31 May 2013
Community radio doesn’t exist in Swaziland. For over ten years, however, efforts have been made by a group of resilient people to bring this form of localised media to life.
Board members from Swaziland’s Community Radio Network (CRN), a lobby group funded by NGOs, gathered at the University of Swaziland (Uniswa) yesterday to discuss how community radio (when and if it gets up and running) allows a more diverse group of people to air their views.
“Community radio is the best medium to change society,” said Lubombo veteran community radio campaigner Ambrose Zwane.
The information session at Uniswa was organised by COSPE, a human rights NGO, and facilitated by Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (Swagaa).
Zwane, who has been at the forefront of the push for community radio for a decade, emphasised the benefits of opening up and decentralising the nation’s airwaves.
“It is the community who will decide how programmes are structured,” he said, “we will be able to balance the number of men and women on air.”
Research conducted in 2011 by MISA-Swaziland, a press freedom NGO, found that almost 80 per cent of voices in the Swazi press are male. This statistic can be contrasted with figures often released by police that show about 80 per cent of abuse victims in Swaziland are female.
This mismatch in access to the media, insofar as men often talking about issues that primarily impact upon women, is one of several that Swaziland’s community radio leaders would like to level out if the government would grant community radio licenses. If history is our judge, though, this might still be a way off.
But there is hope: broadcasting legislation is currently sitting before parliament.
The Swaziland Broadcasting Bill 2013, if passed, provides for ‘three-tiered radio broadcasting’: commercial, public, and community. In theory, it seeks to free radio from the shackles of state control, allowing more players to enter the currently non-existent market.
There are currently two radio stations in Swaziland namely the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS) and Voice of the Church (VOC). SBIS, which offers a siSwati and English service, is state-owned and controlled and is often described as a government department. The other, VOC, runs mainly religious content.
Yesterday was another small step in the direction of community radio in the sub-Saharan kingdom, where, it might be said, the media could do with some new blood.
Community radio stations are community owned and operated entities that serve either localised geographic communities or communities of interest, such as minorities, religious groups, youth groups, or universities.
Unlike commercial stations, community stations do not run for profit. They are usually established as voluntary associations, not-for-profits or trusts. A community radio station’s constitution generally says that any profit will be channeled into further developing the station.