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dialogues, propositions, histoires pour une citoyenneté mondiale

A Passion for Radio

Mahaweli community radio in Sri Lanka

(La passion radio La radio communautaire Mahaweli au Sri Lanka)


10 / 1993

INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).

DATE OF PROJECT: Mahaweli Community Radio (MCR)was set up in 1981.

SUMMARY: Sri Lanka’s Mahaweli Community Radio was the first of its kind in South Asia. Now considered a prototype for the region, the project was largely initiated and implemented through international cooperation. The MCR experience provides a base to discuss the positive as well as the negative influences of international cooperation in setting up community radio.

OBJECTIVE: MCR was to be a station that facilitated listeners’ participation in the programming, maximizing content and input from rural areas. It was meant to help listeners see their own potential and responsibility in the realization of development goals.

METHOD: UNESCO and DANIDA provided the initial capital for the project and ongoing costs were to be provided by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). Total foreign funding received for the project was US$1.1million. The participatory nature of the station was a radical departure from SLBC’s mode of operation, necessitating large investments in transportation, new recording equipment, and foreign expertise in field production techniques. At the inception of the project, mobile teams travelled to villages. In 1985 and 1989 respectively, two local community stations were set up in Girandurukotte and Kotmale. Initially, a programme hour cost about US $250 to produce, about ten times more than the usual cost for regional stations. However, by using new formats, mixing village productions with studio productions and attaching production teams to regional stations, the cost was brought down to about US $37.50 per hour.

PROS AND CONS OF INTERNATIONAL FUNDING: Some intervention of respected international agencies such as UNESCO and DANIDA can play a positive role in establishing community radio in South Asia, where broadcast media are State-controlled. MCR was in part made possible because foreign collaborators were able to convince personalities engaged in policy-making and managing radio. The US $1.1million received from donor agencies provided a degree of autonomy that shielded the MCR project management from those who opposed community radio. International cooperation helped MCR exist with minimum political interference. Further, the MCR experience has set an example for similar such projects. Modifications of the model have been used in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Cambodia. On the negative side, there was a clear over-dependence of foreign support. After ten years the MCR project had not developed an appropriate plan in preparation for the withdrawal of international support. There were only some sketchy proposals to create an autonomous, institutional structure for community radio. Further, the SLBC considered the project the responsibility of UNESCO and DANIDA.

EVALUATION: Listener surveys have shown that Girandurekotte Community Radio and the MCR broadcasts on the Anuradhapura regional service are listened to by about 90 percent of the local population and are the second most important source of agricultural and health-related information. A cadre of well-trained local broadcasters has also developed. However, an important lesson to be learned from the MCR experience is that coming up with plans on how to permanently institutionalize a community radio project must be considered as the collective responsibility of the international agencies as well as the receiving organization. Designing a plan for the withdrawal of funding agencies is at least as important as initiating a project. Such a plan needs expertise to ensure that it is feasible.


coopération internationale, radio communautaire, autofinancement, financement du développement, développement communautaire

, Sri Lanka


There exists a French and a Spanish version of this book. This card has been written from the chapter 13.




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