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People's Radio:
Communicating change
across Africa


Felix Librero
Former Chancellor
University of the Philippines Open University


Manifesto for a Development Radio Broadcaster

Any serious discourse on development communication necessarily has to touch substantially on the concept and practice of development broadcasting which, like development journalism, forms a stream of specialization in the field of development communication. As a significant tool to achieve a holistic development of people, institutions, communities, and societies, development broadcasting actually predates the term development communication. Ironically, some development planners do not really seriously factor in the development equation the potentials of development broadcasting as a significant variable in the communication of the national development agenda to people in the countrysides. Maybe this is because development broadcasting, as a concept, has not fully been understood as a potent means of informing people and stirring mass community action. It may even be that development broadcasting has not been taken seriously because it has been called many things over time and not really considered part of mainstream mass communication media, which is really a complete misunderstanding of the concept.

A quick survey of various experiences in development broadcasting, particularly in the Asian context, will indicate that we probably have not fully appreciated very much the power of this tool compared to the power of mainstream media. While development broadcasting very much applies to non-rural situations as well, it has been observed to be more influential and powerful in the countrysides where people do not have access to mainstream media and where a holistic human development agenda is most appreciated. It is in this context that I shall highlight some lessons, posed as challenges to future development broadcasters, learned over the years.

The lessons or challenges that are articulated here are intended to serve only as guides for those intending to become development broadcasters, not gospel truths. These are culled from experiences of successful practitioners in the Asian region. In an earlier material, I have referred to these as the functions of development or community broadcasters.

First, as development broadcaster you are a visionary. You conceptualize and therefore create a life condition that clearly characterizes a desired state of human affairs out of the expressions of hope and aspirations of members of the community who are listening to your broadcasts. Clearly, you are in an appropriate position to visualize a future condition based on the perceptions of members of the community who are the audience of your broadcasts. Why? Well, you are familiar with the problems of the community, you have a holistic view of these problems, and you are able to conceptualize ways of translating these problems into action leading to problem solutions. You are able to do this because you have a clear vision of the community’s goals and you are able to articulate these goals, aspirations, and frustrations.

Second, as a development broadcaster you are the voice of your audiences. You translate ideas and experiences into coherent broadcast presentation that focuses clearly on responding effectively to the needs of members of the community who are listening to your radio broadcasts. You are able to do this because, as communicator, you have a very deep understanding of the characteristics of your listeners. And to provide appropriate and useful information to this kind of listeners, you have developed a skill in putting together in coherent wholes discrete pieces of information to form logical messages that would be understandable to your listeners. Corollary to this, when you articulate what would normally appear to be mundane circumstance it suddenly takes on new meaning and significance. Further, because you are familiar with the elements of radio, you are able to translate these pieces of information in an interesting fashion that would catch the undivided attention of your listeners and keep them as your captive audience. This is further enhanced by your familiarity with how your listeners process information. The net result is you are able to piece together a respectable and complete broadcast presentation with the minimum of expensive inputs and resources and with maximum effectiveness and impact.

Third, you are the best presenter of your production. Being a good radio broadcast performer entails appropriate technical, intellectual, psychological, and social skills. For example, you have a mastery of the language of the community you are serving. It is not only a question of being able to simply speak the language, you have a deep knowledge and understanding of the nuances of the language, even including the non-verbal language that is used by the people in the community. Embedded in this is your ability to empathize with the people. That is to say, you think, feel, and behave the way they do so that you can put yourself in their shoes at any time for any reason. When you are in that situation, you can fully understand and appreciate their problems, and are able to cull the experiences that they would want to share with or keep from the public. This also means that you should be able to highlight useful experiences elsewhere and relate them to local conditions. All these lead to a situation as articulated in your broadcast, whereby you are able to clearly point out to a logical direction, such as a development goal, that your listeners actually know, understand and feel without you having to say so and they needing to verbally say yes. This is your ability to describe a vision that is completely understood by your listeners.

Fourth, you are a researcher and interpreter of raw information. You have the appropriate skills to evaluate the impact of your broadcasts and to make adjustments where needed. More specifically, you can easily relate the objectives of your broadcasts to the aspirations of those listening. In the process of doing so, you can quickly detect existing and potential problems and their causes, skilfully gather information about them in whatever form and interpret these accurately, and use them to improve your broadcasts. This way, you are facilitating your listeners’ ability to assimilate the information and internalize it so that they are able to use it for their own personal development. The basic skill here is knowing when exactly you should use what kind of feedback to resolve what kind of problem under what conditions.

Fifth, you must quickly make some refinements in your broadcasts according to the feedback you gather, hence you are an effective and creative producer. One of the tough things for broadcasters is accepting failure of their broadcasts. Failures must lead to changes, but changes that have to be introduced must be introduced unobtrusively unless the nature of your broadcasts is completely changed with a new one. As producer, your greatest strengths are your creativity as communicator, your ability to empathize with your audience, and your skill at uncovering and telling great stories that inspire your listeners.

These are what you are if you are now doing development broadcasting. If you want to be a development broadcaster, then you must muster the requirements for being a visionary, voice of your audience, presenter of your radio production, researcher and interpreter of feedback information, and effective producer.

These challenges are not just ideas. They are based on experience, on solid evidence. They are also highly interrelated so that any intervention in one certainly has chain reactions in the others. It is certain that new challenges out there are unfolding and development broadcasters are now grappling with them. We need to continue devising ways and means to improve the effectiveness of development broadcasting as a means to articulating problems and aspirations of people, institutions, communities, and societies. Towards this end, it is suggested that experts and academics work together to generate new knowledge and techniques that will further strengthen development broadcasting as a field of study and profession.

Dr Felix Librero, Professor Emeritus, is one of the pioneers of the praxis of development broadcasting. He taught at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB) from the 1960s to the early 2000, when he became the Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University. He worked with other pioneers of development communication, such as Nora Quebral and was part of the team that established the world’s first Department of Development Communication. He was Station Manager of Radio DZLB, the rural educational radio broadcasting station of UPLB before becoming Chair of the Department of Development Communication in the 1980s, and then Director of the Institute of Development Communication.
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