Thursday, 11 February 2010

Finding a Voice: Community Television Initiative

Sruti Bandyopadhyay

Some people used to argue that elections are THE best instruments of accountability. But events have overtaken the idea and now there are many who are focusing on the limitations of election, mainly, if you have an uninformed citizenry.

There is another dimension to it. While in democracies, elections provide an incentive for politicians to perform, governments are not likely to respond as enthusiastically to those who are unlikely or marginalized voters, no matter whether their plight has been well covered or not. So how do you turn uninformed citizenry or marginalized voters into active citizens?...In short, by providing evidence based information.

On the face of it, getting critical news and information out to citizens should be an easier and easier task in today’s digitalized, networked and hand-held world. But most media—across regions and on any platform: print, radio, TV or online—aren’t interested in serving the public good, because there is no finance to that public-good role.

This then presents an opportunity for the development community. To get information out to the public, to educate the public about who to trust and how to evaluate information sources, research organization needs to use newer tools. But, where is the tool?

Community Television initiative can be considered as one such dynamic tool. Access to television in remote Indian villages has changed substantially in the past few years. And, community television will have many advantages over print media. Programmes, nearly always in the local languages would deal with local issues involving ordinary people so that villagers (even illiterate ones) and town people understand what they are about. The volunteer appointed by a civil society can organize a debate once in a week on localize issues, which in turn would become topics for programmes on the community television. For example, Byrraju Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO has set up one such initiative -Ankuram community TV.

This innovation combines a TV studio and the existing wifi network with a local cable TV facility enabling people to access the services and programmes right in their homes. This technological and social innovation is being piloted in three villages (Cherukumilli, Juvvalapalem & I-Bhimavaram) in West Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh and the local programmes reach about 69 villages across the district through the cable network.

If community TV network gains momentum in India, then rural India should perhaps call the TV the Empowerment Box instead of the Idiot Box.

Sruti Bandyopadhyay is a Researcher at Accountability Initiative


  1. Interesting topic, and nice idea. Community Radio is extremely popular in most of Africa, and there is no reason why Community TV cant become the local go-to information source in India. Local programming is a great idea.

    However in India, as in a lot of other countries, there are complex reasons to explain why citizenry is uninformed or voters are marginalized. Access to information, and even access to or ownership of information channels are highly political issues.

    So bringing the community's news to them is an important step but some thought also needs to be given to who receives the information, how it is received and what do people do with it? Are women receiving the information, what about the traditionally excluded groups?
    Also, how are other (competing) social and (present but ineffective) administrative structures being engaged and being influenced to change?

    Community TV becoming the Empowerment Box is a bit of a stretch. Development agencies will surely lap it up because its a sexy issue, and ticks all the right boxes. But in itself it is inadequate.

    Also, I'm curious to know -
    1. what is the demographic and social make up of these villages in the West Godavari districts?

    2. also who participates in the debate organised by the village volunteer? How is that decided?


  2. Sruti Bandyopadhyay17 February 2010 at 00:20

    There are instances that women newspaper clubs contribute to the programming of a community television in these districts. Ethnographic Action Research (EAR) employed for ongoing needs assessments revealed that women could not afford and access newspapers in those villages. After talking to the community leaders, the EAR researcher arranged for the newspapers to reach the Anganwadi centre, in the hamlets. As a result, newspaper readers clubs were formed and the women meet to discuss issues like poverty, women empowerment, literacy, sanitation, community information needs etc. These women, who are largely from lower castes, are not usually allowed to go to facilities in the main village like the panchayat. Thus the newspaper readers club becomes a good way of informing themselves of the world outside. The formation of the clubs has helped in: increasing media literacy, triggering debate about local needs, building rapport with community members and creating awareness about the community television initiative. For example, in one of the villages, the anganwadi aaya (who studied up to third grade) reads the newspaper thoroughly and tells other women.

  3. I agree with you that formation of clubs and community groups and structures helps, it provides fora and platforms for dialogue, debate and awareness building. And if facilitated well and consistently, it can lead to change. In total agreement on this.

    However, too often these things are designed as stand alone projects. A womens club will do little to change status quo, little for empowerment, if men and gendered social and administrative structures are not engaged simultaneously.

    The issue of "empowerment" is a debate for another day. Its a word that is bandied about too easily and casually. Does knowledge alone lead to empowerment or does knowledge+enabling social and support structures lead to empowerment? Creating awareness is fundamental, but sometimes development agencies put too much emphasis on the awareness generation (mostly campaigns and messages) and little on other aspects which would translate awareness into self efficacy and action.