By Ben Kangwa
In 1982, the government of Zambia embarked upon a programme to revitalize the mass media, when the then President Kenneth Kaunda inaugurated the new Mass Media Complex in Lusaka.
In his address Kaunda emphasized,” Everyone of us has a right to be heard. What everybody else is saying and doing affects everybody else’s life struggle and personal opportunities…..This Complex we are now commissioning is cardinal instrument in this vital process of rebuilding our personal lives…”
The government had thus committed itself to the promise that development depends upon adequate communication processes and a two way of information.
However, the completion of the Mass Media Complex, while providing a level of production facilities for radio and television which were among the best in Africa, only began a longer term process which would ultimately allow information to pass freely throughout the country, especially into the heart of its rural communities.
Seven years later in February 1989, this time around, the Right Honourable Prime Minister Kebby Musokotwane officially inaugurated Radio Mulungushi, popularly known as Radio Four at the same Mass Media Complex.
Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC’s) Management had put up an elaborate programme for the Prime Minister including a tour of the transmitters, the radio and TV recording studios, the record and Video Library and the Newsroom.
DJ of the day was Peter Mweemba who at exactly 10.05 hours after reading the first news summary compiled by Brian Mambwe announced as follows, “Right, this is your DJ, Brother PM behind the microphone, hoping you are ready for us as we bring it to you, the biggest and the best on FM stereo.
Right….in just a few minutes’ time from now, the Right Honourable Prime Minister Kebby Musokotwane will be walking into Radio Mulungushi stereo studio to officially switch on Radio Four.”
That was Brother PM as he “talked the script” that morning.
After the Prime Minister Kebby Musokotwane inaugurated the new radio channel, Peter Mweemba interviewed him at length about the role of broadcasting in national development.
Later in the interview Peter Mweemba personalized the discussion and focused on the musical taste of the Prime Minister as David Sanborn’s famous jazz instrumental “Maputo” served as background music.
Prime Minister Kebby Musokotwane talked about radio as an essential development tool – how it provides true empowerment and grassroot development.
He noted that radio was effectively used for the preservation and development of culture, citing old folklore stories that were broadcast on Radio One in local languages.
Musokotwane talked about other popular programmes such as the Nyanja Phochedza Madzulo (meaning to hang around in the evening), Ifyabukaya in Bemba (meaning things you know) and Malikopo, a Tonga language programme of a hero advising people in urban areas whose income was low to go back to the land.
Other were Zambian Land and the People, a fifteen minute programme in English of a documentary nature usually covering successful farming activities, Rural Notebook produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, providing special advice on what farmers should watch out for and Nutrition Corner, a programme produced by the Ministry of Health and the National Food and Nutrition Commission.
All these programmes were later in years to set programme formats for stage Community Radio stations in Zambia.
By nature and by design, Community Radio stations offer a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting material that is popular to a local audience but is overlooked by more powerful broadcast groups. The radio is usually established by the efforts of a specific community, operated by the community and for the community welfare.
They have a heavy responsibility of serving the needs of the communities within which they broadcast and exist. This is because of the enormous potential that they have to lift the standards of the people through the provision of relevant information.
To quote from the Quarterly Report on the Implementation of the Radio and Good Governance Project in 2003, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zambia) observed, “In Zambia, they have raised awareness on issues such as the position of women, improving literacy and education, provision of information on health, the environment, agriculture, democracy and HIV/AIDS among others.”
In its submission, MISA stated that Community Radio is an empowering tool for many communities that are often ignored or insufficiently covered by the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and other commercial radio and TV services.
It was against this background, MISA noted, that in view of their important role in the communities within which they operate, community radio stations should see themselves not just as conveyers of information and education on various issues affecting their communities, but also as facilitators of community development.
Because Community broadcasting is primarily focused on broadcasting from the community to the community, about everyday problems and real issues, about the community’s own history and culture, and mostly in local languages that people understand, their programme formats are mainly aimed at bettering the communities they serve.
In the early 90s, Radio Phoenix became the first Independent privately owned radio station in Zambia. Its prgramme schedule was a diet of popular music shows and a several genre of talk shows including its flag career “Let the People Talk” - a call in programme.
A number of other private broadcasting stations later emerged. These included Radio Choice, Mazabuka Radio, QFM Radio, Radio Lyambai and Radio Liseli.
In addition, the churches joined in the airwaves with religious based programming options – Yatsani Radio, Radio Icengelo, Chikuni Radio and Christian Voice. The latter offered syndicated programmes originating from the organization “Christian Voice” based in the United Kingdom.
Today, 23 years down the line, Zambia boasts of over 40 private radio stations that have become popular among listeners.
Although there is no clear definition as to what constitutes a community radio station, there are more and more radio stations in Zambia that have been branded under community radio.
These include Radio Icengelo on the Copperbelt, Radio Maria in Chipata, Radio Chikuni in Monze, Radio Mazabuka in Mazabuka and Mosi-o-Tunya , Zambezi FM in Livingstone, Hot FM , 5FM, Hone FM, Unza Radio and Joy FM
Others are Radio Lundazi in Lundazi, Yatsani Radio in Lusaka, Breeze FM in Chipata, Petauke Explores and Pasme in Petauke, Mpangwe in Southern Province, Radio Mkushi in Mkushi, Itezhi Tezhi Community Radio in Ithezi-Tezhi and Radio Mano in Kasama.
All in all, these radio stations, Community or Commercial, teach their listeners new skills from literacy to agriculture, business and leadership.
They also make people prone to participate in decision making, in raising levels of aspirations and in making economic, social and political development a self perpetuating process.
Breeze FM for example, prides itself in providing a voice for vulnerable groups to communicate their perspectives in the public domain and in providing space for vulnerable groups to engage in public dialogue and debate on issues that affect them.
The “cool air” radio (as it is also known) provides a channel to communicate information on development issues to people most affected and to communicate perspectives from these people to those in authority.
It is a viable advertising and effective communication medium to local and national business organizations.
On the other hand, Chikuni Community Radio, from the very beginning, was established to give the community a chance to create and participate in programmes that affect them at large.
Topics of interest range from gender, agriculture, HIV/AIDS, leadership skills and development, conflicts between tradition and modern life as well as culture.
Close by, Mazabuka Community Radio, the first Community Radio established as a joint project of UNESCO and the Zambia government in 2000 is owned by the community with almost a similar programme format as Chikuni.
The station also broadcasts in two languages Tonga and English. Tonga taking up about 75 per cent of broadcast time.
For Radio Ichengelo in Kitwe on the Copperbelt, its programming is centered on evangelizing, creating economic, political, cultural, moral and social change. Broadcasting mainly in Bemba, the station reaches a large rural population.
These are just but a few examples of Community Radio stations that have sprung up on the rural media landscape in Zambia - no doubt serving their communities as a tool for development as well as a means to provide vital information to people in rural areas.
The author is a Press Secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Washington DC and is former Director of Programmes at the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC)