PSAf executive director Vusumuzi Sifile called on radio stations in the region to provide platforms for a diversity of voices and viewpoints, covering diverse development issues and actors, and targeting diverse audiences.

Sifile said since its proclamation in 2011, and adoption as an International Day by the United Nations General Assembly the following year, World Radio Day was commemorated annually on February 13

He said this year, the commemorations were held under the theme “Radio and Diversity”.

“Panos views this theme as a call on public, private and community radio stations to uphold diversity in their newsrooms and on the airwaves. The theme encourages radio stations to promote diversity in their content and programme types, and to cater for diverse groups,” he said.

“Panos works with and through radio stations to mobilise citizens, raise their awareness, amplify their voices and enhance their engagement with decision makers and other stakeholders on diverse development issues. We are of the view that increased diversity will enable radio stations to effectively play this role.”

Sifile said Panos was aware of the numerous challenges that hinder radio stations from promoting diversity.

He said these include lack of resources, limited capacity and interference from external stakeholders, especially political actors.

“As a result, radio stations are compelled to produce and air content that favour those who appoint key personnel like board members and senior managers.

To promote diversity, radio content must be reflective of both the majority and minority groups, cater for all cultures and other interests within the coverage area,” he said.

To achieve this, Panos called on decision makers to develop/amend and implement laws and policies that uphold diversity in radio.

Sifile said such laws and policies must promote diversity of voices and opinions in radio broadcasts, and also support diversity in media ownership, allowing for the coexistence of different types of radio stations, be they community, commercial or public broadcasters.

He said state owned or controlled radio stations must function as public service broadcasters, embracing diverse opinions and providing content that was relevant to different stakeholders in society, not behaving like mouthpieces of governments and ruling parties.

“For this to be realised, we encourage governments to adopt and implement policies that enhance public service broadcasting. Panos is aware that some commitments have been made in the past, but there is a lack of political will to realise this. Radio stations should embrace new technologies, and bring diversity to the channels they use to gather, store and disseminate content,” he said.

“The transmission of radio content should not be limited to the airwaves frequencies, but should also be diversified to include streaming through online platforms. We are aware that this may be a challenge especially for under resourced community radio stations.”

Sifile said state and non-state actors must support radio stations, especially community broadcasters, to broadcast content that upholds diversity.

“We are aware that in some cases, the lack of diversity is as a result of limited access to alternative sources of information. Radio stations must promote diversity in their staffing, ensuring fair and equitable representation of people from majority and minority groups that make up the target audience for a particular radio station. This representation must take into account factors such as gender, language proficiency, age and social background, among other factors,” he said.

Sifile said Panos believed that these steps would enable radio stations to widen their content in terms of angles, languages, music, invited guests and sources in a manner that reflects and upholds the diversity within their target audience.

He said increased diversity would enable radio stations to play their watchdog role and contribute to increased transparency and accountability.

Meanwhile, ZCCB-communications director Fr Winfield Kunda said radio had continued to be a critical source of information for many in society as it commands a lot of following due its ease accessibility.

“Indeed, it is a medium that has that capacity to reach out to the widest audience and it can shape a society’s experience of diversity. Radio can stand as an arena for all voices to speak out, be represented and be heard. If put into good use, radio stations should serve diverse communities, offering a wide variety of programmes, viewpoints and content, and reflect the diversity of audiences in their organisations and operations,” he said.

He said the theme of World Radio Day 2020 “Radio and Diversity” was well thought out.

“As they say, ‘diversity is the spice of life’, this medium is critical in bringing different voices on many matters that affect mankind. As we celebrate this day, we commend men and women that have dedicated their time to educate, entertain and inform people through the radio waves,” he said.

“This is commendable, especially that their services offered are not proportionate to what they receive at the month end as pay. The situation, we are informed is bad and needs to be addressed especially for community radio stations. This we believe if not addressed urgently, the radio stations will not attract informed minds to inform people with right information. We suggest a deliberate policy to compel government departments to sponsor programs and run advertisements on community radio stations. This will help community radio stations greatly.”

Fr Kunda urged the radio stations to hold fast to this year’s theme and give an opportunity to feature on radio to as many people as possible without favour.

“We further reiterate that radio stations should not only focus on politics but other issues that affect humanity like environment, health, education, economy, etc,” he said.

“As the Church, we continue praying for all radio stations in our country and wish all radio owners and workers a happy world radio day.”

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