Louie Tabing is the founder of the Tambuli Radio Project, and the subsequent Tambuli Foundation, created to sustain the growth of community radio in the Philippines. Louie spoke with Deborah Heimann in Managua, Nicaragua during the VIII International Communication for Development Roundtable.
LT: For community radio – my priority is for the participants to be able to look around within the community and see the opportunities within the community. We provided at least 3 stations with computers. I say to them – "Community radio is your mirror to yourselves. Internet is your window to the world." We are indeed hoping that there will be a marriage of community radio to internet. We are proposing to these 3 stations that they would need only a telephone in order for them to access the world wide web and world-wide information. With this, they could hold programmes where people could ask questions and they could search for the information on the internet, and then say within seconds – "Aha...this is what there is to know about, say – 'mad cow disease'"... and things like that. Meanwhile, these computers that we sent to the 3 stations are being used to educate the staff and people around the station about the computer and how to use the computer. They use it to prepare their scripts. In this way it is opening the eyes of very rural people on the value of new technology.
But mind you, the internet does not seem to be their priority. They are fascinated by it, but it is not a priority. Instead of a computer, they would like to have portable tape recorders that they could move around with to interview people thoughout the community. Or they would like to have a spare CD player. So from their point of view, they see the value of the computer, but if you asked if they wanted a computer that cost say $100 or a receiver for a UHF (handheld) radio – they would choose the UHF radio, because it would give them the means to talk with one another. They would be able to have reports from other sources in the community.
CI: If you could double your communication strategy and activity budget, what would you do with those funds?
LT: I would experiment on putting up a special radio. For example, we have one children's radio – the problem is that the children only use it during the weekend, when there is no school. So during the rest of the week it is not being used. And the adults who oversee this radio have said – since it is not being used, can we take over and use it for the rest of the week? So they are using something like 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon on the weekdays, whereas the children are only using it for 3 hours on Saturday and 3 hours on Sunday. It has turned into just another adult radio station. I would like to have a purely children's radio to experiment with. I would also like a community radio station for street children in the city and one for disadvantaged women in the city. I would have problems with licensing because the city is already so full of frequencies - frequency would be very difficult to secure. I would like to work with ethnic communities/tribes in the mountains. In at least 2 stations there is involvement of tribal peoples, but it would be very exciting to see people who are still wearing g-strings, for them to be working with a microphone, to be preparing programmes of interest to them and their communities. These are things that excite me, but I am not sure if they will materialise soon.
We have proposed and are working on a semi-commercial one kilowatt radio station - semi-commercial, but community in character – with participation from different sectors, but operated on a commercial basis. So we are able to make arrangements with a Catholic organisation that has the franchise, and we will be using this franchise for that station. Slowly we are telling the commercial stations – here is a model – here is one thing that might threaten you once again! We are having the transmitter built and a school has agreed to host the radio station once we are ready to launch.
CI: You've mentioned a few voices, a few communities that you would like to reach. I am wondering if there is a voice or a community that you feel is not being heard by the communication for development field, by the development fields, that should be listened to?
LT: Many of them that do not even have access to communication. Many of these groups of people would be very happy to have a community station set up for them - Children, Street Children, Women, Fishermen. I am also thinking of a community radio station for prisoners. There are about 7,000 people in one prison camp – you would need only a 5 watt station for them. In an area of 4 square kilometers you don't need a very powerful station. These are people I would like to relate with if I have a chance.
Outside of that – schools would like to use it as a means for extension. Firstly, they would like to use it as a means for promoting the technology that they generate and that they have in their libraries. Secondly, they would like to make use of the radio station as a training ground for students. Particularly those schools, and there are quite a few of them, that have communication courses and development communication courses. NGOs and churches would like to have radio stations. However, in some of the radio stations that we have put up, the churches have tried to dominate them.
In some cases, when we tried involving the local governments, the politicians tried to dominate them. In the composition of the management group, the community broadcast council – we said that if there are politicians, opposition parties should always be there as well. In spite of this, they managed to put in only their own people and were able to dominate the group. We have been happier working with educators. We have no guarantee that the community radio stations will not be used by politicians or churches for their own agendas. The reality is that in some cases they are being used for political and religious interests. This is one of the problems.
Another problem is that some of the equipment is breaking down. When something like the transmitter breaks down, there is no one within the community who is able to repair it. It needs to be sent to Manila and this is quite expensive. The Tambuli Foundation does not have money for this. At the moment, the Foundation is just a group of volunteers who are willing to continue to work for the cause of community radio and who have been and are excited by the cause. So when pieces of equipment break down, this is a problem that often affects sustainability. In one case, we think the station was robbed because the station campaigned so hard against illegal gambling. The suspicion is that the gambling lords stole the equipment from the station. The community is very agitated about this because they were able to stop the "Jeuteng" – the illegal gaming that was sapping the hard-earned money of farmers and fishermen. The local cooperators are now saying that they plan to put up the station again. But I have to say to them, please, do not look to Tambuli Foundation for equipment – you will have to raise money for your own. The Foundation can provide training at this point, but not equipment, not funding.