By Gunjan Sharma
New Delhi, Apr 26 (PTI) Our reach may be local but not the effort in aiding the fight against COVID-19, say several community radio station managers who are operating with limited resources and broadcasting shows with a local touch like "Break the fake news chain" and "Panchtantra ka Corona mantra".
Local initiatives matter the most to check the deadly virus spread, according to station managers of few Community Radios (CR), either located in university campuses or in far-flung districts and remote corners of country.
According to Vinod Pavarala, UNESCO chair on community media, the role of CR stations is important as the vulnerable sections of the population need credible information in their local language on how they can protect themselves against coronavirus.
"At a time when there is a mass spread of wrong information, it is even more challenging to break the chain not only of the virus but of the fake news as well. We have a show called 'Break the fake news chain' and we receive calls from housewives to rickshaw pullers about whether so and so Whatsapp message's claim is correct or not," said Surinder Singh Banolta, manager at a university community radio in Shimla.
Pinki Chandran, Station Director of Bangalore's Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz, told PTI, "We have been working on a series of programmes since March including official updates from different government departments, programmes on health- with special focus on mental health, dealing alcohol withdrawal, spotlight on the various different initiatives by individuals and NGOs, appeals on understanding facts and importance of fighting misinformation besides community testimonies"
"This is happening because community reporters, producers and volunteers are on the frontline, acting as responders in bringing out information. It is a mix of problem-focused reporting and solutions showing possibilities. The everyday reporting is allowing communities to highlight their neighbourhoods and issues," she said.
Amity University's Community Radio station is running a programme called "Panchtantra ka corona matra" where different stories from Panchtantra tales are being used to convey messages related to coronavirus.
"The stories from the Panchtantra have been converted into messages for how to fight against coronavirus.We have produced different programmes for farmers, on social distancing, avoiding rumour mongering and measures that need to be taken at home beyond handwashing and sanitising, " she told PTI.
Jadavpur University's 'JU Radio' has shifted its programming to digital mode where different volunteers are being connected through phone while the station is being operated with minimum staff.
"We encouraged listeners to do a 5-minute audio recording which is uploaded on our YouTube, Facebook page so that it can be seen by authorities concerned for taking follow up measures. We also provide inputs about drug stores and delivery of essential services which help a lot of people in a particular locality," a varsity official said.
"Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8" operational in Haryana's Nuh district, caters to 225 villages and is focusing on broadcasting information received from the district collector, chief medical officer, and other govt. authorities, including entitlements of extended schemes.
"We do different programmes on information received from the district collector, chief medical officer and other government authorities, including entitlements of extended schemes. We also did a series called '21 din 21 baatein' with a message by an expert along with a thematic poem on frequent handwashing, access to healthcare services, physical distancing, importance of yoga, and time for self-learning on a daily basis to spread positivity in people," said Fakat Hussain, a Radio Jockey at the CR.
"Discussions on contemporary issues, including the coronavirus outbreak, and local folk songs on social isolation are presented to listeners. Some are live and interactive sessions, with listeners asking questions. Officials cannot possibly go to every village, but through this medium they can communicate to the maximum number of people," he added.
Pradeepta Dutta, chairman of Radio Kisan which operates from Orissa's Balipatna said, "Our programmes are completely about the lockdown situation. Details like timings and location of weekly markets, adhering to rules on safe distance, and the status of local ATMs are some critical messages that community radio can disseminate effectively. When misinformation is flooded on social media, people get confused, so we also have to act as a fact checker".
There are over 270 Community Radio stations operational in the country.
"While community radios are playing an important role in educating people in remote areas of the country, they are struggling with funds as the outbreak of COVID-19 has further strained their limited resources," N A Shah Ansari, President of Community Radio Association told PTI.
"In a letter to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting we have appealed for advertisements and a one-time grant to procure additional equipment to be able to run their services for communities," he added.
The country is under a lockdown since March 25 to contain the spread of coronavirus. The lockdown has now been extended till May 3.
The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 824 and the number of cases climbed to 26,496 in India on Sunday, according to the Union health ministry. PTI GJS GJS DV