This article was first published on page 20 of today’s edition of The Cyprus Weekly (17 February).
On Monday 13th February, the world celebrated the first World Radio Day, proclaimed so by the General Conference of UNESCO in November of last year. Irina Bokova, the organisation’s Director General, in a statement issued to mark the occasion, suggested that radio’s role be strengthened to promote ‘human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of expression.’ The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) has emphasised the positive contribution of radio stations to their communities, the enhancement of pluralism of media landscapes worldwide, as well as the exercise of communication rights by citizens.
This is not to say that radio is free of any bad press. In 2003, a United Nations tribunal convicted three former radio executives for inciting ethnic hatred prior to and during the horrific atrocities which resulted in close to a million deaths in Rwanda in 1994. The immediacy of the medium can be both a positive and negative influence on its listeners. But the question is whether radio is still relevant today. On the one hand, the ingredients that made it so successful remain unaltered – the technology associated with audio production is still the most accessible, low-cost and simple to use. On the other, radio has also endured the technological transformations of the media, particularly since the turn of the century, and is now available over a variety of different platforms, with web-based radio more popular than ever.
Cyprus has a history of demanding its right to access to radio. When the municipalities of Nicosia and Limassol ‘seized’ the airwaves back in the summer of 1989, this unprecedented move ushered in legislation which challenged the dominance of the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation. Some basic maths and a glance at the website of the Press and Information Office (PIO) will tell you that 52 stations currently operate under license from the Cyprus Radio and Television Authority (CyRTA).
However what makes radio so unique is its ability to reach into communities and groups far too often marginalised by the mainstream media. A second glance at the names of the directors of radio stations on the PIO website are a good enough indicator as to the ownership of radio in Cyprus. The Cyprus of today is very different to the Cyprus of 1989. The Cyprus of today is a multicultural society, with EU citizens and third-country nationals living side-by-side with Cypriots. With the debate on migration raging at the political level, what better way to promote healthy dialogue with all communities than through radio? People need to feel that their voices are being heard and considered by those who decide on their future.
This is why for us at the Cyprus Community Media Centre occasions like World Radio Day are important. Because they remind us that while radio is very much alive and kicking, there is still so much more to be done to increase participation. With eyes firmly fixed on creating an enabling environment for community-based radio in Cyprus, we welcome suggestions on how we can best work for a plurality of voices, languages and programming that truly reflect the diversity of Cyprus in 2012.