Sajan Venniyoor – A postcolonial view on Community Radio


Sajan Venniyoor is fighting for Community Radio in India since its very first minute

Sajan Venniyoor gives an overview about radio history and its consequences in India

Sajan Venniyoor has been into Indian community radio since its very first minute. As a broadcaster and producer for All India Radio, the state run TV channel Doordarshan and a founder-member of the Indian Community Radio Forum, Venniyoor reflects on the importance of community radio with over 15 years of experience in the field.

Almost eight years after the official establishment of Community Radio in India, how would you describe today’s situation?

The situation for community radio today is still a pretty bad one. I am doubtful whether more than a few of the 148 community radio stations registered are really community run. They might be campus stations, farm radios and mostly city stations. Delhi for example has more so called “community radio stations” than the states of the North East, Jammu & Kashmir, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh put together. Officially, there are a lot of community radio stations, but if you give them a closer look, there might be 8 to 10 that are really run by the local people, all over India.

Why is it so hard, to establish Community Radio, though it is the oldest Indian medium?

The older the technology, the more restrictive the law. Cable television for example came before there was a law for it: The government had no idea what to do, when CNN came to India during the Iraq war in 1991. When they established a Cable TV law five years later, cable had already spread – we Indians are very quick with that.

Today, we have about 60,000 local cable operators and it is practically impossible to control them. The same thing happened with the internet, it spread much quicker than laws could be established. In contrast, radio was controlled right from the beginning and it still is.

There is no such provision in the Constitution, that the government can monopolize a medium. So in 1995, they were forced to hand over the right to broadcast to others. It took almost six years to finally give broadcast licenses to private and commercial radio, but still not to the “common people”. In 2002, the government came out with a campus radio policy, which was still not real community radio. Since 2006, radio is given to civil society, but only if they can provide a legal registration. Today, community radio is still dependent on a civil society body for its license.

Where do these strict laws for community radio come from?

We have a long colonial history of radio in India. We had different radio platforms before, which were owned by various local kingdoms. Then, All India Radio was introduced under the British in the nineteen-thirties. When the British left in 1947, the state took over all the stations. Until 2001, radio in India was purely a government monopoly. It is a colonial law, the 1885 Wireless Telegraph Act, that still controls radio, although we have no more telegraphs. It’s not only a very old, but also a very primitive Act.

So today’s Indian government does still refer to a communication law that is more than 100 years old?

Yes, especially in radio, the colonial Act is still very restrictive. It does not allow any private citizen to have control over radio or any kind of communication. Radio is the only medium in India on which news is banned. You can do news on the internet, TV or print, but not on the radio. The Indian government is happy to keep this law, as they have kept all the British laws. It is a question of power and control.

Why not leave radio behind and use other forms of media for activism then?

Radio has the highest reach. Also, the costs of access are the lowests, as well as the skills required. In rural areas, we do not have 24 hours power supply and TVs are expensive. For half a Euro and two batteries, you can listen to your radio the whole day. Also, the minority of the rural population can actually read a newspaper – for radio you do not need literacy. Forget about internet, that has incredibly high barriers for the majority of Indians.

Doesn’t the government support the development of Community Radio?

I don’t think so. The government asks people who have no computer or English language skills, and no access to internet, to apply online using the most difficult software. So there are 1300 applications lying in the Ministry, but most fall out because they cannot handle the bureaucratic pressure from Delhi. In the end, there might be 100 left.

These are economic and social barriers we cannot control. The government has to stop adding more and more stupid barriers making the license application too difficult or raising the costs for radio that no one can pay. In fact, I cannot see any advances within the last fifteen years. The government promised we’d have 4000 stations, in 2003, but today we only have 148 CR stations in the whole of India.

Can this difficult process you just mentioned be seen as a structural censorship by the government?

Sure, there is censorship by limiting access and by keeping the entry barriers so high, that most poor communities can only dream of their own radio station. Our 240 commercial FM radios are doing very well. When the economy is booming, private radio profits the most. Another 830 stations are coming up right now, all belonging to rich guys. All the big newspapers have their own radio stations, and they are extremely well integrated in economy – Community Radio is not. If you look at the list of rejected Community Radio applications, no reasons are given. Just a single phrase, “this is a militancy-prone area”, can make any application disappear.

What role does ownership play for community radio?

As a sad example, you could look at the region of Darjeeling, where a tribal association – the Lepchas – applied for their own radio station. This minority group did not get their license for many years, whereas rich NGOs get one quickly. Campus stations also call themselves community radio and they sometimes broadcast community issues, but they are run by a university or a private college. You could find a community radio station in the remotest mountain area, but it would still be owned by a Delhi-based NGO. So they may be run by a community, sort of, but not owned by its people. Actually, this was never the idea, this is not the concept.

Why can’t you finance Community Radio like private stations do, through advertisement?

There is a big debate going on, because on the one hand, we need advertising the same way the big companies do, to stay sustainable. But on the other hand, most community radios would not touch big corporate ads. The topics they report about are of political activism, development, community issues. Beneath health and educational issues, they also expose corruption. You cannot criticize the mining business in Goa, for example and broadcast mining company advertisements the next minute. Of course, it is a moral decision: If you lived in a remote place or in a poor community where the only company available is Coca Cola, then what will you do?

What is the effect on a community that cannot afford its own radio station?

There are whole states without a community radio station. There are some communities – like the ones in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands – where there may be only eight or ten people left who speak a language. The last person who spoke “Bo”, an old lady herself called Bo, died last year without having anyone to talk to in her mother tongue in last ten years of her life. That is only one example of hundreds of languages that could die out without internet, newspaper or radio.

Why is it necessary to have community radios in future?

You see, India is a very multicultural country, though not every citizen feels the same way about it. There are conservative people who ask, “why can’t everybody be a Hindu and speak Hindi?”, but they overlook the diversity of our country. Look at the Indian Rupee and you will find fifteen languages on it. Making India homogenous is not going to work. Community media is needed to encourage minority languages and minority cultures, because we think that diversity is the core of Indian identity.


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Shashwati Goswami – The Indian Media

Economy and mainstream media are often strongly entangled in India causing a lack of critical coverage. Digital alternative media doesn’t seem to be able to fill in this gap – they just don’t reach their target group, the poor and rural people. Therefore, India needs a “self-made third world story”, claims Shashwati Goswami, journalist and professor for Radio and Television.

Since 2008 Prof. Shashwati Goswami teaches Radio and Television Journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), Delhi. She worked as a producer for the staterun broadcasting cooperation All India Radio for almost 15 years and is nowadays occupied with writing articles focusing on health, communication, environment, conflict and development-induced displacement issues. She is also associated with topics of the urban poor like women vendors, sex-workers, street children and daily wage labourers.

In the first part of this interview Goswami speaks about the entanglement of economy and mainstream media, the economical pressure on journlalists and her personal experiences as a critical reporter.


Alternative media is still facing tough times in India. In the second part Goswami explains, why alternative media is often an elite product. As a conclusion, the yearlong radio journalist has also a vision for the future: Community radios could bridge the digital divide between poor and rich as well as between urban and rural areas.

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post it, like it, share it – alternative online voices in India

Social networks and alternative online platforms are indispensable for Kayonaaz Kalyanwala’s work at the non-government-organisation Video Volunteers. During our interview, the communications coordinator explains to RethinkIndia, why online platforms are highly important for India’s alternative voice.

During her masters in media and international development at the University of East Anglia Kalyanwala dealt with different phenomena in the social media sphere such as the ongoing Indian internetboom and an equally continuing “digital divide” among large parts of the rural population. Further adressing the challenges bloggers and activists still face online, the interview also gives an overview about the development of alternative media on the internet.

Posten, Bloggen, Tweeten – Kayonaaz Kalyanwala im Interview über die alternative Stimme im Internet from Frieder Piazena on Vimeo.

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Saloni Puri – “Do you know how big India is?”

How does Video Volunteers cope with the daily abundance of news? How do they get heard? Saloni Puri, head of communications at Video Volunteers, reflects on the cooperation of mainstream and alternative media – and why both do profit.

Puri has been working as journalist and producer for print and broadcast. Today she adresses herself to the task of bringing together mainstream media and community journalism to reach a wider audience and create more impact.

Saloni Puri – “Do you know how big India is?” from Frieder Piazena on Vimeo.

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Richa Ramela – How to become a community correspondent?

Richa Ramela, trainer and mentor at Video Volunteers, teaches community correspondents how to shoot with a camera.

Ramela has an insight view of the community correspondents’ daily life as well as their problems and challenges they face working in their communities. Previously working for Times Now, she can compare mainstream media and community journalism.

Richa Ramela – What does it take to become a community correspondent? from Frieder Piazena on Vimeo.

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Interview: Manish Kumar about Community Journalism

Manish Kumar, program manager at the Video Volunteers explains the concept of community journalism in our first interview comparing it to mainstream media.

Since six years Kumar is coordinating the organisation’s program. After finishing his degree in development and communications he worked for the Indian state channel Doordarshan News. Furthermore, he produced documentaries about indigenous child trade and the impact of 2004′s Tsunami in South Asia. As a mentor  for Video Volunteers, he has trained over 200 people in camera use. His aim: Having a community correspondent in all 650 districts of India.

Interview: Manish Kumar über Community Journalismus from Frieder Piazena on Vimeo.

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How can you support us?

Pre-arrangements like vaccinations and flight tickets get covered by the German scholarship of ASA-Programme.

Through the German crowd-funding platform,, we are trying to cover the rest of our expenses while researching for our project. This includes our accommodation, insurance of cameras / laptops and our research costs such as: meeting the community correspondents in Chennai, the South-East Indian capital as well as interviews with journalists and media houses in Delhi and Mumbai. These research journeys are quite important to get an overview of different parts of the Indian media landscape and avoid producing a ‘single-sided story’.

Still, all our research plans can only be realized through your support! Thus, we appreciate, your comments, constructive criticisms, proposals and of course funding.

  • For 10 Euros personally thank you here on rethinkindia.
  • 25 Euro get you an individual postcard as well as your name on our blog, of course.
  • you receive a large scale photo print of your choice for 50 Euros.
  • 150 Euros is a lot of money, you will get an Indian meal or any other virtual compensation if far away…
  • 300 Euro – Wow! Thank you so much! You can chose all the items above and we will keep you updated via Skype or phone calls, if you like…

Unfortunately, time is running – if we cannot raise all the money until October 4th, we will not get anything. So our success lies in your hands…

You can support us on or you can directly donate to:

Acount name: Krautreporter GmbH

IBAN: DE78430609671132119200


intended purpose: Rethink India

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Who we are and why we can do this

Eva Hoffmann studies Media and Cultural Sciences and European anthropology at the University of Freiburg. She specializes on media anthropology and documentary film making working at the festival committee for intercultural festivals at Kommunales Kinos Freiburg. Furthermore, she wrote articles for German newspapers like Tagesspiegel and Zeit online.


Frieder Piazena writes about health issues for the Berlin based newspaper Tagesspiegel. Since 2011, he is doing his masters in sociology at Humboldt University Berlin, specializing on studies of the global South and alternative economies. This year is his third visit to India.




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The media landscape of a subcontinent

How is the Indian media landscape organized? Who is actually speaking for whom? During our research, we want to approach these questions.  

India already follows China as the second largest newspaper market in the world with 100 million copies circulating during a single day. The country produces about 7000 daily journals. Two decades ago, there were only two state-run TV channels – 2012 they added up to over 500 private and public channels.

In contrast to this variety, even Indian journalists, as everywhere in the world, are tempted to follow the mainstream by reproducing a certain framing of information: Lots of stories, especially from the rural part of the country, are neither heard nor told. A study about social inclusion in Indian newspapers in 2006 proved, that  editorial departments are still dominated by the higher caste, though the caste system has officially been abolished.  Socially marginalized communities like the Dalit are still stigmatized as “untouchables” and underrepresented in media as well as the Adivasi, who are India’s indigenous population. The study proved, that there were none of these social groups represented in leading positions in Indian media.

Accordingly, the social background of a journalist limits his or her opportunities – often times a perspective from above is the result. As an allegory; during this year’s flood disaster in the state of Uttarakhand a reporter of the Indian newspaper News Express tried to keep his feet dry by sitting on a resident’s shoulders. It remained his last report after a huge protests in social networks.

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Changing the perspective: Community journalism

How does community journalism function and why could this correspondence from the so called “grassroots” change our perspective on India? Within our three months stay, we will try to answer these questions.

The Indian NGO (Non Government Organisation) Video Volunteers Video Volunteers gives a voice to these marginalized groups by training and empowering them to use the camera as a tool for social change. By producing a wide range of videos, their community correspondents comment on cultural topics as well as stories of governance failures. By showing the films within their communities, they create the desired social change at the local level of society. It is the voice of people who feel neglected by society and ignored by mainstream media, that has an influential impact on the community audience as well as local authorities.

In the following video for example, Rohini, a young women from the state of Maharashtra reports about Naag Panchami, the festival of the snake:

We watch a woman addressing the daily discrimination against her gender – not from the common perspective of the obedient and silent victim, but as a confident and emancipated women, who claims her rights.

“The last thing India needed, was another American making a documentary. It was much more empowering to turn the camera around” says Jessica Mayberry, CNN veteran and founder of Video Volunteers.

We will work with VV for three months in India; to find out, how community journalism could influence structures of power and economy in a polarized and highly heterogeneous country. Furthermore, we would like to consider how this community level perspective can change our own point of view.

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Our perspective on India

How does German foreign correspondence influence our view on the subcontinent and which stereotypes might be reproduced? A short introduction to our research.

As an introduction: Please take the newspaper on your breakfast table, switch on your TV or any other kind of mainstream media you frequently consume. Try to find news about “India” and you will notice that they will probably fit into a recent image of violence against women, natural disasters, hunger or economic growth at best.

Of course, these topics do matter and need attention, but do they really reflect Indian reality? We doubt that. We think, that a subcontinent with 1,3 billion people has more stories to tell, than the ones about poverty, disasters or societal dysfunctions as reported by a narrow-minded correspondence.

Where does this narrow angle of view come from?

On the one hand, it is a question of money and resources. For example: The two foreign correspondents for the German news channel ARD are not only responsible for India, but also need to cover news from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Accordingly, two people are supposed cover news about a territory that is bigger than the EU and speak for over 1,7 billion inhabitants. We want to find out, how journalists work under these complex conditions. Do they have to follow global headlines and is there time and space for alternative reports apart from mainstream media?

Foreign correspondence – most of the time this means: a German and white perspective on “the other” and the countries abroad. Media scientists call that perspective framing: We all see the world through our cultural glasses, and lenses, which sharpen certain aspect whereas they make others occur blurry. The framing of what we are able to perceive and its limits are highly influenced by our norms and values. As a result, even the most experienced journalists can never be fully objective. We want to find out, how in general, ‘German media’ creates our image of India.

Hence, we are considering the academic concept of Critical Whiteness as a basis for our research: Being white often means enjoying privileges – structural advantages concerning education, job interviews and economic networks… White people belong to a majority in German mainstream society and therefore standardize it from their point of view. In contrast to being Black, being white is never reflected in media, but accepted as a standard. This subtly affects our perspective as media consumers – our framing of the world. However, the journalist’s position and privileges are mostly not reflected.

We consciously want to expose and mark this white and privileged position. Investigating foreign correspondence about India, we want to find out who is reporting about whom and which power structures are reproduced this way. On-site in India, we have three months time for research and interviews.

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