Daily Times, February 23, 2009
After a three-day conference of its station directors, Radio Pakistan has decided to initiate some reforms that clearly promise to revolutionise its role in society. It has decided to launch a special project of “radio schools” for children with little or no access to schools “in restive NWFP”. It also plans to “establish an Educational Channel to help promote literacy and create greater awareness in society about security, social and economic challenges”.
The conference also approved the new “community broadcasting” initiative, requiring the stations to plan new programmes focusing on the needs of local communities. Above all, it decided to increase local language programming to 70 percent, lowering the Urdu content to 30 percent. Information Minister Ms Sherry Rehman is to be congratulated for allowing this very bold departure from the traditional notion of “nation-building” that has ruled the functioning of Radio Pakistan but could not be abandoned despite clear signs of failure.
Radio Pakistan is receiving a new impetus from its Director General Mr Murtaza Solangi, a VOA veteran who has firm views about the failed techniques of “social engineering” applied in the past to radio in Pakistan. Obsessed with “unity”, the state imposed Urdu on the population through the radio. Urban dominance led to the eclipse of this most effective medium till the Taliban usurped it through the FM system. Now Radio Pakistan has to fight the FM battle against terrorism. And it will have to move from all-Pakistan and all-province coverage to a focus on the community. If warlord Fazlullah can do it, Radio Pakistan can do it too.
The lesson will have to be learnt from the terrorists. A backup will have to be added to the community FM broadcasts, especially in the field of primary education and the children’s requirement of reading material. The innovation may not appeal to the radio bureaucracy but will be supported by donors outside Pakistan. If Radio Pakistan can’t change it might as well shut shop and go home. *