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Budget for Atmanirbhar Communities

With a little philanthropy, some drops of stakeholder capitalism, and the vast experience of organisations like the UNESCO, community media can be made into a very powerful tool for building self-reliant communities.

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The role of media in shaping public opinion is well-established. As Irving Wallace portayed in his fiction, ‘The Almighty’, media can be a saviour or a destroyer of sorts at the hands of its masters – from creating new heroes out of nowhere (Anna Hazare  and Bilkis Begum to  Kanaiah Kumar) to toppling seemingly powerful governments (Nixon and the watergate scandal, Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors scandal). 

Is the Fourth Estate taking its role seriously in the developing world, especially among the 70-odd nations of Global South? Arguably many media channels and print publications seem to be focussed on furthering the agendas of politicial parties and corporates for mutual benefits while ignoring the cries and concerns of different communities in dire need. Most Global South countries have the “bottom of the pyramid” problem where the majority are below the poverty line. It is these very people who inevitably face the brunt of every adversity that a developing country is faced with. The recent and still persisting pandemic has shown us this in India. The irony is that true development of a nation cannot happen without inclusive growth.

Just as a democracy is “for the people by the people”, the community media, promoted  and supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is essentially “media by the community, for the community.” It aims to deliver the last mile connectivity, ensuring the death of what is known as “voice poverty.” People from any relevant community are armed with the power of media to voice their struggles and anguish, break the language barriers, communicate with the illeterates amongst them, and convey necessary information to media-dark areas, essentially striving for social benefits. Moreover, the mainstream media fails to reach large parts of many developing countries and their credibility is being increasingly questioned by various vested interests to create rifts. 

With the pandemic-inflicted misery hitting communities across the world, community media is more essential now than ever. During a pandemic of such tectonic proportions, it is most critical to suppress rumours (Like naming the virus after a community) and superstitions (such as lighting diya to making noidses in balconies), and to spread awareness about the pandemic and its control. Currently, in a country like India, the vaccination drive too can be successfully adminitered by making use of the community media.

In the past year, India has seen the difficulties of poor health infrastructure, ever-growing misinformation, and rising dangers of poverty and hunger, giving rise to issues greater than the pandemic itself. Yes, it has helped the coutnry address some of the issues for a atmanirbhar Bharat but a lot needs to be done too. The unfortunate situation of the migrant workers (the walking class) that raided the headlines could have been prevented had they been given an opportunity to voice their concerns – Just as India’s 289 community radios have successfully shown in spreading awareness to some of the remotest parts of the country in many States including Odisha and Haryana. They have  managed to empower the grassroots with information on government aids, PDS (Public Ditribution System) and status of te returning migrant workers to those most in need of such information. During these difficult times, community media served as a beacon of hope aby playing the much-needed middle-(wo)man’s role for the masses of our country.

Several countries have benefitted largely from the existence of community media, according to UNESCO reports. The Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) mobilised its resources by debunking fake news and sharing designs for production of effective COVID-19 programming. Mexico utilised its community radios for efficiently conveying crucial information to the masses in indigenous languages, making sure that every single community was kept informed. In Africa, community radio stations had reached out to vulnerable communities with indispensable information on the disease, with remarkable control of the pandemic.

A country can only prosper with the development of its lowest strata of society, and empowering them with a voice and information is a very good first step in that developmental direction. A key feature to be noted in the community media, especially in India, is their united front. Diverse groups irrespective of caste, income or gender were treated with absolutely no discrimination, ensuring the safety and adequate standards of living for them. However, this is just a start and not the end. Establishing a system where the impact of pandemic or any crisis driven disruption is minimal on the poor is very critical. The fabled middle class will be below the pverty line when inflicted with a sickness amingst them. 

The next step for the community media is perhaps establishing a two way communication system where communities can find solutions to their issues through intra or inter community interactions. A system where the voices crying for help are actually heard, uniting the society as a whole and making a country better equipped to face an adversity, both in the rural and the urban areas alike. Most of the problems of a community could be resolved within themselves. In such a system, communities are able to help each other without having to sacrifice their dignity. That is true backbone of Atmanirbhar Bharat vision. 

In this budget season, the Finance Minsiter must consider coonsolidating some funds froim the numerous inclusice growth schemes for building comunities that can serve their own needs by sharing skills, setting up exchanges for bartering supplies or helping each other with alien service such as baby siltting or elder care. The budget can also allocate provisions for special funds for ssocio-community entreprenerial ventures such as the Community Café. 

With a little philanthropy, some drops of stakeholder capitalism, and the vast experience of organisations like the UNESCO, community media can be made into a very powerful tool for building self-reliant communities.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
Union Budget 2021-2022 Aatmanirbhar Bharat

Aahna Zafrin

The writer is a student at Indian Institute of Management, Indore.

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