This is Klaus Juergen Schmidt, Trustee & Managing Editor of the Zimbabwe based Radio Bridge Overseas Trust, involved for some time now in exploring practical ways to use Internet for communication & interaction between different cultures.
When RBO started its own operation as a Southern based radio program provider it had to answer this question:
What type of technology would serve RBO's objectives best - in terms of affordability, high quality production, fast processing, easy handling, interactive programming and low input with regard to maintenance?
RBO turned away from the traditional but expensive analogue modes of studio production and entered the information highway, thereby discovering a cheap but reliable way of audio production that, at the same time, offers a tool for interaction. All operations of RBO, including all stages of highly sophisticated audio production, are computer-based. As a matter of fact, a complete production-, administration- and transmission-unit fits into the size of a pilot's bag, and - if stationary - does need no more than one room and a small but well trained staff, cutting down costs for investment and operation tremendously.
Radio Bridge Overseas is convinced that a more profound technological revolution is urgently needed: not one that improves the technology but one that distributes it.
And it is on this note that RBO would like to start a more practical debate, with some of its immediate planning put forward as an invitation to participate and to assist wherever possible.
Radio Bridge Overseas is a non-governmental organisation that was registered in 1993 as a Trust in Zimbabwe. RBO is committed to redressing inequality in the global media particularly with reference to how it affects informational poverty in developing countries. The organisation also aims at facilitating new avenues of communication locally, regionally and internationally.
Description of the Project
In the beginning of Radio Bridge Overseas (RBO) stood the idea that, in an African context, efforts had to be made to provide original African voices access to the Information Highway, and to create a network for program exchange within the continent. RBO, therefore, has two fields of operation: as an audio production- & distribution service providing Southern authors with a market that constitutes a South-South and South-North dialogue, and as a consultancy and training facility in digital audio production.
The organisation has a small but efficient professional staff comprising of African producers and administrators with a network of RBO-trained stringers within the region of Southern Africa. RBO is fully integrated into international communication networks through
Internet & e-mail. Its audio production is computer-based, processing is completely digitalized and takes place, at the moment, at 5 work stations.
All operational funds of RBO are being earned through contracts with regional and international organisations for serials of educational audio programming, researched, designed, produced and distributed by RBO in several language versions within the region, or through individual audio program sale to public radio stations in the North, at the moment mainly in Germany and Austria.
The Austrian Volunteer Service has just provided RBO for 5 months with the service of a technical consultant, upgrading its computer-based production and communication systems, with the subsequent attachment of an Audio/Computer-Engineer as a development worker who will become involved in training for 2 years from March 1999 onwards.
RBO was recently contracted by the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the Vienna based Institute of Communication Planning, to design, research and produce German versions of 5 audio-profiles from 5 SADC-core-countries, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia, to be broadcast in Austria in October and November 1998 during the EC-SADC-Conference under the EU-Presidency of Austria.
Content & History of the Project
RBO's programming aims to bridge cultures by breaking language barriers, enabling grassroots to interact through radio. RBO designs and produces educational radio serials which allow audiences in different regions and of different language groups to interact on the same issues. Different language versions of RBO audio programs have been on air in USA, Europe, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe. RBO has also produced audio cassettes for adult education. The training of African broadcasters by RBO is designed to mobilise a bottom-up approach in programming, making them more aware of their own environment.
In 1994 RBO produced for half a year, assisted by USAID, a daily 30-minute audio magazine, "VOICES OF AFRICA" with 4 mini-features each by African authors, as feeds through the "Public Radio Satellite System" of the U.S.A. Issues ranged from authentic cultural expressions to social and political developments. Three of these mini-features won RBO the "1994 Global Award for Media Excellence" during the UN-World Population Conference in Cairo for "Best Radio Program".
The "LOCAL AGENDA 21" is an effort of communities worldwide to interact on a wide range of local issues. The ongoing exercise has been agreed upon by 179 Heads of State during the 1992 Summit in Rio de Janeiro. "LOCAL AGENDA 21" is the key-word for the "Park of Ideas" to be realized during EXPO 2000, the World Exposition in Hannover/Germany. The International Selection Commission EXPO 2000 has identified the Zimbabwe based Radio Bridge Overseas Trust as one of the 117 "Worldwide Projects".
RBO's "GLOBAL VILLAGE VOICES" is, at the moment, exploring Internet facilities to exchange compressed audio files containing regular offers of selected programming by broadcasters from around the globe for each other. Through a participating local radio station, programs will finally reach the "poor man's window to the world" - a battery driven radio, the only means of communication for millions of people of the South to whom Internet-access will remain unaffordable for the foreseeable future. With this project proposal, RBO attempts to enter a new field of technology, the transmission of radio programs via the Internet. Using the intercontinental networking of the Southern voices, it is hoped to create a closer relationship between the radio stations' local clientele and communities especially in Europe.
Radio stations world-wide who will be empowered to participate in an exchange of audio programs through Internet; Grassroots people and policy makers in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe as an audience.
To establish an intercontinental network of Southern voices for the dissemination of cultural and educational audio packages within and between Africa, Asia and Latin America, with a special target audience in Europe.
a) To provide Southern radio journalists with the necessary skills to produce and exchange audio-programs through Internet. b) To initiate co-operation of Southern Internet Service Providers (ISP) with radio stations for an exchange of audio-files through Internet. c) To intertwine European and Southern radio producers in order to enable and encourage a process of mutual learning which should create more sensitivity when designing programs for listeners of different cultures. d) To maintain and improve the technical facilities which enable Radio Bridge Overseas to act as a training facility, production- and clearing house for exchange of audio programs through Internet.
It is hoped to have established, by December 2001, an intercontinental system of regular audio program exchange through Internet. RBO, as a clearing house, will have mobilized permanent support by NGO's and other organisations which operate regionally and worldwide in different fields of developmental education. Regular audio programming on their behalf, and financed by them, will help to maintain a sustainable network of "GLOBAL VILLAGE VOICES", whereby participating radio stations the world over will receive educational audio-serials for free, offering in return own selecting programming for international distribution.
Planned Project Activities
1. RBO is building already, as part of its project "GLOBAL VILLAGE VOICES", a network of audio-program exchange for and with broadcasters in the SADC- region which will also feed their programs, in other language versions, to radio stations in Europe. The idea is to establish in a growing number of African countries, and later on in Asia and Latin America, a professional relationship between one Internet Service Provider (ISP) and producers of a local radio station, both partners being invited to a 3-week-training workshop in Harare, these workshops being integrated into RBO's Internship Program.
On the agenda:
a) identifying local topics and formatting of audio-programs meant for radio audiences in other cultural environments
b) introduction to computer-based digital audio-production (hard disk recording)
c) introduction to compressing, up- & downloading and de-compressing of audio- files, using the RealAudio-format in broadcast quality
d) establishing of systems for audio-program exchange through Internet from RBO's website to websites of participating radio stations with connectivity or to websites of co-operating ISP's
e) methods for dubbing of downloaded files for analogue use at partner radio stations with connectivity or of co-operating ISP's, and systems for uploading of analogue audio-programs by those partner radio stations for exchange through Internet
f) establishing permanent communication through Internet & e-mail
2. RBO tries to combine the actual production and distribution of "GLOBAL VILLAGE VOICES" with a sustainable intercultural exchange that will allow broadcasters from the South and the North to work together on audio features from the developing world and to distribute such co-productions through Internet to a worldwide audience. It is suggested that a professional discourse about issues and formats would expose Northern participants to the challenge of foreign values with the need to help express such authentic views in a way that would find attention of listeners in another cultural environment. Such an experience will help to influence professional attitudes of participants:
a) from the South who would have learned to use formats for their issues which enhance the creativity and technical realisation necessary - not only for international marketing and mobilisation of interest of audiences beyond their own cultural environment - but will also facilitate the development of media in their own countries.
b) from the North who will be more sensitized to authentic expressions from the South. They will be more prepared to allow space for other values than their own; the usual filter of Northern biases regarding Southern issues will be applied less often in a situation where they may become responsible for programming.
Such an Internship Program underwent already a trial period from April '96 to April '97, with four groups of participants from Germany, twinned with colleagues from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique and accomodated at a rented RBO venue in Harare. Their co-produced radio programs were - in several language versions - on air in Germany, Austria, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.
It is anticipated that such an intercultural exchange will become an important feature of "GLOBAL VILLAGE VOICES", sponsored through fellowship programs by media related foundations and organisations worldwide. Such an institution would provide, at the same time, a reliable access to a selected range of languages and their presenters needed for the overvoicing of audio programs. In the long term, it would help to build up support units by participants returned to their home countries.
RBO Co-ordination, Production & Distribution Centre in Harare/Zimbabwe as:
- Liaison point with community radio networks worldwide, in co-operation with other existing or upcoming networks like AMARC, One World Radio, WorldSpace
- Receiving point for all audio material & English transcripts, from participating radio stations with connectivity as compressed files, from participating radio stations without connectivity through co-operating Internet Service Providers in their vicinity.
- Production point for final arrangement of regular program feeds in several language versions.
- Distribution point for all ready-made audio feeds in several language versions, through compressed files for placement on RBO's website, downloadable for partners with connectivity, where necessary through co-operating Internet Service Providers, and accessible to Internet surfers.
INTERNET surfers will find a general introduction to "GLOBAL VILLAGE VOICES", linking them to three weekly mini-audio-features (each not more than 6 minutes long) on RBO's website, available as over-voiced versions in several language versions. Sub-buttons will direct visitors to these language versions.
RBO intends to place all audio files on its website as a multi media offer, which will allow updates by and interaction with resource persons, the use of pictures, graphics & links to additional resources. (see existing examples on RBO's website at: http://members.forfree.at/~rbo)
Editorial chat-links will be set up between RBO's HQ in Harare and centres of partners abroad. Regular conferences via Internet, hosted by RBO, will allow co-ordination of programming and monitoring of progress and feedback.
TRAINING & NETWORK BUILDING IN AFRICA
RBO is targetting the 14 member countries of SADC plus Uganda (15). During preparation one radio station and one Internet Service Provider will be identified in each country who are willing to participate. They will be asked to honour participation in RBO-training with continued support of the ermerging exchange network. Each radio station will be presented during a 3-week-training session in Harare with 1 producer and 1 ISP who has signed an undertakting to co-operate in future with the station. Producers will be tasked to bring along material and script for at least one audio program, not longer than 6 minutes, and including excerpts from interviews, relevant SFX, music & songs from their area, reflecting a subject still to be determined in a context of the environment they come from.
INTERNSHIP PROGRAM FOR YOUNG EUROPEAN BROADCASTERS
RBO is targetting the 15 member countries of the European Union. 2 young broadcasters of each country will have a chance, during a period of 6 weeks, to participate in training & production sessions with colleagues from 2 SADC-countries. Pre-condition for their participation will be an undertaking to get at least 1 radio station in their home country involved in the South-North audio program exchange of "GLOBAL VILLAGE VOICES". Therefore, they should be delegated by radio stations within EU-member states.
Again, RBO would appreciate comments and offers for practical assistance.
KJS / RBO