Radio Day Spotlights Media as a Pillar for Development

*By Bishow Parajuli

Zimbabwe has graciously hosted the 6th edition of the World Radio Day on 13 February 2017 bringing together the Southern Africa Development Community broadcasters at the historical Takashinga Cricket Club in Highfield, Harare.

Despite being over 100 years old, the radio is one of the most popular ways to exchange information, provide social discourse, and educate people all over the world.

Today 94% of adults listen to the radio weekly, radio really is a universal medium. In 2016, more people listened to the radio than watched TV or smartphones. Some 3.9 billion people – more than half the world’s population – are still not connected to the internet, making radio the most accessible medium.

In developing countries over 800 million radios help farmers in developing countries yield better crops. In Zimbabwe radio is still the most popular source of news, information, and entertainment especially in rural areas. It’s estimated that there are over one million radio sets in the country – roughly one for every 12 inhabitants.

In recognition of the significance of radio as a medium, the United Nations designated 13 February as the World Radio Day to coincide with the anniversary of the United Nations which was established on the same day 71 years ago.

Cognizant of the role of radio, the Director General of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bokova in her statement to mark the world radio day said,We are living a revolution in how we share and access information – and, yet, in the midst of deep change, radio has never been so dynamic, engaging and important. At a time of turbulence, radio provides an enduring platform to bring communities together.

On the way to work, in our homes, offices and fields, in times of peace, conflict and emergencies, radio remains a force for human rights and dignity and a powerful enabler of solutions to the challenges all societies face.”

In 2016, the world including Zimbabwe rolled out the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals. Radio has had already a catalytic role in increasing the participation of the people of Zimbabwe in the implementation the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs aim to end poverty, hunger, inequality and ensure universal health coverage, quality education for all as well as protect the environment, advance good governance, rule of law and democracy.

In this regard, the United Nations in collaboration with many of the radio stations and personalities such as the ZBC Spot-FM, ZBC Power-FM, Radio Zimbabwe, Zim Papers Radio Star FM, and Zi-FM and many others has worked in awareness raising on SDGs and advancing public access to information on the same.

Thanks to these dedicated radio stations, the public has had information on how the Government, UN, Development Partners, NGOs and Civil Society Organisations are working together in the areas of food and nutrition security, HIV, gender, jobs, response to drought, good governance, and the rule of law, and deepening inclusion and dialogue.

As Zimbabwe fully transitions from analogue to digital platforms, I look forward for the fast-tracking of licencing of community radios to engage communities at grass-root level on development issues and topic that specifically affect them.

Through the Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework, the UN with generous support from donors has been delivering annually USD 400 million in development grant in the areas of Food and Nutrition; Social Services; HIV and AIDS; Poverty Reduction; Governance and human rights, and Gender Equality. 

In addition, in response to the El Nino induced severe drought that hit the country, the UN has put together a humanitarian response plan and has mobilized USD 214 million to address to shortages of food and nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene, and agricultural supply.

In today’s world, nothing is purely global or only local – and Zimbabwe’s position and responsibilities vis-à-vis its international commitments and conventions, including the SDGs, have a direct bearing on the development priorities of the country articulated in the Zim Asset. 

As such, an independent, objective, and ethical media plays critical role in deepening democracy and people-centered development. The underlying reason is that evidence-based and free flow of information helps citizens to articulate their informed social, economic and democratic choices.

The media in Zimbabwe has been playing its role in promoting transparency, accountability and public participation. However more can be done. For example, the media can help fight child abuse, in efforts to end child marriages, achieve gender equality, prevent communal conflict and provide useful information on impending natural disasters such as flooding.

The role of media is critical in promoting public health campaigns as witnessed during the typhoid outbreak in Mbare recently which was contained effectively. It is therefore my sincere hope that the media will continue to promote the SDGs and articulate emerging development issues such as climate change and covering national development programmes and how these programmes are changing people’s lives.

The media has the ability to set the agenda for national discourse and to shape mindsets. Let us, therefore, work together towards projecting a positive image, rebranding Zimbabwe and articulating the national development discourse and narrative in a forward looking, hopeful and constructive manner to promote tourism and attract investment.

The United Nations in Zimbabwe will continue to support  media capacity building in general and the radio including the establishment of community radios in particular as part of our engagement to enhance the capacity of the media (e.g. through Media Award for Best Development Reporting and Capacity Building through trainings).

It is my deep belief that the media is a major stakeholder in development; a pillar for mobilizing society for a transformative socio-economic development and political progress.

Bishow Parajuli is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Zimbabwe