Keeping community radio alive for the future of South Sudan’s communities
Community radio in South Sudan is more than just radio: it has helped bring citizens together, inform, educate and entertain large numbers of people, and play a mediating role between communities in conflict. However, the governing legal framework for community media is still deficient, and most community radios in South Sudan struggle to sustain themselves due to insufficient funding and little or no qualified staff – at a time when they are most needed.
In South Sudan, community radios have proven to be an effective tool to provide access to information for marginalized groups and hard-to-reach communities. Radio offers South Sudanese women and youth the opportunity to participate in community affairs and issues, and to hold local leaders accountable.
However, the current political disputes are widening political and ethnic divisions and compromising the security situation in the country, once again putting peace at risk. The lack of security in some areas has already forced some local radio stations such as Liberty FM and Morobo FM to close down, jeopardizing the survival of community media, which are essential to the peace process in South Sudan. In an effort to support the development and sustainability of community media, UNESCO, in partnership with the Community Media Network of South Sudan (COMNETSS), launched a series of initiatives in 2020 that led to the development of policy recommendations for an improved governing framework for community media, strengthened managerial and fundraising capacities of community radio managers, improved technical understanding of the sector’s policy needs as well as increased advocacy capacities among members of the national community media network.
COMNETSS is a national non-governmental and non-profit organization founded in 2016 by a group of professional radio journalists from twelve local radio stations. It currently has a membership of thirty community radio stations. The aim of the network is to promote and advocate peace building, reconciliation and non-violent society through community media. In 2020, the organization has trained more than 150 journalists from community media stations across South Sudan in peace journalism, citizen journalism, safety and mobile reporting. The network has also supported the establishment and training of over sixteen listeners clubs with the support from UNESCO and other partners, and organised radio listeners’ clubs on peace building and peace forums with stakeholders representing the diversity of the communities, and with a focus on women and youth.
To further the role of community media in peacebuilding, UNESCO organised the World Radio Day 2020 under the theme “Radio and Diversity for Peaceful Coexistence in South Sudan”. This special day provided a platform to assess progress in the development of community media in conflict-sensitive areas and explore new avenues to support the sustainability of the sector.
On this occasion, Nicodemus Ajaik, the Access to Information Commissioner of South Sudan, encouraged “radio stations to be aware of the opportunities and successes that come with harnessing diversity. There is a very strong business case for diversity in the radio industry, creating more dynamic, diverse programming and developing a diverse workforce that can attract larger audiences, enhance already strong relationships in local communities and generate additional or new advertising revenue.”
Developing a sustainable business models and viability through public funding and governmental support enshrined in legal frameworks will take more time. Time that many community media stations don’t have. UNESCO’s direct support to community radio stations has helped revive some stations and enabled them to continue airing much needed programmes to keep the communities informed about local and national issues. Josephine Achiro, Chairperson of the Community Media Network of South Sudan, noted that UNESCO’s continued support has preserved some community radio stations from complete closure. Ms. Achiro added that continued support for the sector will benefit many citizens, especially those at the grassroots and marginalized groups.
Denis Morris Mimbugbe, Station Manager at Sama FM, asserts that because of the skills obtained in the workshops for station managers the sustainability of community media, “we have managed to raise additional funds to run our community radio station. This will keep our radio station on air for a while and support our staff as well”.
Community radios have shown that they play a key role in promoting development, unity and peacebuilding in rural communities in South Sudan and across the country. To enhance their impact, media development partners need to the take necessary steps to create a level playing field for community radio broadcasters to thrive.