Radio at Cross Road: The Struggle Between Fulfilling their Public Mandate and Survival

February 13 became World Radio Day in 2011 after a proclamation by the Member States of UNESCO. The day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012.

Radio at Cross Road: The Struggle Between Fulfilling their Public Mandate and Survival

Guya Scopas Bethuel, Syracuse NY – The World Radio Day has come and gone. Several messages have been passed. But what does it mean for the world’s youngest country South Sudan?

February 13 became World Radio Day in 2011 after a proclamation by the Member States of UNESCO. The day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012.

Radio stations across the world were called to celebrate the event based on three sub-themes with regards to the evolution, innovation, and connection of radio. Under evolution, the theme is the world changes, radio evolves which refers to the resilience of the radio to its sustainability.

The Second is the world changes, radio adapts and innovates referring to the ability of radio to adapt to new technologies to remain the go-to medium of mobility, accessible everywhere and to everyone. The last is world changes, radio connects. This sub-theme highlights radio’s services to society.

This year’s World Radio Day sub-themes couldn’t have been more suitable to the South Sudan context.

Today, various reports estimate over 100 radio stations operate across the country. It isn’t only in the country that radio is the most consumed medium, but all over the world.

Most of these stations are considered community radios, public and commercial radios respectively. They may not fully meet what it takes to be called community, public or commercial stations. While public and community radio have many similarities, there are some differences.

They are both non – commercial and they are operated for the benefit of a local community, not individual owners. The differences between them have to do with types of programming, sources of funding, and affiliations and administration.

In the case of the United State, many public radio stations are affiliated with National Public Radio. Community radio stations, on the other hand, can be owned by colleges and universities, groups of individuals, city agencies, and non-profits. They may also receive some local government funding, as well as support from individuals, foundations, and other organizations. Community radio generally has local programming provided by volunteers and local community members. They are expressions of the particular communities they serve and can have eclectic programming ranging from educational, to talk, music, advocacy, news, and cultural programs.

In South Sudan, public or community radios are established by NGOs and continue to be supported by the NGOs. Should this support one day stop, these radios may not sustain themselves. Many may change into commercial radios although the advertisement sector is a venture that hasn’t taken off yet from the business community in the country.

Although traditional radio faces a huge threat from the advancement of technology today, it is still attracting a large listenership.

Today, there is rampant emergence of podcasts, internet radios including many music sites. But still, radio continues to evolve, innovate and connect. Decades ago, when you want to listen to your favorite song, you’d listen to your preferred radio stations and request your song but today their many platforms out there from you can listen to the song you love.

The challenges facing radio in South Sudan are enormous. They are; high cost of operations, inadequate incentives, and motivation for journalists, no infrastructure such as electricity across the country, and inadequate capacity. Professionalism in most of these stations is questionable except for United Nations Mission in South Sudan supported radio Miraya and USAID funded Eye radio.

Perhaps the worst challenge is government interference. Despite the existence of media laws in the country, security organs intimidate, arrest, and torture journalists with impunity.

This result is self-censorship with many of the well-trained journalists choosing to work for NGOs and civil society groups couple to the better pay from these institutions.

Consequently, radio is lacking in many aspects, but it is still operating with the limited space and resources. This demonstrates its resilience to fulfill its public mandate.

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