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News from the Field

The Malian Experience in the Field of Rural Radio

URTEL, Mali -- The first independent radio of the Public Service was set up under the dictatorship on August 1st, 1988. It was called the rural radio of Kayes, and it was created in order to remain in contact with the region. Working together with the Italians, this first rural radio was created with a Presidential authorization. But the liberalization of the audio-visual environment only really came into full swing on January 18th, 1992, under a special regulation. The first radios after the Revolution of March, 1991 became operational in the months of October and November. This liberalization has meant that in ten years, thanks to this deregulation, it was possible to set up more than 100 local radio stations. Two new stations have been created every month in Mali.

This establishment of the local radios on a massive scale, and the use of the local languages, in a rural culture that is typical of Mali, means that the radio stations immediately played an important role in society, and especially in this society, where the illiterate rural population numbers about 75% of the total. Rural radios in Mali can truly be called rural when the population accepts them, and invests its own local funds in establishing the radio, and all the facilities that are needed to run it. The technical partner normally provides the equipment, and the State furnishes the necessary training. All of these components make it a rural radio, because there is an assembly representing all of the village, a management committee is elected by the community, as well as a programming committee, and a director is also chosen. All of these components make it a local radio in a rural environment.

The chairman also talked about decentralization. The challenge of democracy is, opening up new perspectives, and we see an evolution towards a great expansion in the number of local radios, from the original 18 to over 100 now.

Rural radios are playing an increasingly important role in capturing the relatively small amount of commercial advertising business available in Mali, and this creates certain problems for the survival of commercial radio stations in the rural environment.

There are 104 radio stations affiliated with URTEL, and 48 of these radio stations can be considered to be rural radio stations as such. Four of these stations were financed by the ACCT, four were funded by FAO, and all of the others are funded directly and fully by the communities themselves. Occasionally, they are supported by certain NGOs, but they are generally funded by a local development tax. Funds are taken from this tax revenue, and invested in the radio station.

The education campaigns, the health care information campaigns, the agricultural campaigns that are launched by NGOs, development projects and other institutions are all transmitted, and pass through these local radio stations.

The broadcasters at these stations normally play an important role in their operation. They are frequently students who were unable to continue their academic careers, and their educational level is often not very high. These radiobroadcasters, however, usually master the local languages very well, as well as academicians would with the official language.

In this scenario, what is typical of the rural radio stations is that those that promote local democracy have benefited from the dynamic features of this decentralization. Most of the requests for creating new radio stations come from the rural areas, because the radio station really is a tool in bringing the vast entities of the Mali territory out of isolation.

There is still a great deal of room, however, for the development of rural radio stations in Mali, despite of the growth we have seen these past years. There have obviously been certain limitations in this area as well.

One of these is the evident lack of professional expertise of our radiobroadcasters, since none of them has had any formal education in journalism schools, or the like. Mali's first university only dates from 1990, which means that the rural radio animators have not had a great deal of academic schooling, but they nevertheless have excellent communication skills, and they become local "stars", because they are really able to embody and reflect local concerns.

The fact that most of the technical equipment is outdated, constitutes an additional problem for many of the radio stations, since they do not have the funds needed to replace this equipment, and this a real threat to the future existence of many of these rural radio stations.

Another issue is that of profitability, which often makes it impossible for these stations to be economically secure. In addition, the concentration of the local advertiser market, the lack of professionalism of the radiobroadcasters, the mediocrity of many of the radio programmes that are broadcast, are all reasons for the economic difficulties that the radio stations in Mali have been coping with.

The urgent need for professional training was well understood by the Union of Free Radio and Television Networks (URTEL), which I am representing at this Workshop. More than a hundred seminars and workshops have been organized, in order to achieve the objective which URTEL has set for itself, namely to provide professional training for the persons working in rural radio.

Unfortunately, there is a great disparity in the professional levels of these people, and this makes it very difficult to create homogeneous groups for training purposes.

When URTEL finishes training its people, they realize that many of them often move on to other jobs. 78% of the animators who were trained, with a view to protecting and supporting these radio stations, have gone off to work for NGOs, and 88.7% of this 78% were women, which means that most of the women animators who have received the training have left the original group. Most of the training was concentrated upon strategic or thematic objectives, that were suggested by the technical and financial partners. There is no specific solution with regard to the professional training of persons who speak the national languages. The local languages, as you probably are aware, are extremely important, particularly in Mali, where they account for the bulk of the radio programming. This is an issue which we raised at the Pan African Conference in Dakar, namely, the whole problem of the training of our local personnel. There are some clouds, as you can see, over the prospective survival of rural radio in Mali. Many of the local radio stations are now linked up to the Internet, and this has been achieved with the help of a number of our partners. Some of the local radio stations in Timbuktu and other places are now connected to the Internet. We can of course give them content and resources, but who will be providing the maintenance needed for these stations? I believe this is a problem that our Workshop should be dealing with.

It is certainly true that the rural population recognizes the importance of these radio stations, and they have a strong feeling of ownership about them. URTEL has worked with about twenty technical and financial partners in a committee supporting the development of local radio, and FAO is a member of this committee. Local radio stations have certainly been able to meet one major challenge, which is the challenge of language, and they have also helped in reducing the cultural and religious barriers which exist here.

The rights of women and children are now being openly discussed, and all forms of discrimination against women are being dealt with. Local radios have played a very important role in this. Programmes have been prepared in all the local languages, and this has sparked a debate on this important subject, thanks in great part to the local radios. Formerly-taboo subjects like female genital mutilation can now be openly discussed, as well as schooling for young girls, and malaria and its causes. The rural population has now come to understand that mosquitos spread this disease, and this is thanks to the radio. Information about the AIDS epidemic has also been widely disseminated by the local radio stations, and many people in Mali have heard the word AIDS for the first time.

On many of the local stations, the programmes are broadcast in the local languages, and not in Mali's official language, which is French, or even in the most widely-spoken language, which is Bamana, but rather in the local language of that specific small area.

This is how the radio stations reach out to the local people.

In point of fact, we like to say in Mali that the official national radio and television are "the Voice of Mali", but that the rural radio stations are "the Voice of the Mali People".

 

Rural radio broadcasters in southern Mali

Rural radio broadcasters in southern Mali

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