Engaging Local Communities in Chad through Radio
Jocelyn Grange, a media consultant working for IREX in Chad, writes about two community radio stations and the dedicated journalists who keep them running in spite of limited resources.
From the comfort of a multi-platform, 24/7 information world, it is worth considering what people are doing to get any news out at all in places such as Moundou and Sarh, Chad. Radio Kar Ruba in
Moundou was created in 2006 by an NGO to monitor the implications of oil exploitation on local communities. The funding ended and it now lacks the means to buy sufficient fuel to power its equipment more than a few hours per day. Yet the staff of 12, two-thirds of them volunteers and the rest barely paid, produce and broadcast news every morning in three languages (French, Arabic and Gambaï) and re-broadcast it later in the day. Lotiko FM in Sarh was created in 2003 for the Moyen Chari region. Its donor support ended four years ago and it now survives with limited revenue from a small number of announcements and advertisements. Four full-time journalists and three volunteers produce one daily evening news edition in two languages (French and Sara) and broadcast a few hours in the morning and evening. Both stations make do in small buildings with one tiny studio for transmission, one for production, a room for the editorial conference and a nook for the editor in chief and the administrative staff.
Not surprisingly, the journalistic standards at the stations are not the highest. But the teams are eager for any help. When I arrived to offer five days of on-site, hands-on mentoring at each station, as well as some modest equipment, it was a reminder that even small infusions of support are critical to encourage these journalists trying to carry on in such under-resourced settings. If they don’t, there will be no source of information independent of the government radio getting out to the communities in these regions, nor any opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard.
As it stands, critical issues such as the impact of natural resource exploitation in these areas – whether oil or peanuts or water – do not get the journalistic scrutiny they should. The radio journalists and I spent time discussing how they could make the most of what they have through better use of teamwork, planning and core journalistic principles, including multiple sources and fact-checking. As we worked side-by-side, a journalist from Radio Kar Uba expanded a report on pollution by local oil mills and soap factories that discharge their waste into the Logone River, adding the perspective of these small businesses that could not afford water treatment facilities.
Another Radio Kar Uba reporter put aside the scientific jargon of a doctor talking about the sources of typhoid contamination and went out to a market, where the lack of rubbish collection and clean tap water led to questions for the local administration – and created a story that was much more understandable to listeners. We also worked on turning the journalists’ sophisticated French into more casual language suitable for a wider radio audience, and on better applying the digital editing software to incorporate more voices.
There is much more that could be done to support these stations and others like them. As is too often the case, they have been set up through donor-funded programs with the best of intentions but have not received the assistance needed to become sustainable after support ends. Coordination with other development programs that could buy airtime from the stations for programs and messages would help. Coaching and mentoring programs could share the sustainability strategies and business plans that have been used by community radio stations in other poor countries in Africa. And of course, the dedicated journalists at these stations who keep them running continue to seek professional development opportunities that advance their own skills.
IREX provides technical assistance to Chadian media through the Promoting Elections, Accountability and Civic Engagement in Chad (PEACE), which is managed by Counterpart International, Inc. under USAID’s Global Civil Society Strengthening Leader with Associates Award.