Community radio volunteers,stations call for COVID-19 relief

Thousands of community radio volunteers and stations in South Africa have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Now the South African Community Radio Foundation (SACRF) has called on government for financial relief and for consideration in its economic recovery plans.

“The SACRF is lobbying various government entities with the long-term objective of enhancing the ability of community radio stations to sufficiently service their communities,” said SACRF director, Phankha Sakoane.

SACRF is currently engaging with the Office of the President (specifically the COVID-19 response team), the minister in the President’s Office and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to actively procure funds for the relief of community stations most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sakoane said the 0ver 200-strong sector is severely under-resourced “with most unable to pay all the members of the team that drives content that enriches the communities they serve. Thus there are more than 5000 volunteers at these radio stations”.

The SACRF is engaging with the government to procure R25 million with around R100 000 or more going directly to the radio stations in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We do however estimate that the sector requires an injection of a minimum of R100 million (with at least R350 000 per station),” Sakoane said.

He said it was vital to focus on volunteers, who “passionately apply themselves within the sector” and ensure they receive some remuneration or stipend so they are better able to care for their families during this difficult time.

Many radio stations lack the resources to cover all their overhead costs including modern equipment and employee salaries, he added.

“We believe that the government should be employing a nationwide co-ordinated campaign that not only provides radio stations with the necessary content but also resources at this time. This is not currently the case,” he said.

Community radio stations are often overlooked by government entities in favour of advertising at the larger radio stations. We believe a more co-ordinated national campaign would be more effective and also beneficial to the stations themselves.”

The Media Connection works with community radio in terms of airtime sales, access to brand activations and insights driven marketing strategy. CEO Judy Milne concurs with Sakoane. “The Media Connection is passionate about the survival and growth of an incredible media platform that is literally the heartbeat and pulse of communities in South Africa,” said Milne. “So we add our voice to the call to Government to provide support and assist assistance to the Community Radio sector with real, genuine long term commitment.”

Director Simon Milne points out that like other media, “Advertising revenue has seen a decline and many of the stations need additional assistance in order to continue with their fundamental and critical communication mandate to their people”. He agrees stations should be given operational funding at this time.

Sakoane said he wasn’t aware of any closures, but that the pandemic had worsened an already tough operational environment. Still, it is working with the National Campus and Community  Radio Association of Canada in order to design the best paradigm to apply to South Africa to enable community radio stations to be become truly sustainable and play an even bigger part in being an agent of positive change in our society.  SACRF has also established an innovation radio program network that focuses on research on some of the health-related issues between the two countries.