Community Radio in Hadramout
Despite the prevalence of social media, radio still retains its place in addressing the various segments of urban and rural society.
In recent years, Yemen’s largest governorate, Hadramout, has seen many radio channels opened by individuals and institutions. The broadcast space has become diverse, breaking the monopoly of official government radio.
However, the official government broadcasters in Hadramout, Mukalla and Seiyun Radio, have maintained their standing among listeners, due to their long history and wide coverage. Mukalla Radio, as official broadcaster, has managed to reclaim its status after a particularly difficult period. On 2 April 2015, terrorist groups took control of the city; the broadcaster’s radio equipment was stolen and the building completely burned down. On 24 April 2016, upon liberating the city, the government quickly reestablished the city’s broadcaster, filling the year-long void.
More recently, Hadramout has witnessed the launch of many independent community FM radio channels, boasting diverse programming. These channels have a distinctive quality in terms of content and presentation. Across Hadramout’s coasts and valleys, many broadcasters have distinguished themselves and have become well-known among residents; stations include: Salamatak, al-Amal, Ro’yah, Hilm, al-Shihr, Nama, al-Maher and al-Nahdha.
A key factor in the rise of community-driven radio is the development of cheap radio and communication devices. Furthermore, the government no longer monopolizes broadcast radio, and has granted licenses to independent initiatives. Local media authorities in Hadramout realized that the changing times, particularly the events of 2011, have made freedom of expression an essential part of its citizens’ lives. Consequently, diverse community-driven and independent radio is on the rise, and is actively participating in the enlightenment of society through the diversity of topics addressed.
Initiatives such as these contribute to the creation of a democratic society. Hadramout, like other cities in Yemen, has been deprived of an expressive, open space. Today, in Hadramout, radio presents a variety of voices that have devised modern formats to discuss issues with extraordinary boldness, not seen during periods of totalitarian regimes.
Broadcasters compete to offer scientific, cultural, political and entertainment programs. They target specific segments of society in order to highlight a cause, shape opinions, raise awareness, and change behaviors for the issues that are relevant to the community. There are sports programs that provide local and global sports news – the radio stations allocate large slots of time to shows analyzing sports events. In addition, there are prerecorded and live programs that discuss political affairs in the country without restrictions.
The emergence of diverse radio stations has created competition in the production and presentation of radio programs, commensurate with the tastes of the local audience. There is a large geographic area in which to broadcast, with each broadcaster having influence in its respective communities. Furthermore, as the number of hours of programming has increased alongside the wider geographic scope, the medium has been able to reach a wider audience.
Salamatak FM is the first independent radio station in Hadramout, launched in Mukalla City on 10 July 2013. It distinguished itself by being the first health-oriented radio station in Yemen, launched by the Hadramout Fighting Cancer Foundation. Amal FM, launched in February 2017, broadcasts 24 hours a day – the first community radio channel to broadcast non-stop. Nahdha FM represents another radio success, first broadcasting from Wadi Hadramout in Tarim District in October 2012, but making its official debut in April 2014. The station is run by a young and experienced media elite, all graduates of media programs, and broadcasts 16 hours of each day.
These success stories have incentivized other firms to set up their own radio stations. Even academic institutions have launched their own stations – Hadramout University established and launched its pilot broadcast on 30 July 2017, the first academic institution to do so in the Republic. Broadcasts cover university activities and events, highlighting student achievements and talents in the media and journalism departments. It is also a training ground for these students, honing their creative and technical abilities.
In February 2018, the Governor of Hadramout, Major General Faraj Salmeen al-Bahsani, inaugurated the first educational radio station in the Republic of Yemen, founded by the Ministry of Education of the Hadramout Coast, which will soon be launched. The broadcaster aims to promote educational values and to highlight the educational history of the governorate. It will also contribute to the dissemination of educational information among the student community, and will seek to present and highlight talented and creative students.
However, the broadcast movement in Hadramout is not without its problems and obstacles, especially in technical matters. The studios used by these broadcasters are rudimentary, and are usually comprised of one room out of which all programming is recorded. Furthermore, the broadcasters do not have their own facilities or resources. Khaled Said Mudrik, lecturer in television and broadcasting studies, explains: “The difficulties lie in the lack of funding, and the lack of expert direction in these radio channels.”
The lack of funding is the primary obstacle facing the sustainability and development of world-class broadcasting. “The limited broadcasting range of these radio channels means they cannot reach neighboring districts, limiting their audience”, notes Saleh Ahmed al-Omari, Head of Salamatak FM. “Furthermore, the lack of training, expertise and resources represent significant obstacles.” Frequent power outages are also a problem, causing broadcasts to be irregular.
As for the listeners, the residents of Hadramout governorate see these broadcasts as a source of information, and they are trusted since they reflect the community’s interests.
Mohamed Ali, a bus driver in Mukalla, relates: “I listen to the radio while I work so I can catch up with the news and what’s going on in the country. I also cannot use modern phones and have no time to sit in front of the television.” He adds: “I listen to the programs which represent my interests, and those to which my passengers enjoy listening.”
Om Awadh, a housewife, remarks, “I listen to the prize-competition programs in which many Mukalla residents participate. I also enjoy listening to the programs where influential members of my community are interviewed.”