THERE is no shortage of hints that radio has continued to play a pivotal role in providing information essential to combating poverty, diseases and ignorance, especially among the rural population.
People in rural areas have information needs that are not satisfied by existing information provision mechanisms such as newspapers, which are yet to penetrate far-flung areas.
Radio has for long been a close ‘companion’ of many Zambians who have depended on it for current affairs and other information helpful in both self and national development.
For generations that existed in the old social and economic order, before Information and Communication Technologies reached the superior level being witnessed today, radio meant everything to them.
Zambians in the 1980s and the years before even ‘watched’ soccer through live commentaries on radio. Television had not expanded as much as it has in today’s information society, while the print media was under-developed.
Even though for many years radio was a monopoly of the national broadcaster, and had many challenges particularly in its limited reach, many people still depended on it for their information needs.
As the Government takes determined strides to liberalise the airwaves, there is growing evidence that radio is proving to be a fundamental medium for providing and accessing useful information for the majority of the people in both urban and rural areas.
There is no doubt, therefore, that as Zambia joined other countries around the globe in commemorating the World Radio Day, which fell yesterday, Government felt comfortable that much is being done to empower local communities through the promotion of information dissemination.
The theme for this year’s commemoration of the World Radio Day, ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Radio’, is apt as that is part of the primary focus of the Zambian Government in its development agenda.
The theme essentially points to the fact that alongside the many steps being taken to exploit the massive potential of the womenfolk, radio should be used to increasingly reward their efforts through information sharing.
With the coming on board of community radio stations, there is now wider listenership, particularly in rural areas where women’s clubs are benefitting from agricultural and other valuable programmes helping to improve their standards of living.
To demonstrate its seriousness in bridging the information gap between rural and urban communities, the Government worked hard to ensure the Independent Broadcasting Authority became operational to oversee the licensing regime of radio and television stations.
This is assurance that people with intentions to set up radio or indeed television stations will enjoy a level playing field.
The creation of the Press and Media Development department in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting further attests to the desire by the Government to improve the flow of information between rural and urban areas.
We concur with Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Mwansa Kapeya that all Members of Parliament should reserve funds under the Constituency Development Fund to support the establishment and operations of community radio stations in their constituencies.
Government has set aside K8.3 million to install FM transmitters to enhance radio reception countrywide in a sure way to empower local communities.
Zambia must surely be proud that it now has more than 70 radio stations and 10
television stations in various categories providing opportunities to communities to access a diversity of information on various issues.
We urge the Government to move a step further by encouraging availability of cheaper radio sets so that more citizens could tap into this rich information sharing resource.
It is encouraging that Government is considering giving community radio stations grants to help them sustain their operations.
We, however, caution would-be investors in community radio stations against using them to stir confusion among impressionable community members, especially in areas where there are no feedback facilities.
The Information Minister is right to advise that radio stations countrywide must aspire for the highest level of ethical and professional standard in carrying out their work of informing, educating and entertaining the public.
Let radio be used for national development and not for self-fulfilling destruction.