GOING DIGITAL: RADIO IN THE FUTURE
By Rebecca Wanjiku
When Maphule Mbhalati was growing up, radio was a classified tool signifying status and wealth. Her grandmother was a proud radio owner and everyone marvelled at the sound waves and wondered how news was produced.
Today, the head of radio news and current affairs at SABC has a message for remote and poor communities that have no access to radio: we are coming to you!
Speaking at the plenary session, Mbhalati told journalists from 42 countries that digital and Satellite radio is poised to revolutionalise how news is disseminated in remote and poor communities in Africa .
“At SABC, we have several radio stations and each of them has an outside broadcast vehicle to visit remote areas. In the absence of a vehicle we have satellite radio that can be received beyond boundaries,” Mbhalati said.
Through digital and satellite radio, Mbhalati said communities can tell their stories and can interact with radio presenters or comment on issues covered by the station. Mbhalati was chairing a session titled Radio in Africa : yesterday today and tomorrow.
“In the past, radio was communal, today it is a fusion between communal and individual tastes, in the future, people are going to decide when the can listen and what they listen to. They will make their voices heard through satellite, digital and internet radio,” Mbhalati added.
Rayborn Bulley, a journalist from Ghana detailed how military dictators took advantage of the single national radio stations to announce the coup and suppress any uprising.
According to his experience, the 139 radio stations in Ghana had promoted freedom of _expression and political accountability but had raised questions regarding journalism ethics and professionalism.
“The FM stations are not employing professionals; many of the presenters are disk jockeys or celebrities. Radio is forcing us to rethink about who is a journalist and who is not,” said Bulley.
Responding to the concerns of non professionalism, Macharia Gaitho, a senior editor with the Nation Newspaper in Kenya said that with the liberalisation of the airwaves has come with its own anarchy.
“I would rather have the anarchy that is there than situations where military dictators take over a radio station and announce their power take over,” Gaitho said.
Regarding professionalism, Bulley acknowledged that the politicians complain anytime listeners call the stations and air negative comments.
Acknowledging opportunities that presents, Portia Kobue from Kaya FM in Johannesburg associated herself with sentiments expressed by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka who says radio has grown from a propaganda tool to an empowering tool.
“Days are gone when radio news would be characterised by two simple sentences. We need journalists who can tell stories, impact lives,” said Kobue.