Radio for peacebuilding – VOR Radio and Matara Media House

VOR Radio

Transcending the divide between broadcast and internet radio, the Matara Media House, which I visited yesterday, offers a glimpse of tomorrow’s media production and community engagement frameworks. Located on a hilltop, with a view to the ocean, the Matara Media House is an interesting experiment in strengthening community voices through radio to express their views and ideas on issues deeply relevant to their lives.

Broadcasting terrrestrially using Uva Radio, the central challenge of the Matara Media House will be to foster local voices that question the parochialism of political party activities in their neighbourhoods. The Matara Media House is facilitated by Internews, no strangers to radio productions in Sri Lanka which have explored serious issues related to tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Matara Media House content will also be featured on the Voices of Reconciliation Internet Radio website – Sri Lanka’s first website designed for radio productions by civil society for civil society. There’ s a small smattering of content already online, but there’s much more in the pipeline. Given the familiar litany of issues that grossly undermine the independence of community radio in Sri Lanka, internet radio stations are looked upon as a means through which productions deemed too controversial to broadcast can be accessed as podcasts. The VOR Project also hopes to burn an audio CD each month with new content on the website and distribute to CSOs with a large grassroots footprint – so as to enable remote communities with no access to the internet listen and participate in the issues raised by the radio productions.

Projects in other places such as Radio for Peacebuilding showcase the potential of using radio for conflict transformation. Matara Media House and VOR Radio take established frameworks of radio for peacebuilding to a new level – enabling content to be produced, disseminated and archived with a degree of independence from State control that is not possible with traditional terrestrial broadcast media. Take for instance the archives of Common Ground Radio, the range of issues covered by Oneworld Radio, the fascinating podcasts available from USIP
or the potential of a programme on the lines of This I believe in Sri Lanka – not a single of these projects archived and distributed for free would have been possible without the internet and web technologies that are making it easier to produce and “tune” into content.

Both VOR Radio and Matara Media House projects are, in effect, social experiments. Their success lies not in their exposition of the technologies used to produce and distribute media, but in their ability to give voice to peoples who are marginalised and erased from mainstream media and mainstream politics. In sum, they are subversive, engendering democracy at the grassroots. Much more than the websites, equipment and technology – those who hear their voices on VOR Radio and through Matara Media House productions must also hear our response to violence, corruption, negligence and apathy of a State that has failed to safeguards the interests of all communties. As I’ve noted here,

We need not go into the technical details of New Media to value ths strong possibilities it offers for media reform in Sri Lanka – in particular, the development of a new and alternative media that takes it legitimacy from the voices of the people.

As Edward E. Murrow states succintly in the first episode of This I believe:

This reporter’s beliefs are in a state of flux. It would be easier to enumerate the items I do not believe in, than the other way around. And yet in talking to people, in listening to them, I have come to realize that I don’t have a monopoly on the world’s problems. Others have their share, often far bigger than mine. This has helped me to see my own in truer perspective: and in learning how others have faced their problems–this has given me fresh ideas about how to tackle mine.

It is in expanding this range of perspectives that New Media in general, and VOR Radio and the productions of the Matara Media House (and similar projects) have the greatest potential.

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