In the last five years or so, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of independent radio stations. From one national state radio, the number of community and commercial radios stand at about 15 today.
Radio as a form of media has the biggest following in Rwanda, as compared to other forms. First, literacy levels are still very low, the power of the spoken word and strong oral cultures make radio the most convenient media form.
Other media forms like television, print and internet have not been widely embraced largely because of the prohibitive costs involved. FM radio sets are relatively cheaper.
There is yet another trend that has revolutionised the radio as a media form; this is the penetration of the mobile phone which has had a great impact on conventional radio broadcasting.
These new forms of Information Communication Technologies (ICT’s) are complementing the medium, hence creating a sort of convergence.
We now have radio phone-in- shows, and of recent the use of text messages. The state broadcaster; Radio Rwanda has embraced the practice where they now have a segment when airing news where listeners can send comments about news items being aired making it a more interactive experience.
Journalists and radio presenters have also benefited from this revolution. They now have a variety of news sources thanks to the internet and can interact more easily with listeners using the mobile phone and through the use of short message services (SMS).
However, it is important to note that many of these ICT’s have not helped in propelling the Country’s development agenda.
The traditional role of the media has always been that of informing, educating and entertaining but unfortunately most of the FM radios that have sprung seem to have entertainment as their raison d’etre.
Radio phone-in- programmes are flooded with requests for songs and sending greetings to loved ones. It is common to hear someone call in to send greetings to his wife with whom he is seated with in the same room!
Journalists and presenters have not been any better either; they download content from the Internet that has no developmental impact on the people that they serve.
The main culprits are community radios. Of what importance would a research on the salaries of world Presidents be to a peasant, say in Kinyamakara? Why would rural folks be interested in marriage woes of football ace Ashley Cole?
Sadly, this is what our people are being fed on. The ICT revolution can only have positive impact on our people if media managers know their obligation to the people they claim to serve.
Mobile phone penetration and the Internet should be an opportunity for radio and other media forms to up their game, an opportunity to inform, educate and not just entertain.
The author is a journalist, The New Times