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This article was downloaded by: [Memorial University of Newfoundland]

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Publisher: Routledge
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered
office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

Agenda: Empowering women for gender


equity
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subscription information:
http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ragn20

Community Radio: A voice for the


voiceless
TRACEY NAUGHTON

National Community Radio Forum


Published online: 20 Apr 2011.

To cite this article: TRACEY NAUGHTON (1996) Community Radio: A voice for the voiceless, Agenda:
Empowering women for gender equity, 12:31, 12-18
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10130950.1996.9675560

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Community Radio:
A v o i c e for t h e v o i c e l e s s
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TRACEY NAUGHTON reviews the position of women in the community


radio sector and describes the efforts of the women of Moutse to get the
country's only women-run radio station on the air

I have heard
the raising
of the
question of
women's
representation referred
to as 'the
Beijing
thing, again'

omen's participation in
community radio in South Africa
is a subject of debate among
relatively few people. It seems that men
have very quickly and easily colonised the
sector. Glass ceilings have been installed
faster than a studio can send a signal to
transmitter link.
Gender sensitivity is not an unfamiliar
concept to the community radio sector. It
belongs amongst the collection of
commitments which underpin community
radio station constitutions. Reality though,
reflects a young man's board game of
opportunities. At station meetings I have
heard the raising of the question of
women's representation referred to as 'the
Beijing thing, again'.
Community radio is a relatively new
movement born out of expressed needs for
'equality for the voiceless'. Community
radio is an arena where power imbalances
can be addressed. It is sad, therefore, that
among the 80 odd community stations
licenced to broadcast since last year that
the proportion of female participation is
low. The question arises, what equality
exists among the voiceless?
National gatherings of the community
radio sector are comparable to bachelors'
parties. For women, employment selection
processes can seem like temporary
dating agencies.
What is the role of community radio in
building a democratic nation? Today there

12

are about one billion radio receivers around


the world (Bickley, 1995). Even remote
villages have radios. In South Africa, legend
has it that more people own radios than
mattresses. When individuals find radios
too expensive, a communal one often
exists. People who can't read and write still
understand the radio. For these reasons,
radio comes closest to being a universal
means of communication.
Community radio offers the democratic
movement in South Africa the opportunity to
extend the limits of mobilisation and
organisation and protect the position of the
previously disenfranchised against further
loss of power. It can create new opportunities
for involvement, as active participants, in the
process of structural change.
The introduction of a community based
tier of broadcasting which aims to create
affirmative models of real life women,
isolated communities, various ethnicities,
young people, working class people and
other marginalised sectors of the
community was recognised in the struggle
era by the mass democratic movement.
Subsequent legislation and government
policy have been formulated as a proactive
step towards breaking down
misconceptions and powerlessness.

Ideals of community stations


Since the new broadcasting legislation was
promulgated in 1993, 82 community radio
stations have been licensed by the
Independent Broadcast Authority (IBA).

AGENDA

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COMMUNITY RADIO: A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS


About 50 of these stations are
located in historically
disadvantaged areas. These
stations are also members of the
National Community Radio Forum
(NCRF), the agency which
supports and advocates their
development and sustainabiiity.
The ideal criteria that
community stations are striving to
attain include:
equity in decision-making
5
+
processes;
I
a
3
access to mass
Z
4
communication by the
z
previously voiceless;
participation in all aspects of
station operation;
the upholding of civil rights as
enshrined in the Constitution;
cultural relevance, eg information in
local vernacular;
best possible quality service, given the
need for training.

Ii'lrfilll-

However, this ideology cannot be seen


in isolation from the approaches and aims
of the broader structures which impact on
the sector's development, nor from the
social modis operandi of its implementers.

Development dilemma
In the NCRF member areas, community
radio will seldom be funded from within the
local community, through advertising or
sponsorship. Instead, it will be funded by a
development corporation, a church or some
other organisation as part of the donor
agency's overall strategy. Herein lies one
development dilemma for community radio participation on whose terms and with what
effect on the independence and sustainability
of the community radio station?
Non-NCRF stations are generally
located within resourced communities communities of interest sharing a common
factor such as religion, ethnicity, institutional
location or a common love of a particular

AGENDA

form of music. Such communities have been


able to mobilise with their higher educational
standards, relative wealth, corporate
contacts and institutional backing to form
self-sustaining models of broadcasting
facilities. This profile does not attempt to
analyse these models.
There are many women of note in
community radio. They are represented as
trainers, presenters, station managers,
editors, public relations staff, funding
coordinators and policy makers. Many more,
however, are invisible, or are not even getting
to the front door of community radio stations.
The general trend is that women are around
at the development phase of a project, but
after gestation, the operations become more
male in representation, organisational
structure and dynamics.
Once the implementation begins a
chain of command rapidly emerges. The
group will generally have no experiential
base to work from and perhaps simply falls
into the patterns reflected in broader
society. The phenomenon of 'slipping' from
the politically correct mission statement developed before the station goes to air needs further examination in order to
counter it.
In creating new radio stations there is

Women of
Moutse at a
station meeting

Once the
implementation
begins a
chain of
command
rapidly
emerges

:{I] 1114 COMMUNITY RADIO: A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS

The
patriarchal
construct of
South

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African
culture is
reflected in
these early
stages of
community
radio

As women
participate in
training they are
finding new
slants on
programme
content

an obvious need to train people to produce


creative and alternative programmes. Yet
more important - and I believe the danger
of the lion eating before the hunter lioness
is lurking close - more time and care
should be spent with stations now on the
formation of structure and in election of
representatives. In many rural areas active
recruitment of women is necessary and this
requires more attention than it is getting at
the moment, if women are to participate
meaningfully in community radio. Players
need to be sought from behind the 'scenes'.
This in turn assumes an interventionist
approach, a grafting on to communities of
criteria developed by academics, foreigners
or local outsiders to the culture of the
community in question. Sensitive
interventionists can be easily immobilised
by this dilemma. For example, one female
station manager was beaten by her
husband after he was challenged by a
(non-local) trainer about his lack of
domestic support for his wife. She was
returning home late at night from training
to find her husband in their shack watching
TV while she still had to wake her sleeping
children and feed the family. At work she is
called the manager, but she is used,
abused, blamed and controlled by other

station members and structures.


The patriarchal construct of South
African culture is reflected in these early
stages of community radio. Station
management committees and staff lists are
usually dominated by men. The
development stage evolves in a vacuum.
People meet with an understanding of life
where there are no communication systems
and with a memory of the
misunderstandings this has caused in their
lives. They work positively towards project
implementation. In this process the women
usually take the minutes, organise the
meetings and make the tea. Rarely do
women set the agenda, or run the meeting.
The men are keen and assertive about
being behind the microphone. The cult of
the Disc Jockey (DJ) has quickly emerged;
they have sought and often obtained, fame,
glamour and all the perks it was hoped the
status of DJ would offer. They are not
easily going to relinquish this much
enjoyed status. This is perhaps an
inevitable outcome of the lack of an
experiential base. A radio station that is not
modelled on Radio Metro or 702, is not a real
radio station. People think that what they
heard on the airwaves in the old South Africa
was radio. There is no broadhased
understanding that this media diet was
merely perpetuating the National Party
Government's status quo and not arriving at
the medium's potential for change.

Programming
The boys want to switch on the
microphone, spin discs, make groovy
announcements between funky music,
finish the show and leave the administration
to the girls. Well ...as women begin to
participate in training courses they are
developing new slants on programme
content and motivation. They are
demonstrating that intelligent programming
requiring some thought and preparation,
that covers issues at the heart of
communities - that are important to its

AGENDA

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COMMUNITY RADIO: A YOKE FOR THE YOICELESS


livelihood and which help communities to
gain control over their own lives - sparks a
much more dynamic listening menu.
This is not to condemn all men as
brainless twits behind microphones, but
merely to reflect on a problematic overall
trend. The Rural Women's Movement
(RWM) started a community radio project
which is currently coordinated by a man 'Sam the man'. However, to the women of
the Moutse Community Radio Station, Sam
is an honorary woman who earned his
stretch marks of womanhood as MP,
Makwena Lydia Komape-Ngwenya's, driver.
The women are often questioned (they
would imply interrogated), about Sam's
involvement in the station, and they are
never stumped for an answer. They have a
clear analysis of the desirability of engaging
men in women's struggles. The women will
look a hard core feminist from the anti-sam
camp in the eye and say:
Must we put a skirt on Sam before you
can see that it is better to have a man
with the heart of a woman than a
woman with the heart of a man.

The past two years in that station have


seemed relatively uncomplicated in
comparison to other stations. It has clearly
been developed by women, and women
clearly have a shared power base from which
to work. Decisions have been taken slowly,
carefully and without battles involving egos
and manoeuvring for power. The meetings
will begin and end with songs and dancing
and will have a lower decibel (sound
intensity) measurement than mixed meetings.

)J:II)~/!-

introducing themselves with grand titles


associated with the station. The women
who built the station may snigger a bit after
the meeting but the real test will lie in their
ability to hold out against the attack of the
cult of the DJ.
The law holds that a community station
must be a 'community of interest' or
'geographical'. This station started by a
community of interest aims to serve the
geographical community. In this regard the
IBA have sent mixed messages. A female
staff member of the licensing department is
encouraging the station to declare itself a
'community of interest' - women. She
concedes that this does not exclude men but
protects the power base behind the station.
However, a male member of the
communication department was quick to
express his relief at seeing 'members of his
own gender' at a recent meeting. The
women want the station to be led bv
women but also for it to be broadly
representative of the community. They are,
in fact, caught between the two definitions
allowed by the Independent Broadcasting
Authority Act. True to their strong sense of
community based control the women
opted, against advice from various quarters
to be a 'geographical community'. This was
decided after lengthy discussions which did
not involve any male station members. This
allegiance to democracy, whilst admirable
in a broad sense, may be a 'slippage' point
of power distribution in the long run. Only
time will tell if the men of Moutse use this
gateway to gain control of the station.

Power base

Tackling communication

I have always been hopeful that this station


will retain its female power base and be a
shining example of the sisters doing it
differently. Particularly so in this case, since
this would be a reflection of the
demographics of the community.
Lately, though, as the critical start-up
point draws nearer I have noticed young
men at their first or second station meeting

The Moutse Community Radio Station,


initiated by the RWM is based in
Mpumalanga. Moutse consists of 46
villages and to meet, the women have to
find transport from as far as 40 kilometres
away. A matriarchal community has
emerged as a consequence of the high rate
of migrant worker males who are home
only once per month. The RWM, formed in

AGENDA

W0men
clearly have
a shared
power base
from which
to work

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4:{I]1114

C O M M U N W RADIO: A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS


transmitter. They recruited funds for
and installed a studio, established the
management structure and
administration procedures and
participated in training courses at the
station and in Johannesburg.
Rural women are recognised as the
most marginalised group in South
Africa today and one could easily
assume that the new dispensation
would have looked favourably on
the efforts to get the station going.
Unfortunately, the station has
2 continually fallen into black holes
in the processes of the IBA.
3k Following the one-day test
broadcast in 1993, the women
decided to apply for a license in the second
round of community radio license hearings,
scheduled for September 1994. In terms of
readiness to broadcast, they considered the
earlier March 1994 deadline to be
premature. However, the second round of
applications was cancelled due to an
overload at the IBA and the fact that some
first round applications were still being
processed. The women were extremely
disappointed. They felt an imperative to be
on air and to exercise the power of the
medium to create change.

A derision was
token by the
Rurol Women's
Movement to
stort a community
rudio station In
Moutse

They felt an
imperative
to be on air
and to
exercise the
power of
the medium
to create
change

1986, has a strong branch in Moutse. Their


'herstory' of campaigns has resulted in the
development of community services such
as a water tap in each yard, primary health
care clinics and improved schools. They
have also been able to put issues of
concern such as polygamy
.
.. on the public
agenda. More recently, the womenhave
become involved in local government and
Moutse now has a female deputy mayor
who is a longstanding RWM activist.
In 1993, the women decided to tackle the
issue of communication. Development and
campaigns had long been hampered by lack
of communication, at best, and
miscommunication, at worst. A decision to
start a community radio station in Moutse
was taken. With the assistance of a
well-known media activist and trainer, Libby
Uoyd, the women mounted a one-day
experimental broadcast which effectively
popularised the notion of a local radio in the
Moutse area and once again proved the
tenacity, drive and competence of the RWM.
The Moutse branch of the RWM continued
the station's development, negotiating
premises with the Department of Agriculture
and conducting meetings with local tribal and
government authorities to obtain permission
to utilise mountain-top space for their

16

Training in a vacuum
A resident trainer was scheduled to be at
the station to coincide with the start-up
date. This training had to go ahead without
the station being on air. 'Training in a
vacuum' was the term used to describe this
unfortunate under-utilisation of resources.
The IBA liaison staff were sympathetic but
immovable about the dilemma of the
Moutse Station. In late 1995, a second
round of applications was called for. The
women confidently met the January 31
deadline, having checked with the IBA's
licensing department that there were no
impediments to applying. At the time of
calling for applications, the IBA indicated
that they were unable to allocate frequency

AGENDA

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in certain areas. It was established that this


did not affect the Moutse region.
By June 1996, the women had been
waiting nearly two years to start
broadcasting. The IBA scheduled a hearing
for early July. The women mobilised key
community members and leaders to attend
the hearing and demonstrate community
support. Some supporters came from as far
away as covered by a R25 taxi fare.
Transport being what it is in the rural areas,
many people began arriving early in the
morning for the afternoon's hearing.
At mid-morning the IBA sent a
hand-written fax cancelling the hearing on
the grounds that the station fell into a
geographical area where there was no
available frequency. The women were
outraged, insulted and felt a loss of face
within their community. They phoned the IBA
to be told by one department, that they knew
nothing of the hearing, and by another, that
they were packing to attend. The women
contended that the Technical Department's
ruling made no geographical sense. The
airwaves of Moutse are hardly overcrowded
with listening or viewing options.
The women felt marginalised and
distanced from the Authority in which they
had invested both hope and a great deal of
patience. Several weeks later, inspired by
some bad press on the subject, the IBA went
to Moutse and apologised to the women.
They promised - after the people present
indicated an inability to accept an apology
without a rescheduled hearing -to conduct a
hearing within six weeks. On the basis of the
lack of communication facilities in the area
and the need for advanced warning of the
date, the IBA were to inform the station
within the week of the new hearing date.
They failed to do this, once again leaving the
women with the feeling that the IBA did not
care for them.
Eventually, a new date for late
September was set for the hearing. The
arduous task of informing people from far

AGENDA

and wide in this area, without the ease of


telecommunications to facilitate the
process, was put in motion. The hearing
was set for four o'clock in the afternoon not a great time for travelling home after
hours with limited taxi services. Two days
prior to the hearing, the IBA brought the
hearing forward by two hours.
Whilst this new timing is better, the
lateness of the alteration is tantamount to
sabotaging the participation of many who
will surely arrive late. Again, a case of
insensitivity to the conditions in the area.
The IBA Councillors, when informed
about the series of gaffes committed in
relation to the hearing, did come in and
design a fast-track process. This story will
continue to unfold. No doubt the women
will eventually be granted a license - but at
what cost? There is no end to the list of
possible achievements which may have
affected this community's development
over the past two years had it been able to
utilise the station to communicate, raise
appropriate issues, disseminate information
and activate the community.
Community radio training has to
accommodate the low level of skill and
experience of many participants and yet
equip people for participation in the rapid
pace of change in the local and global
information arena. The women of Moutse
Community Radio are an example of people
who started a mass communication initiative
at the time when they were still carrying
water for miles each day to their homes.
Many people in rural areas today have cell
phones but no electricity. They recharge
batteries during trips to town. We live in a
country of technological leapfrogging.

The women
of Moutse
Community
Radio are an
example of
people who
started a
mass
communication
initiative

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Update
The Moutse Community Radio Station IBA
hearing went ahead on Thursday, September
26. About 80 community supporters squeezed
into a room, designed for a maximum of 40
people, and loudly and musically
demonstrated, not only the richness of culture
in Moutse, but the unquestionable local
support for the station as well.
Councillor John Mattison (IBA) chaired the
meeting but experienced some obstacles to its
formal commencement. He wos interrupted
eorly in the proceedings by some 30 school
children who came to bless the meeting with
their sweet and memorable singing. This was
on unplanned, unexpected programme
intervention on their port. The school choir was
led by a soloist with an extremely aperotic
voice, full of promise and passion. This was
followed up by a medley of songs from the
women of Moutse and a prayer led by one of
the stotion members. It was some time before
Councillor Mattison was able to regoin control
of the meeting. It was also apparent thot his
heart was won.
The woinen answered the IBA's questions
without hesitation and indicated that since
Councillor Mattison knew the areo from his
days as a journalist it should be clear enough
thot the stotion was a logical development.
They contended that it wos not necessary to
reiterate the area's history, since he knew it.
They made a point of putting on record that
they would be holding him responsible for ony
delays in issuing the license. They set him a
November deadline.
Councillor Mattison, in a niove which clearly
indicates the Council's ability to be sensitive to,
and act upon issues, once they ore informed of
them, was able to conduct a phone conference
with fellow Councillors and issue the license the
very next day.
I had the great honour in the lost hour of the
lost day of my contract at the NCRF to phone
through the news to the station. I had the
pleasure of lingering on the phone to hear the
hoops of joy conveyed from the stotion

building to the surrounding area. With a


license confirmed, the station will now make
arrangements with ESKOM, to electrify the
mountain transmission site, and, with Open
Society Foundation of South Africa, to install
the transmission equipment. The station
should be on air early in 1997. A long wait,

REFERENCES
Bickley C ( 1995) 'Medra basrcs for
development educators'. paper wrltten for
Development Educatron Programme.
Unrversrty of Guelph: Centre for
International Programmes

Trarey Naughton is a Development Consultant


who has worked of the National lommunify
Radio Forum as Adviser and Prajed Monager
for the post two years. Tracey has spent many
years fighting for the recognition and
development of the community broadcast sector
in Australia. She conductedan internotional
research project looking at community Nin
1991. This provided impetus for the recent
enabling legislation in Australia which has seen
10 stations around Australia commence
broadcasting in the past two years. Today,
thousands of people are actively involved in
hundreds of community mdio and Nstotions

AGENDA