Why the Arab world needs community radio as protesters seek a better world
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Why the Arab world needs community radio as protesters seek a better world

By Daoud Kuttab

Despite the ongoing debates about cause and effect, the protest movements that began in Tunisia and spread throughout the Arab world have had one clear vehicle: freedom of assembly and expression. The crowds of Arab youth who have assembled in cities, towns and villages have forced authoritarian rulers to recognize them, their right to protest the status quo and their right to demand change.

While in some countries winning this right has been accomplished relatively easily and quickly, in other countries it has been difficult, dangerous and deadly.

While the protests and mass expression of demands have taken place largely using traditional means (e.g. word-of-mouth, demonstrations, marches and sit-ins, all broadcast via satellite television channels), like all revolutions, we have seen an explosion of creative ideas that have leveraged creative solutions.

From the use of colourful graffiti in Libya to new and social media in Egypt and Syria, young Arabs have been busy making their voices heard through a variety of new platforms.

Yet one tool that has escaped the majority of Arab protesters has been radio.

Like many other traditional media tools, radio has been declared dead numerous times only to see its revival and novel usage in new settings and contexts.

But while the rest of the world, including many semi-closed regimes, has been tolerant of private and community radio, the Arab world, including some relatively open societies, has persistently rejected any regulation that would grant radio licenses to anyone other than government organizations or the elite business entities that circulate within their orbit.



There are historic reasons for this anti-radio policy. As radio was experiencing its golden age, the post-colonial Arab world witnessed repeated revolutions and coups in which a military general typically took over the national radio station along with the presidential palace. Communiqué number one announcing the new ruler was usually broadcast over the radio waves and all other organs of government quickly fell in line.

Naturally these same military dictators who took power by capturing the radio network would then take all measures to protect it from challenges to their power. In the Arab world, the buildings that housed radio stations, and later television stations, often came to be the most heavily guarded pieces of real estate in the entire country. Media outlets effectively were turned into military installations with multiple passes and body searches required for entrance.

To read the rest of this article, click here. It was originally published in Arab Media & Society.

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