Colloquium: Sarvodaya Satellite and Web Radio as precursor to Sarvodaya Community Radio – The way forward and the challenges

Posted on August 12, 2008  /  3 Comments

The Colloquium hopes to assess how the project can be sustained within the Sarvodaya arena.

Chaminda Rajakaruna opened the presentation with a brief introduction to Sarvodaya. Sarvodaya is a widely expanded grassroots levels organisation. He went on to present the vision of the Deshodaya as well.

Purpose of the intervention was to take the mssge behind Sarvodaya and Deshodaya to the media through text, video and audio. He went on to emphasise that the mainstream media is not adequate to address the grass root levels. He went on to explain in details why TV, print and audio media are not adequate for Sarvodaya’s needs. A better alternative would be community radio. However, those that have been established in the past have faced sustainability problems.

Mainstream media tends to confirm to political views even though an impression of community radio is established. Also community media allows for area specific problems to be addressed.

Chaminda Rajakaruna went on to provide some varying definitions of community journalism.

The overall objective of the Savodaya community radio is to promote a fair media culture based on community journalism among the diverse communities across Sri Lanka.

Also to give unheard ppl a voice, share experiences ( not only a one way information flow but also  provisions for the listeners to improve the quality of the programmes through feedback) and conduct SWOT analysis.

The process involves 5 mini studios in strategic areas in the island. Along with some the Deshodaya team, volunteers ( a large emphasis was place upon the training of both the team and volunteers) and content production. The final step involved a quality check and upload from Colombo.

He then went on to explain the different indicators that will be used to calculate the success of achieving each of the main three objectives.

The audience would be the general citizens that would need to go to the district centers to listen to this radio. However, people that are affiliated to Sarvodaya would be more inclined to participate in this venture.

Helani Galpaya commented saying that the indicators cited cannot be noted to be useful because they cannot be quantified.

She also questioned the frequency of the content management. Rajakaruna responded saying that programmes are repeated upto 8 times a day. New content is introduced on a weekly and monthly basis depending on the content.

Another positive effect that may occur is the youth involvement. All the volunteers trained for the process were between the age of 16 and 18.

At the moment the Moratuwa HQ is operational with upto 7 programmes.

The main challenges that were identified were the language barriers during the training, dependency on volunteers, inadequate computer skills, technical difficulties in WorldSpace satellite.

Main lessons learnt were that a strong commitment is needed by the Sarvodaya staff, that the volunteers need to be well trained and motivating these volunteers.

There are other equipment components apart from WorldSpace that can be used for this venture. These are the Sarvodaya website, GPRS and community radio hot line.

This initiative has been running for 2 months so far. This has consisted of 10 programmes that are altered on a weekly basis.

Professor Samarajiva spoke of the Webhamuwa initiative and attempted to draw parallels between the two. Webhamuwa took into account print form that was put on the internet. He emphasised that this should have been the model that was followed.

Nuwan noted that this is also going to be used as a disaster warning channel and this is the first step in creating it.

Helani noted that if you are aiming this at the Sarvodaya community, then the mainstream media will not be a competitor. Professor Samarajiva noted that the initiative will have to move from the term of community radio to citizen radio. It would not be a centralised model. As community journalism is created by professionals for the mass market.

“To be able to achieve the objectives of the initiative, have to deal with local issues and this would be citizen participation”. However, if the objective is to develop Sarvodaya image then it should be dealt on the professional level with participation of the senior personnel without using the word citizen journalism.

Professor Samarajiva noted that if its a participatory aspect that is what needs to be achieved then a blog format should be followed. However, unlike in the blog culture radio concerns a time constraint. Therefore, a decision needs to be made about what to include and what to eliminate.

One of the programmes with community radio is that a village will not be able to produce much content on a daily basis. And so get it to a more sustainable position Sarvodaya need to produce content on a daily basis. Professor Samarajiva noted that WorldSpace is an expensive option and alternatives need to be considered unless it is being run as a disaster channel.

Sujatha Gamage noted that audio does not allow information to be stored and viewed later like the internet. This can prove to be a disadvantage.

Nuwan commented that communities are not capable of creating print content and hence audio content would be easier to generate.

Nuwan questioned if there is a framework that can be followed to achieve community radio? Professor Samarajiva noted that both the content and the participatory aspects need to be developed simultaneously to be successful. However, for any of this to be successful then the objective needs to be clear and the strategy created accordingly.

Helani commented that if the listener was able to pick and choose what they want, then that is truly participatory. This will require Sarvodaya to create truly unique content. He went on to explain that it was difficult to drive this with merely volunteers.

Bruce Girard commented saying that these problems can be overcome by using pod casts, MP3, CDs etc and other portable equipment as store and use later devices. This is the case in Uruguay.

Nuwan questioned if WorldSpace (does not have a two way system) or mobiles were used which would be more successful? the response was that mobile would…through a system of using pod casts. This increases the participatory aspect of the initiative. The role for WorldSpace is to send information/ content from the village to the district center.

Nirmali questioned whether advertising can be used as method of creating financial sustainability. Professor Samarajiva noted that this is not possible as this would take over from the  “community aspect”. As result in the entire initiative sliding into a commercial arena.


  1. I agree that the worldspace model is wrong. It forces the programme to be national and doesn’t enable participation. Better would be to think of “podcasts”. These can be delivered by internet, GPRS, etc. and then copied locally onto CDs, mp3 players (they are becoming increasingly common among the poor here in Uruguay. is this so in Sri Lanka?). Participation can then be encouraged by inviting people to record comments on mp3 players for the technically inclined, to leave messages on answering machines, to send SMS messages, etc.

    Eventually you could think of a national programme with local “inserts”. These inserts would be simple productions compiling listener comments with specifically local perspectives on local issues.

    We have been gathering information about how to mix technologies (radio, internet, SMS and SMS servers, etc.) at

    There is audio blogging software that would make it simple to set up a local audio YouTube for a project like this, or better yet to set up a platform and open it up to other similar projects in the country. Then people or community centres could “subscribe” to the channels that interest them.

  2. The focus of this initiative is content development independent of the technology used to deliver the content. MP3 codec is technology independent or is the predominant choice in the digital world for encoding auidio. Thus it could be delivered via GPRS, Internet, or WorldSpace.

    The reason to choose WorldSpace at the beginning is because it has the widest reach to all the Sarvodaya District Centers (34 centers to be more precise) as well as a few communities. My estimate is that less than 5% of these centers have continuous internet access. May be little over 50% of the centers have dialup mainly for District Coordinators to exchange email.

    We believe that the incentive for people to create their own content is if and only if they get to hear what they have produced. Therefore, at this point in time WorldSpace is the only technology that reaches out to all the District Centers. Therefore, we’ll use WorldSpace at this point in time roll out the content development. When other technologies infiltrate the communities the content development processes will be in place. Analogous to the IP stack, this project’s focus is on the “application” layer and not what’s below.

    The current or past paradigm for two-way communication is that the send and receive channels must exist on the same technology or the same network. However, the future two-way will be a collection of networks. For example, you’ll be using your GSM or CDMA network to send requests such as a buying a “pay-per-view” movie but the movie comes to you via satellite. Similarly, the the one-way WorldSpace can be regarded as the return path to the community; where as sending the information from the community can be hand delivering the content on CD or memory stick or even emailing the MP3 file.

    Some conclusions drawn from the colloquium are —

    1) There are 2 products (i.e. publisher subscriber models): (a) Internal communication; where the customers are the Sarvodaya staff distributed around the Island who would receive broadcasts from head office (b) citizen journalism (or citizen radio); where Sarvodaya communities participate in developing content to express their voice and make it available to a wide audience for participatory discussions.

    2) Internal communications (i.e. product (a) ) is time dependent (scheduled programs); thus the listener must tune it at the right time to receive the content.

    3) Citizen journalism (i.e. product (b) ) must be time independent and should not force the listener to tune in rather give them a search engine and mechanism to listen to content of their choice as and when they please (i.e. on demand stream or download).

    4) Within Sarvodaya’s context, given the delivery technologies (end user devices): WorldSpace radio, Mobile phones, and PC with internet; the WorldSpace is suitable for product (a); Mobile Phone is suitable for product (b); PC with internet can cater to both product (a) and (b)

    5) The initial stages of the project should use both WorldSpace and Mobile Phones to achieve both products (a) and (b); i.e. another example for complementary redundancy where two technologies work together to achieve a common goal; until such time broadband is widely available over cheap terminal devices.

  3. Nice summary by Nuwan