Originally published at: https://decentered.co.uk/community-media-discussion-radio-seerah-a-beacon-for-community-cohesion/
On Friday I attended the ten-year celebration for Radio Seerah, which has been broadcasting as a community radio station in Leicester since 2009, which went full-time in 2019. Radio Seerah is a community radio station dedicated to sharing the meaning of the Islamic faith, with its many traditions and proud history, to people in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Radio Seerah broadcasts on 1575 AM/MW and will soon be available on digital radio in Leicester from the 19th of March, when the new DAB service launches in the city.*
Radio Seerah was established in 2009 as a way of sharing accurate information about the Islamic faith. It was felt that there was a need to bring people together to share their expression of their faith, while also dispelling misinformation and helping to build better community understanding. As a community radio station licenced by Ofcom, Radio Seerah is committed to cultivating greater community cohesion for all of its listeners. Friday’s celebration was an opportunity to thank all the volunteers and supporters who give their time to make programmes and those who support the station to meet its running costs, and undertake the work it is committed to.
The role that community radio plays in advancing a greater sense of community cohesion is dependent on people having the confidence to tell their own stories, while also being able to discuss topics that are of concern to the members of each community for themselves. Radio Seerah, like other community radio stations in Leicester, such as Kohinoor Radio, Leicester Community Radio, EAVA FM and Radio2Funky, is a valuable broadcast platform that brings volunteers and listeners together to promote a better sense of understanding between all the residents of the city. As Ted Cantle explains in his book Interculturalism, “participation in local social and cultural networks,” such as community radio stations, “appears to lead to a greater sense of trust of others… including people from different backgrounds, as well as a greater sense of belonging” (Cantle, 2012, p. 139).
Leicester is now recognised as a ‘super-diverse’ city, so the challenge of providing community relevant services is getting more difficult as the population of the city becomes more varied. Established communities are respected in Leicester for welcoming new visitors and residents, but it is a constant challenge to make programmes that offer something meaningful to each of the new members of each different community. While beginning with the common bond of faith, Radio Seerah has also to connect with people who speak many different languages, who follow different traditions, and who come from many different places. In addition to programmes in English, Radio Seerah provides programmes in Urdu, Guajarati, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Somali, Arabic, Kerio, Turkish, Pashto and many others. So, as well as providing a point of bonding based on faith, Radio Seerah also forms a bridge for people who have come to Leicester for many different reasons – many not by choice – who are unlikely to be served by other media providers in Leicester.
During the reflections and presentations on Friday evening, a number of speakers each made compelling points about the important purpose of Radio Seerah. In its simplest form, this Radio Seerah is about telling stories, and letting people share their experiences in a responsible and trusted way. Many Muslim people can testify to being subjected to discrimination and Islamophobia, both in their social lives and in the media. Radio Seerah, therefore, has become a platform whereby ordinary members of the public, with little or no professional background or training in media, can learn how to make trusted and accountable radio programmes. What was evident in the support shown to the presenters and volunteers of Radio Seerah, was that these radio programme are a great source of pride for the people involved in making them, as well as those who listen to them. It was said by several presenters that Radio Seerah’s programmes give them strength to connect with people who are usually overlooked or dismissed by the mainstream media.
It was also said by several speakers that having programmes made by people who speak their language, and who live in their neighbourhood, and who experience the same challenges of life in a modern city in the United Kingdom, is a powerful way of building social identity and social cohesion. We heard from Cllr George Cole, the Lord Mayor of Leicester, about the importance of community radio in Leicester, particularly as a platform that gives voice to people in their struggle to overcome discrimination and ignorance. We also heard about how the starting point for many volunteers who are involved with the work of the station is the sense of belonging and fulfilment the station itself offers as a community. Not only that, but we heard from many speakers that Radio Seerah is a community that brings people together, not just as listeners, but as participants and volunteers.
Ted Cantle makes the point that “the opportunities for bringing people together on a cross-cultural basis to share [their] problems and learn from each other are rarely taken” (Cantle, 2012, p. 136). Radio Seerah, I would say based on what was expressed on Friday evening, is clearly an opportunity well taken. Radio Seerah has succeeded in bringing many different people to together through the power of radio, with Radio Seerah’s commitment to discussion and mutual understanding. This is the starting point for conversations where we can all make better sense of our needs. Radio is an invaluable platform for dialogue and sharing of ideas and stories, which includes our spiritual needs, our social needs, as well as our material needs. While having these shared conversations broadcast on community radio stations around the world, we are enabling people to better understand their fellow citizens. By listening and empowering people to speak, we can learn to recognise and deal with the inequalities and misperceptions that many face.
Broadcast community radio is a powerful bridge that brings people together. As Ted Cantle points out, the “separation of communities” used to ensure a “peaceful co-existence, though often with an entrenchment of inequalities.” However, this segregation and separation from a common everyday experience meant that too many people have been living “parallel lives”, meaning that they have had “very few opportunities to develop trust, respect and understanding between communities” (Cantle, 2012, p. 113). If one is to run a community radio station successfully, based as Radio Seerah is on the principles of bringing communities together, and to rid society of any hatred or resentment that may linger between those communities, we have to invest in forms of media that give use the opportunity to hear one another’s stories, while learning something of the human values that we hold in common. As Ted Cantle states:
“Sustained and personal contact through everyday interaction is far more likely to change attitudes and to disconfirm stereotypes and create an empathy with others” (Cantle, 2012, p. 131).
In an age when our media is divisive and is often used to sow discontent between different peoples, both locally and globally, it is appropriate that we celebrate those who are upholding the values of community media, including a respect for diversity, a passion for equality, and a commitment to move forward together based on common understanding.
*[Disclosure: I am the Managing Director of Leicester Digital Partnership CIC which won the Ofcom licence for the Leicester multiplex].
Cantle, T. (2012). Interculturalism – The New Era of Cohesion and Diversity. Palgrave MacMillan.