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Putting participatory communication into practice through community radio : a case study of how policies on programming and production are formulated and implemented at Radio Graaff-Reinet

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  • Pn4699 Journalism
  • Computer Science


In the South African (SA) model of community radio, listeners are expected to be in charge of the management and programming operations of stations. This study tests the SA model against the actual conditions at an existing station. For this purpose, the study focuses on Radio Graaff-Reinet, a community radio station in the Eastern Cape. Emphasis is on examining the extent to which members of the station’s target community are involved in its operations. The study first assesses the nature of this involvement, keeping in mind the principles of, ‘community ownership’ and ‘participatory programming’ on which the SA model of community radio is based. It is argued that the station does provide a valuable ‘public sphere’ for its listeners. The potential of this sphere remains limited, however, due to the impact of ongoing power struggles around the ownership of the station. The lack of proper systems for managing these struggles has contributed to the fact that the station continues to be in a constant state of flux, with a high turnover of staff and regular changes in its policies and strategies. The study argues that, until such systems are put in place, the principles of community ownership will not be fully realizable. Areas in which the struggle over ownership plays itself out can be identified in the relationship between the station’s Board of Directors and its managing staff, between one particular station manager and her staff and between the station and its target community. These struggles often take place in context of a debate about the financial sustainability of the station versus its developmental aims. It is argued that this opposition needs to be questioned since, until the station is financially stable, it will remain vulnerable to interference by powerful individuals and groups in its attempts to establish such developmental aims. The study then goes on to identify key weaknesses in the station’s approach to community ownership and participation. In particular, it is pointed out that various stakeholders in the station have contradictory understandings of what is meant by ‘community’, using the term to include or exclude sections of the Graaff-Reinet society in very different ways. There are also very different understandings at play about the concept of community radio itself. These contradictions have an impact on the station’s ability to implement participatory programming. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the station does not have a consistent forum in which shared decision-making can take place. Consequently, the station also remains unable to draw effectively on its own volunteer staff and on its community as resources for programming content. Finally, the study explores the broader significance of the weaknesses that exist in the case of Graaff-Reinet, arguing that these are problems that repeat themselves throughout the South African community radio sector. Possible strategies for addressing these problems are suggested, including approaches to monitoring and research, training, organizational development and advocacy.

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