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Community radio: a missed opportunity

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Community radio: a missed opportunity

by Barbara Meyer
07 May 2008
Peoples Post
Peoples Post

COMMUNITY RADIO in the Western Cape had the potential of epic proportions when the air waves were first freed by independent broadcasters in the early 1990s.


Unfortunately, a sector that started with a bang merely a decade ago, has become an inaudible whisper between the dials. Listening closely to the weak hisses on the radio, one can hear out-dated re-runs of programmes filling up air space that should be filled with original voices telling stories that are unfolding every day in the Western Cape.

Community radio made headlines again this weekend for the first time in years: however, it was not about the nationwide changing of policies it was once destined for - it was about the scandalous personalities that have sullied its history.

This weekend, papers were read with a snigger about community radio personalities of yesteryear. But, as the saying goes: those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Many people who were part of the building blocks of community radio have opted to embellish their roles during this time to unbelievable proportions, instead of taking pride in the simplicity and the magnitude of the truth. The sector, which should have become synonymous with free speech, public access, visionary thinking, tolerance and acceptance, has in 2008 become a missed opportunity.

How did this happen? Unfortunately, community radio became overwhelmed with strong personalities who muscled out the ordinary people who were originally meant to find a spot in front of the microphone to tell their stories.

Community radio is hiding in plain sight, and the doors are tightly shut. Competition is not welcomed.

The counter balance that was established to monitor and control the "freedom of the air-waves", to ensure that the leadership of the sector upholds its integrity, and to ensure that ordinary people retain access to medium, is snoozing in the comfortable back seat of the sector.

There is no shock or surprise that allegations of station mismanagement were thrown about in the media this weekend.

The surprise is that it has taken so many years for a sector that should have had the strongest voice to speak out. The irony is that the role players in radio finally found their freedom to speak inside print.

Community radio has become a soap opera, an endless drama filled with scandals, flamboyant villains and snivelling victims. A soap opera is undoubtedly entertaining, but it is immediately forgotten about as soon as the dial is turned.

So, why is community radio so quiet? Don't people remember that it was supposed to be the platform for ordinary people to amplify their voices, and change their lives? Is not the leadership of radio stations accountable to their constituents?

Or have people been told otherwise, and now unquestioningly follow their benevolent dictators?

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