Future for Bengali radio stations

Community radio stations are the only source of information for the millions in Bangladesh who are illiterate. But the radios to struggle from donation to voluntary contribution: they are uncertain of their existence. At least, until recently. Thanks to lobby by BNNRC and Free Press Unlimited, since recently the radio stations may broadcast advertisements so financial independence is moving within their reach. Good news for all the listeners who are kept up to date and are given a voice, thanks to these radio stations.

In December 2017, the Bengali Ministry of Information ratified a new law, allowing community radio stations to sell 10% of their broadcasting time (usually about 2 hours). Using advertising revenues, the radio stations will soon be able to finance their own studios and equipment and employ staff. A milestone for our partner Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC). Free Press Unlimited has been supporting BNNRC since 2008, also during its lobby for advertising broadcasting time. Together we paved the way for the current network of 18 local radio stations, spread over Bangladesh.

Thanks in part to BNNRC and Free Press Unlimited, dozens of women and men in remote areas have been trained as journalists in recent years. They now make radio reports about matters that are important to the people in their own environment. This is crucial in a country where state media focus on the capital and 160 million people are unable or hardly able to read and write. The local radios report on health care, women’s rights and agricultural techniques, but also broadcast music programmes and soap operas. And for children who cannot attend school, they also provide English lessons.

Saving lives during disasters

Just how important the survival of community radio stations is, became clear last summer when millions of people in Northern Bangladesh were hit by huge floods. Thanks to 5 local radio stations that continuously broadcast for 23 consecutive hours, the victims were not deprived of news. The broadcasters stationed more than 40 reporters with local disaster teams and authorities, so they could inform their listeners immediately. For some time before, all 18 community radio stations were trained by BNNRC in fast and adequate reporting during disasters.

A completely different example is that of the 9 radio stations that in 2017 helped break persistent taboos on, for example, family planning. In the broadcast they discussed contraceptives, sex education for young people and organised ‘courtyard meetings’ during which local authorities told newlywed couples where they could go for help with family planning. Listeners can call in or join in with many programmes via text messaging.

The new policy for community radio stations will contribute to the independence of existing radio stations. The law also makes room for the creation of more radio stations, so that the network can spread itself over the entire countryside of Bangladesh. In 2018, Free Press Unlimited and BNNRC, will develop a strategy to help the radio stations make the most of the new possibilities.

Partner since: 2008
Donor: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Contribution: € 110,000


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