Silver LiningA move towards community radios [Archives:2006/966/Opinion]

July 24 2006

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
I have been impressed by the pioneering example set by the Jordanian Ammannet online radio over the past few years. Initiated by the well-known Arab journalist Daoud Kuttab, this online radio began operating in 2000. Some might doubt the success of such initiatives in a region plagued with illiteracy, never mind computer illiteracy. It was a big challenge for Kuttab to prove the success of such an initiative in addressing key issues and in its ability to make a difference. However, he has proven its potential and this initiative is now proving successful. Now, Ammannet is not only online, but is broadcast as an FM radio station as well. It is focusing on local community issues, which are often neglected by the print and state-run broadcast media.

As I am preoccupied with the idea of setting up an online radio station, I contacted Mr. Kuttab some months ago, asking for his advice and support. He was enthusiastic and encouraging; he told me that Ammannet would run a training workshop about online radios, in an attempt to expand this type of experience in the Gulf region.

Last week, Ammannet kicked off the training workshop for 13 female and male journalists from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Another group from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman will follow suit. We received intensive training on how to produce radio reports, edit them and broadcast them online both as written and audio texts.

Kuttab told us that the Ammannet project aims to help journalists from these countries to create their own online radio stations. Nine online radios, including three in Saudi Arabia, are expected to start operating next year. A website was set up by Ammannet to help the trainees produce materials on issues in their relative countries. Later, coordinators from each country will be selected to receive another training workshop. The coordinators will decide with Ammannet the design of the online radio website.

When I thought about this idea and sought the advice of Mr. Kuttab, I was aware of the significance of such radios in addressing community issues. With the complete monopoly of the state over broadcast media, community concerns have not been voiced. The voice of the people has not been heard. The non-governmental voice has been marginalized and it is now time it was listened to.

Our goal, of course, is to serve the people and one way of doing this is to open a room for them to voice their concerns. The people in charge should listen to the voice of the voiceless. We do not intend to get into fights with the authorities by establishing online radios. Rather, we would like to work professionally in reporting the truth and delivering the message of the people to the people.

As I said earlier, some might question the capability of such radios in influencing the pubic opinion because of limited internet use.

I do not agree with this view, as the number of internet users is always increasing. When news websites started operating in Yemen, we thought it was an adventure which might collapse. However, we have now realized the influence they are having; they are a very good source of information for many people and receive millions of hits annually.

Like the online newspapers, these radios will be a very good source of information, providing the voice of the people to listeners worldwide.

I guess also that the success and professionalism of these online radios would serve as a good incentive for the governments to consider licensing broadcast media. At the end of the day and in due course, they may evolve into FM stations, just like Ammannet, which is now able to make a difference and implement social change. The Jordanian government now listens and pays attention to what Ammannet says, as the Political Development Minister Sabri Rubaihat told us last Thursday. Therefore, this online radio we will initiate is a step towards an FM community radio that we believe would serve the people and voice their concerns.

Mohammed Al-Qadhi is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.

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