From community radio to Internet radio, mobiles and narrow-casting: New models for enduring needs

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Saru Praja Radio production studio

For more images of Saru Praja radio and the training we conducted, click here.

In May this year, a colleague and I went to Nissankamallapura, Pollonnaruwa to strengthen online journalism capacities of a group trained in community radio production and had a decent production studio conveniently adjacent to an ICTA Nenasala. This groups was very interested in using the computers and internet access literally next door to their studio to publish and promote their productions on the web.

They called their station Saru Praja Radio and told us they were the first community in Sri Lanka to ask for a FM radio frequency to air their productions across a footprint of 48 villages in the Pollonnaruwa district.

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Post-war ICT and media

My last column in the Sunday Leader enumerated some ideas post-war government and the ICT Agency could champion to strengthen media freedom and e-governance respectively.

One blueprint worth emulating in post-war Sri Lanka for more open, accountable government comes from Vivek Kundra, the new federal chief information officer in the US under the Obama administration. Data.gov is a great example of how information placed in the public domain can stimulate creative thinking to shared challenges and development. The NY Times has a good write up about this.

Post-war government in Sri Lanka can also re-look at RTI legislation and meaningful community radio. As I noted in my column,

Post-war Sri Lanka cannot be what it was before the war, or during it. Tarun Tejpal, award winning Indian author and the brains behind one of India’s leading investigative journalism websites Tehelka.com, said that they were silent when India was at war with Pakistan, but openly critical of the defence establishment and government once the war was over. We have a different recent history – where independent media tried and failed to report the war in the public interest, with many journalists killed with impunity and forced into hiding or exile. There is no place for the vicious war against free media in post-war Sri Lanka. Likewise, if war militated against Right to Know legislation, renewed agitation by civil society must result in its rapid establishment. If Bangladesh with a military regime and India with a billion people could do it, so can we. While it may be too much and too early to ask Government to give up its vice grip of State media, decades of opposition to and censorship of real community radio must end. I was in Nissankamallapura two weeks ago, a small, relatively remote village in Polonnaruwa, to help 48 villages that have collectively lodged a request to set up Saru Praja Radio to broadcast on 96.1 FM news and information produced by villagers for their own community. It is a remarkable venture by peoples who are no strangers to the human cost of war. Post-war Sri Lankan must foster the development of such hyper-local media – media made by and for regions in the vernacular – that can fuel equitable, endogenous and sustainable development, precisely what the government desires. All of this supports the need for post-war governance to be transparent and accountable. A fraternal cabal that passes today for government and overrides parliament is incompatible with our democratic potential. Initiatives such as the new Open Government initiative under the Obama Administration in the US are instructive in this regard, with examples such as http://www.data.gov and http://www.regulations.gov useful for our own ICT Agency to champion, adapt and adopt along with of course initiatives to empower local and Provincial government. Everyone knows what needs to be done, but the war has always been an excuse for non-implementation.