RADIO remains the most dynamic and engaging mediums in the 21st century, offering new ways to interact and participate. This powerful communication tool and low-cost medium can reach the widest audience, including remote communities and vulnerable people such as the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor.
Radio offers these communities a platform to intervene in public debate, irrespective of their educational level. It provides an opportunity to participate in policy and decision-making processes, and to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expression.
The impact of radio is at different levels: it is an essential tool in times of disaster management as an effective medium to reach affected people when other means of communication are disrupted; it is a way of promoting gender equality by providing rural women access to knowledge and support; finally, it is inclusive, engaging youth in the media as catalysts of change.
The audience is at the heart of the broadcast.
Hence, it plays an important role in empowering communities around the world, bringing people together and fostering positive dialogue for change. It gives a voice to the voiceless and serves as a source for human rights and dignity and as a powerful enabler of solutions to challenges.
Taking forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is important to advancing fundamental freedoms, and promoting public access to information is essential to encouraging good governance and the rule of law; in responding to climate change, in countering discrimination, radio can provide an accessible and real-time medium to bridge divides and strengthen dialogue.
Today, we celebrate World Radio Day that is observed every Feb 13. The objective of this day is to raise greater awareness among the public and media of the importance of radio; to encourage decision-makers to establish and provide access to information through radio; as well as to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters.
This year, Unesco’s commemoration is a call for greater participation of audiences and communities in the policy and planning of radio broadcasting. More than simple on-air interaction, public participation should include mechanisms such as audience engagement policies, public editors and ombudspersons, listener forums and complaints resolution procedures. The theme for 2017 World Radio Day is: “Radio is YOU!” It will be an important year for reviewing how we communicate with each other.
By listening to its audiences and responding to their needs, radio can provide the diversity of views and voices needed to address the challenges we face. World Radio Day 2017 is a chance for all of us who are involved in radio to celebrate a dynamic, real-time medium and how this helps shape our lives.
In Pakistan alone, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, there are 143 commercial FM radios covering the country. It is important that radios are in close contact with their listeners and constantly examine the needs and desires of various target groups. Radio programmes that respond directly to a community’s needs, with information about livelihoods and the local economy, health, education, voter information, etc. have the power to radically change communities and individual lives. Radio Day is an opportunity for recalling this, discussing and deciding how we can make radio an even more powerful tool in promoting sustainable development and the well-being of all citizens.
When it comes to youth — 64pc of Pakistani society — radio has an enormous role in empowering them. It can be used as a tool to spread the message of tolerance, peace and the elimination of prejudice and stereotypes, providing them the opportunity to get more knowledge about the world. Further, with radio as a platform for exchange, young people may find their place and express themselves. Young producers and broadcasters are still rare since too few programmes are devoted or designed by young people.
This requires a new commitment by all to radio. Broadcasters, regulators and audiences alike should nurture and make the most of its power. Listener clubs and forums could be good exercises for radio stations in Pakistan in listening to the listeners not only during talkback radio sessions, but actually asking them what they want to hear on air.
Audience engagement policies place listeners at the heart of broadcasts. Media and information literacy is more necessary than ever, to inspire confidence in information and knowledge at this moment when the concept of ‘truth’ has been challenged. This is how radio can become a guide for innovative solutions to local problems and continue to advance human rights, gender equality, dialogue and peace.
Unesco encourages all radio stations in Pakistan to rally around this medium and make the most of it as a force for social inclusion, intergenerational dialogue and social change.
The writer is Unesco representative to Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2017