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Building Ethnic Harmony With Community Radio Juni 18, 2007

Posted by jrki in Artikel & Opini, Berita.
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MEDIA-SRI LANKA:
Building Ethnic Harmony With Community Radio

By Kalinga Seneviratne

KOTHMALE, Jun 4 (IPS) – In this tea-growing hill
country, about 150 km from Colombo, a state-run
community radio station is creating harmony among the
country’s Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim ethnic groups by
broadcasting from the villages and opening up the
airwaves to people’s participation.
”People all over Sri Lanka are talking about peace,
but this community radio has been doing it from the
beginning,” P. Pavitheran, an announcer at the
Kothmale Community Radio (KCR) told IPS.
“We don’t have any community divisions here,” added
the Tamil broadcaster who also speaks fluent Sinhalese
and switches smoothly between the two languages on
air. “All my (assisting) staff are Sinhalese, but
we’re all working together as a team.”

KCR on FM band was set up by the government-owned Sri
Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) in 1989 with 3
hours of transmission three days a week. Today, it
broadcasts 12.5 hours a day on weekdays and 8 hours on
weekends in both Sinhalese and Tamil. It covers a
modest 20-km radius that includes 60 villages and 3
rural towns and reaches a population of 200,000.

In a country torn by a bitter civil war for the past
25 years between the Tamil separatists led by the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the mainly
Sinhalese government in Colombo, KCR is a beacon of
hope for all those who would like to see peace return
to this once serene island.

The Sinhalese form the largest ethnic group in the
nation, composing approximately 81.9 percent of the
total population of 20.7 million people. Tamils,
brought in by British colonists to work on estate
plantations, are officially called ‘Indian Origin’
Tamils and are distinct from the native Tamil
population that is concentrated in the north and east
of the island.

>From KCR’s studios, situated on a hilltop overlooking
scenic tea estates, the ethnic conflict seems distant.
The station currently employs 8 permanent staff, 4 of
whom are from the villages, as well as some 15
volunteers from the local community. The Sinhalese and
the Tamil staff communicate with each other in
Sinhalese and address each other as brother or sister.

“We have not restricted this station to one segment of
the community only. We have included all the ethnic
communities — Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim — in our
programming,” noted Sunil Wijesinghe, the controller
of KCR.

“We encourage the community to come to the station and
suggest programme ideas to us. We listen to them and
even ask them to come in and do programmes for us, as
long as it does not harm any other people,” he said
explaining the broadcasting strategy.
Speaking with IPS, he disputed the fact that a
government-owned radio station is incapable of doing
community broadcasting. “Yes, it is true I receive a
monthly salary from the government, but I’m also a
person from the village,” he said. “I know the
aspirations of the villagers, I know their needs and I
have won their trust as someone who recognises these.”

“This radio is very useful for the community. Lot of
people, especially youth, listen to this radio because
they like the local cultural content,” says Sandanam
Sathiyanathan, field coordinator of a local
non-governmental development organisation.
“The commercial channels don’t broadcast these songs
and cultural contents from the local community” he
added. “They broadcast Indian film songs and dramas,
but Kothmale community radio gives an opportunity for
the (Tamil) plantation areas to voice their opinions
and culture.”

“I have been a fan of this radio, so I have joined as
a volunteer” said Taj Mohamad Kamil, a Muslim girl
from the local community, who has just qualified to
enter a university in the nearby city of Kandy.
“Kothmale FM service identifies the needs of the
community and satisfies it. All the people working
here behave like brothers and sisters. They are very
close to each other.”

Dilshika Heshani Silva, a 20-year-old undergraduate
student in mass communications at Kelaniya University
in Colombo, says that while she studies the external
degree, KCR has been most helpful in giving her the
opportunity to gain experience as a volunteer producer
and announcer.

“Because the radio (station) goes from village to
village and gives information about the community,
listeners here learn a lot about their own
neighbourhood,” she told IPS. “Working in this radio
is an educational experience, whereas on commercial
radio they always broadcast songs.”

The outdoor station is mounted on a diesel-driven
trishaw — commonly used across South Asia as cheap
taxis — and is equipped with loudspeakers, mixers,
digital sound recording system, a laptop computer, a
printer and a small generator. A mobile phone is used
to link up with the studio to broadcast live
programmes from the villages.

When the mobile “broadcast studio” — funded by a Sri
Lankan charity foundation called MDF– arrives in the
tea estates there is much excitement. People gather
around it and oblige with songs sung live on air.
Switching between Tamil and Sinhalese the programmers
skillfully weave live inputs into the broadcast.

“We enjoy our work here because we are always with the
community,” said Pavitheran, who often joins in with
the singing and dancing. “People enjoy it and we enjoy
it. This is the most important thing.”

Tamil tea estate workers are among the most
marginalised people in the country. But, in the past
three decades, expansion of the free state education
system to the estate communities has raised
educational standards and almost all young boys and
girls are literate and speak both Tamil and Sinhalese.

“Kothmale FM attracts the hearts of the plantation
workers,” said K. Arumugam, a trade union
representative. “People are very close (to KCR) and
this radio service should expand to all tea plantation
communities in the hill country,” he added. (FIN/2007)

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