Monday, November 10, 2008
At Africast, echo of Community Radio keeps pulsating
By Kabir Alabi Garba
THE aggregate of views on the recently held International Conference of African Broadcasters tagged Africast 2008 acknowledges the marked improvement that has attained the organisation of one-in-two-year event. Participants praised the facilitator, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for the 2008 edition which, they declared, was rich in content, better in coordination, robust in intellectual offering, and receptive in accommodating variety of issues germane to the growth of the broadcast industry.
In line with the theme of the three-day conference (October 21-23, 2008), Digitisation and the Challenges of Broadcasting, there was high concentration of attention on the transition from analogue television broadcasting to digital, a phenomenon that is dictating the pace of broadcasting in the world today.
But the focus was not at the expense of other critical issues in the industry. In fact, a whole session on Thursday, October 23 was dedicated to community broadcasting where advocates in that special segment of the industry were invited to update participants on the progress made so far in the campaign to bringing broadcasting to the grassroots. Amplifying the People's Voices - Community Broadcasting in a Digital Era: Dialectics of mascots and jinxes was the subject of discussion and three speakers treated it satisfactorily. They were Steve Buckley, President, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC); Dr. Tunde Adegbola of African Languages Technology Initiative in Ibadan; and Mrs. Jummai Umar Ajijola, who was represented by her husband, Hakeem. They are members of the Community Radio Coalition (CRC), an advocacy group rooting for the establishment of community radio in Nigeria and other African countries.
Other members of the coalition that participated in Africast are Pauline Bend, Programme Director, Panos Institute West Africa; Franklin Huizies, Board Member, AMARC-Africa and CEO, National Community Radio Forum of South Africa; Friday Aizeboje of Sound Broadcast Communication; Idayat Alimi, Department of Communication and Languages Arts, University of Ibadan; and Akin Akingbulu of Institute for Media and Society (IMESO), Lagos.
In his submission, Buckley appreciated the invitation to him to participate in the conference for the second time. He was around during the 2004 edition when he had expressed the hope of having hundreds of community broadcasters established in Nigeria soonest. "Somewhat optimistically, and no doubt infected by the enthusiasm of those present, I suggested this could happen as early as 2006."
Since his expectation is yet to materialise, he said, "Well here we are again. Some important, though tentative, steps have been taken. And may I especially congratulate, for their excellent work, Professor Alfred Opubor and the diligent members of his Drafting Committee for a Community Radio Policy. But community broadcasting, as internationally understood, is still yet to achieve a solid presence on Nigeria's airwaves. I trust its presence as a topic on this week's agenda is an indication that, behind the scenes, there is a seriousness of intent and that, long before Africast 2010, Nigeria will have moved from policy to implementation," Buckley envisaged.
He described the rider of the topic of discussion: 'dialectics of mascots and jinxes' as curious subtitle, while noting the universal profile of his association. "AMARC is an international membership organisation that groups together community radio stations, production groups and their federations in 113 countries worldwide. This year we are celebrating 25 years since our foundation, in Montreal, in 1983, by a group of Canadian community radio activists. But community broadcasting has been around a lot longer than that. It is more than 60 years since its early origins in the Americas - in Bolivia, Colombia and the United States."
But on the African continent, community broadcasting, according to him, "is a relative youngster" Buckley traced its emergence to "a wave of democratic reform and political change."
In 1991, he said, Mali became the first country to end the state broadcasting monopoly inherited from colonial times and to open its airwaves to private and community broadcasters. Benin followed in 1992 and then South Africa, following the end of the apartheid era. "The majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa today have at least some community broadcasting services. More often than not, their emergence has been associated with broader political developments - strengthened democracy, greater civic participation, increased social accountability."
AMARC boss reiterated the fact that community broadcasting has secured its status in Africa is not in doubt. "Indeed, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, calls on African governments to ensure 'an equitable allocation of frequencies between private broadcast uses, both commercial and community' and states 'community broadcasting shall be encouraged given its potential to broaden access by poor and rural communities to the airwaves.'
"So what then of its prospects in the digital era? Is digitalization an opportunity or is it, perhaps, a jinx? Let me tell you a story that might lead us to suspect it is the latter.
"Three years ago I was in another African country working on an advisory report to its government on strategies for media reform. Shortly before my arrival, the national regulatory agency that allocates broadcast frequencies had taken out an advert in the national press. The advert announced a moratorium on the licensing of FM spectrum for private and community radio services. The reason given: digital switchover. This, despite the fact not a single digital sound broadcasting service had been licensed. Fortunately, in this case, the regulator came to see the error of its ways and the moratorium was withdrawn. But this is not the only occasion that digital switchover has provided a pretext for the premature announcement of the death of FM radio.
"Now, behind this announcement, there exists a state of some confusion which has become rather widespread. It is one that, some suggest, has even been deliberately encouraged. The confusion is to use the term 'broadcasting' when what is really meant is 'television'. Because, as you all know, radio and television are two different things. "What is true of television is not necessarily true of radio. And the strategy for digital switchover that is being adopted for television most certainly can not be easily applied to sound broadcasting nor is there even any need to so do."
He enumerated three wishes that are widely held for a successful digital broadcasting technology. First, that it should lead to more efficient use of available spectrum. Second, that it should improve the quality of the signal. And third, that it should lead to more choice for the listener and viewer. He explained further: "It would be fair to say that current plans for digital terrestrial television are well placed to achieve all of these things. They will free up a substantial part of the broadcast spectrum for other uses. They will enable improved quality including high definition services and there should be space for more television channels, if not more diversity.
"On the other hand, the first generation of digital sound broadcasting systems provides none of these things. The European model, known as DAB, is no more spectrum efficient than FM for local radio, the sound quality improvements are marginal and where DAB has been introduced it has mainly duplicated the existing services.
"The US model is no better and in certain respects it is significantly worse. Germany and France have now abandoned their commitment to these first generation technologies. In Europe, only the UK and Denmark are committed to DAB, and the UK position is looking increasingly fragile. Last year, the largest UK commercial radio group, GCap, withdrew from the DAB platform, and only last week, the much heralded new national UK DAB service plunged into crisis when its main backer, Channel 4, pulled out.
"Most European countries are now considering choosing from a second generation of digital sound broadcasting technologies, with names like DAB+, DMB and DRM, which means listeners who have bought first generation DAB receivers have spent a lot of money on an item that will be obsolete before their FM wireless goes silent."
So what does this mean for community broadcasters? Buckley provided the answer: "Well, if it's community radio that we would like to develop, then analogue broadcasting, on FM and AM, remains the only game in town. It is on the FM platform, in particular, that community radio must establish its presence and demonstrate its sustainability if it is to find a future on whichever digital platform finally prevails. So any suggestion that FM should be faced with a switch-off time table should be vigorously opposed.
"On the other hand, for local and community television services, the switch to digital may indeed be an opportunity. More channels should become available and if governments are to respect the call for an equitable allocation of frequencies, set out in the Declaration of Principles for Freedom of Expression in Africa, then that commitment must apply in the digital environment as it does in the analogue."
He was emphatic that there should be no switch off timetable for FM or AM sound broadcasting services until there is a proven and viable digital replacement technology. "At least, part of the FM band should be retained for local and community radio for the foreseeable future.
In countries where community radio has not yet developed to the point of being near universal availability, Buckley canvassed that priority should be given to ensuring this is enabled to happen including reservation of a substantial part of the remaining FM and AM spectrum.
He would also want an equitable allocation of the spectrum freed up by the switch from analogue to digital television be reserved for the future development of digital community broadcasting - radio and television - using whichever technologies prove suitable. These three points are important, according to him, "because community broadcasting, and community radio in particular, reaches out to and engages some of the poorest and most marginalized communities - amplifying people's voices, improving access to information and contributing to a more equitable and sustainable development. We can not wait for technologies of tomorrow when appropriate tools are available to us today."
Dr. Tunde Adegbola, in his presentation, also linked developments that have made broadcasting possible at the community level to advancements in digital technology. He went down the memory lane: "In the early days of radio broadcasting, radio studios utilised expensive analog sound production and reproduction equipment which had to be operated by specially trained engineers. In addition, the transmitter, which is the core equipment in radio broadcasting, depended on a specially and precisely cut crystal which controlled the frequency at which the transmitter radiates the electromagnetic energy that propels the sounds to be communicated.
"Such transmitters which incorporated large coils and condensers were expensive and so were beyond the economic reach of the average small community that would have wished to use radio to extend its voice. Today, however, with digital technology, and particularly the development of the simple phase locked loop (PLL) circuit, it is now possible to determine and control the frequency of a transmitter by the simple throw of a set of DIP switches. This and many other advantages of digital technology have made radio broadcasting much cheaper and hence democratised access to one of the most popular means of mass communication. Due to these developments, it is now possible to purchase a complete radio station in a suit case for under about N750,000."
This digital technology, Adegbola argued, has not only widened access to radio broadcasting "by making it feasible to set up a relatively cheap radio production and transmission chain in a local community," it has also engendered high efficiency in the utilisation of the radio spectrum by the use of broadcasting techniques based on digital radio transmission. Besides, it has the overall effect of expanding the existing radio spectrum by accommodating each radio station in much smaller slices of the radio spectrum. But to take full advantage of this level of use of digital technology however, Adegbola said, "there is a need for some major changes in the equipment used by every radio listener. It is the need to mediate this change process in order to make it easy for the average loyal radio listeners to handle that has attracted so much attention to the conversion of analog to digital broadcasting."
He canvassed the need to develop effective strategies for the digitisation process in ways that the rural communities can accommodate the change without any unnecessary strain. While acknowledging the availability of various practical models for the analog/digital transition, one model, that particularly addresses the needs of rural West African communities, according to him, is the West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) model. With its headquarters in Dakar, Senegal, WADR is a network of community, public service and commercial radio stations in West Africa initiated by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). Its objectives include: promoting peace and reconciliation within a more open, tolerant and democratic society in West Africa; creating a channel that enables people to voice their opinions on issues affecting them; as well as facilitating information exchange, especially among the people in rural West Africa, encouraging them to enter into dialogue at a regional level and thereby capacitate them to appropriate the processes of globalization. WADR also provides a platform for an alternative to the 'bad news is good news material' approach of foreign press in reporting on Africa.
"Africast 2008 was eventful" was the verdict of Akin Akingbulu, CEO of Institute for Media and Society as he reviewed the three-day outing. "In addition to participating in the conference and its allied activities, our members present also undertook advocacy meetings within and outside the programme vicinity, Akingbulu submitted, adding that "from the morning of Day 1 (October 21) when the programme was declared open by Senator Ayogu Eze on behalf of Senate President David Mark, events moved smoothly through to the finale in the evening of October 23."
What gladdened the hearts of Akingbulu and his colleagues in the CRC most was the advocacy meeting the coalition held with the Director-General of the NBC, Engineer Yomi Bolarinwa, who, according to Akingbulu, reiterated the commitment of the NBC to the development of community radio in the country. The NBC boss was quoted saying that the regulatory body was awaiting go- ahead from higher quarters, just as he wished the coalition well in the advocacy.
They also met Senator Ayogu Eze, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Information, in the company of his colleagues in the Committee: Senators Saminu Turaki and Kamorudeen Adedibu. "They all expressed positive disposition towards CR development and requested follow- up written briefs with which they would engage the process," recalled Akingbulu.
12 novembre 2008
Broadcaster africani a convegno a Lagos
Il Nigeria Guardian si è occupato della conferenza Africasta 2008, che ha riunito a Lagos i rappresentanti dei broadcaster africani. Parte della conferenza era focalizzata sulle problematiche della digitalizzazione della tv, tema che comincia a fare capolino nelle agende dei regolatori africani, ma il grosso della corrispondenza verte su una sezione dedicata alle radio comunitarie che in Africa, paradossalmente (o forse no), stentano a decollare. Tra gli altri sono intervenuti i rappresentanti dell'AMARC, l'associazione mondiale delle radio comunitarie che festeggia quest'anno il suo 25esimo anniversario (proprio in questi giorni a Montreal). Molto interessante il discorso sui rischi di una digitalizzazione troppo affrettata di un mezzo che continua, malgrado tutto, a funzionare in analogico e la cui modernizzazione rischierebbe solo di innalzarne la soglia di accesso in una geografia come quella afrincana. Molte delle cose che leggo nell'articolo sembrano copiate da qui, non se questo significa che io e l'AMARC siamo solo dei beceri ludditi.