Like many, my radio dreams had their roots in a community radio station and like many, I dream of achieving commercial radio success.
I have a view I’m sure many would greatly agree with and that is community radio in South Africa can do so much better than it is currently doing. Today, on my blog, I’m covering in particular the unsustainable nature of the current community radio system.
In order to establish a community radio station in SA you need a community geographic or of interest to apply for an NGO registration with the department of social development as well as a broadcasting license from ICASA. There after once the station has been licensed it can go on air.
The problem I have with this is that most of the time community radio stations are not financially viable. How can a radio station broadcasting only in Modimolle in Limpopo survive? The next debate is, what is financially viable? Most community radio stations survive either on MDDA grants or government grants, and advertisements. They practice survival broadcasting on a mountain or in a derelict building or in some storeroom at a shopping centre for the cheapest rent or in exchange for marketing on air.
How long can we carry on like this? How many more community radio station must be shut down? Walking into most community radio stations is one of the most depressing and sad scenes you will ever witness – with run down chairs and equipment, if any, and a newsreader busy copying the next bulletin from a Daily Sun newspaper.
The ideology that community radio stations are by the community and for the community, is a nice one but is mostly unrealistic and not rewarding.
Registering a community radio station as an NGO is a big mistake. Small newspaper publications are recognised as SMMEs, so why not radio? Limiting the broadcasting footprint to a 1Kw transmitter also doesn’t help just because of the ideology that community radio MUST be limited in its footprint. I know, for example, Radio Pulpit has taken ICASA to court arguing over the latter and ICASA won because legally you cannot broadcast beyond a 100 km radius but what benefit does it serve if almost all the employees there live on an average of R300 per month, if they’re that lucky?
We need to look at limiting the number of community radio stations and increasing them on a regional level to cover a larger broadcasting footprint. This does not mean on a provincial level, as that task could still be given to commercial radio consortiums.
We should have one or at least two community radio stations per district. Let them be registered by a private company who meets certain regulations. This ‘owned by the community’ mentality is the reason behind the problems at most community radio stations with board members and staff running it like their piggy bank. There are strict laws that govern private companies who govern community radio? ICASA? Almost toothless organisation that is not given enough legislative power to regulate individual community radio stations.
Thereafter set up a second public broadcasting corporation for community media were through collection of taxes and otherwise to provide marketing opportunities by different stakeholders in these radio stations. Lastly have two or three centralised advertising agencies, which will market certain consortium of radio stations.
With my proposal we would indeed anger commercial broadcasters and their financial profits and they would be understandably against this. But these radio stations should run in a similar way to the SABC and that is be public service broadcasting radio stations. They MUST be radio stations of service to provide empowerment and education to their communities.
In so doing we would have a better prospect of financial viability; we would create meaningful employment to the community members who don’t just have to wait to make it at a commercial radio station in order to earn a decent living and eradicate corrupt and political issues currently playing out at community radio stations.