Reaching the Unreached - new challenges for community media

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Posted August 16, 2020 from Fiji

I recently participated in the UNESCO Global dialogue for Asia and the Pacific on the topic “Reaching the Unreached” …here are my thoughts:

The democratization of the media and in particular the broadcast airwaves requires regulatory processes, infrastructure and content production systems that contribute to transforming systems of inequality to communities where we can sustain peace, prevent conflict and realise resilience.

In the Pacific region, “reaching the unreached” requires communication systems spanning across “our Blue Pacific” and civil society networks such as the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and the Shifting the Power Coalition are demonstrating innovative approaches to reach the most marginalized and vulnerable across 22 Pacific Island countries and territories

In the Papua New Guinea, a country with over 800 local languages, Helena Seneka a focal point of the Shifting the Power Coalition partner organisation the YWCA, says to reach the unreachable in our communities we need to have more Pacific Women led/based talk back shows, panel discussions and Information awareness sessions on community media and community accessible media especially radio should do more of this talk back shows, panel discussions  and also getting the local women in the community to participate.

Natasha lives on Nissan Island, 85 kilometres from the main centre of Buka in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (AROB. To get to Buka is a two hour flight from Port Moresby. From her island, people risk their lives to travel to Buka by dingy; There is no communication infrastructure on the island so since the COVOD19 pandemic, incorrect information makes its way back to the island – if at all. People are feeling more isolated since the COVID19 pandemic.

As of August 5, there have been 114 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 2 deaths, 40 released from isolation, and 62 active cases. Of those cases, 16 are health workers.

As of August 3rd, Fiji has recorded twenty-seven cases of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), eighteen of whom have made a full recovery. Fiji now has eight active border quarantined case of COVID-19 and there has been 1 death. All cases before July 6th were international travel associated, or epi linked to international travel associated cases. Cases from July 6th to date were international travellers who were in mandatory quarantine in government designated international border quarantine facilities in Nadi.

GPPAC Pacific and Shifting the Power Coalition together are addressing the peace-development and humanitarian reality – the triple-nexus approach – addressing the nexus approach to address the intersectionality of the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding as this is the reality of women’s lives and also because we know climate change is the cause of the intensification of cyclones in our region. Climate change, as well as COVID19 is also contributing to deepening the gender divides and we are seeing this in our latest report.

This requires information and communication systems to respond to the most critical human security priorities facing the Pacific beyond “projectised” activities or relying on press releases and online or televised updates which actually further marginalize the unreached.

Since March this year COVID19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold challenged the joint capacity of the Pacific region, including in situations where network members are sustaining peace, communities have mobilized to support prevention, awareness raising, preparedness and protection:

In Vanuatu, communities in the midst of the COVID19 lockdown braced for the impact of category 5 tropical cyclone Harold. It was women, through the Woman Wetem Weta network who worked with the ministry of health to send inclusive health and safety text messages across five islands in local languages and accessible to those with disabilities, reaching over 77,000 people and then ensured communities were ready for the onslaught of the cyclone – demonstrating that media and digital platforms must be used to convey trustworthy information and stories of courage and hope. At a time when lockdown measures affect the operations of community radio stations, accessible and appropriate innovation is vital. Woman Wetem Weta adapted from the Fiji Women’s Weather Watch which started when I was at FemLINKpacific back in 2004, as a simple SMS group in 2004, is an important example of how feminist practice enables sharing of information-communication skills, tools and platforms across the Pacific Island region;

The Pacific Conference of Churches created “content” i.e. sermon guides to explain COVID19 and to communicate health prevention and gender based violence prevention and protection messages for its member churches and local communities;

In Tonga, the Talitha Project’s partnership with a radio station in the capital is creating a broadcast space for young people to be engaged and communicate their priority issues at a time when school has been disrupted and where young girls can also address the drivers of conflict and violence that they experience;

In Fiji, COVID19 emergency response grants through the Shifting the Power Coalition is enabling FemLINKpacific to enable more young women to contribute content and information to the FemTALK 89FM community radio network while Transcend Oceania on the 2nd island of Fiji resourced rural women leaders to be able to receive and provide information on the pandemic and lockdown, as well as raise awareness on the socio-economic impacts being faced in rural coastal and farming communities “off the main information and communication grid”; Building on community outreach and assessments, Transcend Oceania, has commenced a television series of community dialogues enabling local community leaders to address the impact of COVID19 as well as communicate locally informed response and recovery measures that can also contribute to building peaceful communities;

In Bougainville, Agnes Titus is linking gender equality and peacebuilding messages as a guest on regional radio programmes designed to contribute to peaceful elections; Agnes is one of 9 Shifting the Power Coalition focal points, including women with disabilities, resourced and supported by the Shifting the Power Coalition to provide regular updates and information from across 6 Pacific countries.

These initiatives highlight that community media is a movement that is not vulnerable but actually can be the most adaptive to the challenges faced by our local communities; but community media or community radio is more than just about the broadcast infrastructure – it needs content and content must come from the communities:

The collective human security assessments by GPPAC Pacific and the Shifting the Power Coalition have revealed that women cannot afford to feed their children, purchase sanitary pads or even masks; in addition, people with disabilities receive little support. Economic insecurity is rising due to job losses which in turn is fuelling domestic violence, crime as well as community violence;  It is evident rural and community health infrastructure must be strengthened to support ongoing prevention as well as safe and inclusive maternal, sexual and reproductive health services: Information must be available through public and community platforms, in local languages, accessible for people with disabilities and focusing on remote outreach to reduce insecurity within communities.

This is an as community media activists including broadcasters, to consider appropriate and accessible platforms – think beyond the new digital and technologically savvy broadcast platforms and return to the days of convening “community radio clubs” – producing and distributing community radio CDs and dramas and public service information on DVDS

Community media – including community radio – plays a vital role in contributing to community understanding of the grave reality of the pandemic and provide an important additional channel to ensure inclusive response and recovery measures to protect the most vulnerable and address the drivers of violence and also to convey that women’s rights are non-negotiable in COVID19 response programming.  

What this means for development partners and agencies such as UNESCO is to amplify our recommendations, support the space for diverse, free and independent media, and mobilise the resources for content production and distribution systems, so that regional and national humanitarian response strategies – such as the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway -  use information and communication in a way that is not just “reporting the actions of decision makers” but more importantly, provides a pathway that amplifies the language of human security and dedicates resources to diversify the availability of health information that enhances the understanding of protection measures as well as recognizing the potential for innovation that community media can enable.

It’s time for information and communication systems shift the power to those who have the biggest stakes in sustaining peace in our communities: women, young people, faith leaders and local communities.


You can watch the discussion here:

Comments 2

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Hello, Sharon,

How are you? I learn a lot from your articles every time you post. I'm impressed how women are active agents in disseminating information to unreached areas. It looks like your country is able to control the COVID cases compared to other nations, like the Philippines, for example. We reached 150,000 and counting.

Kudos to Woman Wetem Weta adapted for being an " important example of how feminist practice enables sharing of information-communication skills, tools and platforms across the Pacific Island region." We need more stories like this!

Aug 28
Aug 28

Thank you for sharing.