At a time when people are keen on understanding the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 17 community radio networks are proving to be a refreshing tool for the customised dissemination of information to rural audiences in Odisha.
“Our experience shows that for more than 60% of the rural population, DTH (direct to home) and Internet-based media are still out of reach. Moreover, neither television nor any other sources of information would provide them with news related to the small geographical area they live within,” said N. A. Shah Ansari, founder of Radio Namaskar and president of Odisha’s Community Radio Association.
The past one week has been very hectic for community radio operators. Apart from passing on the government’s instructions on COVID-19, they kept prodding their target audiences, especially migrant labourers who had returned from outside the State, to inform their respective gram panchayats of their arrival.
“We deliberately did not utter the word quarantine as it causes panic. We just urged migrant labourers to go to panchayat offices and inform them of their arrival. Our approach clicked. According to the feedback we have received, most of them went and disclosed their travel history,” said Mr. Ansari.
Villagers turn up the volume on radios for groups of listeners with emphasis on social distancing.
“In the lockdown situation, the timings and location of weekly markets, adhering to rules on safe distance, and the status of local ATMs are critical messages that community radio can disseminate effectively. When misinformation is flooded on social media, people get confused, but we broadcast verified information,” said Pradeepta Dutta, chairman of Radio Kisan which operates from Balipatna in Khordha district.
The most common question asked by listeners was if the coronavirus could be transmitted by domestic animals or stray dogs.
Sibani Suar of Phulbani’s Radio Muskan added: “We work in close coordination with the district administration. Awareness messages and warnings on health hazards are sourced from very authentic sources.”
Community radio stations are operating in remote pockets of Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Bhadrak, Nayagarh, Kandhamal, Khordha, Nuapada, Balasore and Koraput districts of Odisha.
In rural areas, with gatherings barred, the broadcasters are keeping people engaged with interactions in these trying circumstances.