BARIO: The Kelabit community of Bario became better connected on Thursday when their brand new radio station hit the airwaves. Radio Bario is Malaysia’s first community-run radio station, and the Kelabit community never had their own broadcast media, until now.
Representing a milestone in Malaysia’s broadcasting and media development, Radio Bario is a project by eBario Sdn Bhd, the organisation which operates the eBario telecentre, with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) — under their Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility.
It is operated ‘by and for the community’ and has a limited radius of between 20-30 kilometres from the station, serving the scattered longhouses and farms.
The creation of Radio Bario is highly significant. Not only will the station broadcast in the Kelabit language, but for the first time listeners will hear news, interviews, stories and music with direct relevance to their culture and history.
Radio Bario has also been successful in mobilising the local community to make the station their own.
The people of Bario undertake every role, from on-air presentation to collecting local news and encouraging the participation of the whole community.
It is the product of four years of planning by eBario Sdn Bhd, which collaborated with RadioActive Ltd. RadioActive is a UK-based company with a strong track record in installing community radio stations.
They provide equipment, training and technical assistance to help build community radio stations around the world, having previously worked in over 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Community radio is a not-for-profit low-cost limited reach broadcasting facility providing a variety of information and entertainment services to the residents of a restricted geographical area.
Normally operated by volunteer programme producers drawn from within the community itself, its function is to supplement mainstream broadcasting with local news, entertainment and cultural programming, mostly in the local language.
John Tarawe of eBario expects that the success of the Radio Bario launch would lead to the launch of other community stations in Malaysia. He said in a press release, “our work with eBario has demonstrated a successful track record with community mobilisation. Radio is one of the best examples of that.”
RadioActive director Max Graef says; “Radio Bario is our 50th project. Each one is unique, but Bario has been a memorable experience because of the warmth and commitment of the local community.
“After just a few training sessions we’re already hearing some great results on air. Community radio can have a great impact, especially considering the low costs involved in getting a station started. We hope to see many other communities in Malaysia benefiting from this technology in the near future.”
As national radio does not reach many of the isolated and remote rural parts of Sarawak, and with its assortment of mother-tongue languages, community radio opens up a new channel of communication for the State’s underserved communities.
Moreover, it provides opportunities for conducting public debates on issues of local interest.
With the widespread use of hand phones these days, listeners can participate in phone-ins from wherever they happen to be.
Useful information can now be easily spread throughout isolated communities in a faster, more timely and economical manner than ever before.
Stanley Isaac, the station manager, is one person who’d endorse this view. A former schoolteacher, Stanley presented Radio Bario’s very first live programme in his native Kelabit.
“For three years it was a dream. Now people are blinking their eyes and saying “Is it true?” he enthused.
Ex-Pemanca Ngimat Ayu added: “This is a very important thing because the indigenous communities don’t hear themselves in the mainstream media and now we feel connected. This will help to conserve and preserve our language and our identity.”
Given the positive experience of Radio Bario’s launch, eBario and RadioActive have formed a joint venture to install more radio stations in Malaysia.
At a recent dialogue in Miri, several representatives of other indigenous groups in Sarawak expressed their interest in establishing their own community radio stations.
Anyone interested to do so can contact John Tarawe on 0194381777 or by email at [email protected]