The South Asian Community Radio conference on ‘Enhancing the Role of Community Radio and Promoting Positive Social Change’, held in September, has called upon governments of South Asia to recognize the need to strengthen regulation in countries where community radio already exists, and explicitly recognize community radio as a distinct tier of broadcasting in countries where it remains outside the law of the land.

The conference, which was participated by policy makers, community broadcasters and advocates, representatives of multilateral agencies as well as activists and academics, called for facilitating emergence of enabling CR legislation through equal access to spectrum and transparent, liberal license procedures that protect and promote Freedom of Expression, especially to marginalized groups like women, rural and urban poor, sexual minorities, differently-abled, dalits, indigenous and migrant communities.

While emphasizing the need for securing a safe and secure environment for community media practitioners, the conference has recommended to establish a Regional Community Radio Development Fund, within the SAARC Development Fund and to ensure appropriate participation from the sector for its distribution and dissemination.

The conference outlined specific areas of collaboration between existing development machinery within SAARC such as the SAARC Agriculture Centre, the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, and other regional centers and mechanisms to strengthen the role and potential of community radio in the specific thematic areas. It has recommended knowledge sharing within the sector through development of guidelines, exposure visits across member states, developing an online community radio information bank, and working towards incorporating research and documentation of the process and practices of community radios, including promotion of more systematic research on the regulation, technology and functioning of operational community radio stations in the region.

Specific sessions in the conference discussed thematic issues that included the role of community radio in support of family farming and small farming communities, enhancing role of women in community radios, right to information, safety of media workers in the context of community radios and evaluation of impact of community broadcasting. Representative of SAARC secretariat expressed solidarity and support to the outcomes of the conference.

The conference on ‘Enhancing the Role of Community Radio and Promoting Positive Social Change’ was organised jointly by the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC Asia Pacific) and SAARC Information Centre (SIC) from 6-8 September 2013 in Kathmandu. Approximately 40 policy makers, community broadcasters and advocates from the eight SAARC countries participated. The South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) alliance includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Representatives of national associations, donor representatives and strategic partners of community radio sector in South Asia participated. The seminar was supported by UNESCO, Food and Agricultural Association of the United Nations (FAO), and the International Media Support (IMS).