Saturday, March 17, 2007

Community radios under pressure?

Despite my latest posts about the virtues of community radio, the government seems to be going the other way around.

Last week, some Jakarta community radios were "ordered off the airwaves"; they were claimed to be interfering with the navigation system in Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in East Jakarta.

Unfortunately, it's not clear whether this interference is true. The frequency used for aviation radio is 118.3 MHz. However, Jawis FM, a school-based community radio that uses the 107.6 FM frequency at a meager 50 watt power was also told to stop its broadcasting activities. So was the Suara Warga Jakarta (Voice of Jakartans) radio, whose power only extends to a mere 2.5 kilometers radius.

So the question is: have the government followed the necessary procedure? Do they actually have proof of which radios are interfering with aviation frequency?

Does this progress have any correlation with the closing down of some 14 radios in Sorong, West Papua, late last year? Here's what I read from a credible source: These radios were said to be "caught red-handed" committing crime and jeopardizing national stability. And the interesting part: the procedure is that before closing down a radio, the government should provide information/guidance, and then a warning letter. However, at that time, the officer only had a general letter from the Ministry of ICT about "reporting the existence" of radios.

What's going on here?

Does the government still consider community broadcasting 'scary'? Adhi Wicaksana thinks that regulations concerning community radio are, at best, still at odds with each other.

Despite all this, do consider a few more great examples of community radio role:
  • The Jakarta Community Radio, "established in 2003 as a communication tool for local residents", has "the only radio program of its kind in the capital, perhaps the entire country, dedicated to the interests and needs of the disabled community."
  • The community radio in Wiladeg, Central Java, is giving the people a media to practice democracy and good governance.
  • The Voice of Muhammadiyah Radio in Aceh provides a service for tsunami-affected communities to trace missing relatives.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Community radios reach out to West Sumatra earthquake victims

Yet another earthquake. This time, one with a power of 5.8 Richter scale hit West Sumatra some 2 weeks ago.

Combine's SaksiGempa site (in Indonesian) reports that the community radio association of West Sumatra, working together with 4 member radios, is providing a media center service for victims of the recent earthquake, the government, and aid agencies.

Radios Radila and Semarak, both in Solok, and radios Suandri and Bahana, both in Padang Pariaman, are clarifying information regarding issues of follow-up quakes with the meteorology and geophysics agency. Then they broadcast the results to reduce the panic situation caused mainly by uncertainty.

Said Hendri Ihsan, a local NGO/community radio activist,
Communication in the earthquake-affected area is down. Moreover, the mountainous geographic condition in this area makes it difficult to disseminate information. Radio is the most effective means.
Hendri's contact information is available here.

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Innovations in rural information service

Kompas (in Indonesian language) has some encouraging articles to start off the week. For one, the cost of narrowing the (urban-rural) digital divide is heading down with the new Base Transceiver Station (BTS) technology called FLASH OFDM (Fast-hopping Low-latency Access with Seamless Handover Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing).

OFDM technology operates at 450 MHz frequency, can accommodate bandwidth of up 5.3 Mbps, can reach a distance of up to 70 kilometers. Much more efficient as we'd need less BTS to connect more areas. Best of all, OFDM can be integrated with GSM networks using a mini, very portable, "nanoGSM" BTS that is of paper size and of 2.7 Kg weight. Imagine that: carrying your own BTS around that can serve both voice and data.

We don't know when this technology (currently developed by Siemens) will be available. Hopefully soon. Still, a major problem in popularizing the internet in Indonesia is the prohibitive cost of bandwidth. So all this hoopla, including the hoopla about 3G, is nonsense if bandwidth quality is still patchy and cost too high.

In another article, the daily profiled an inspiring role of community radio in helping the post-disaster (tsunami) recovery of Pangandaran coastal area, West Java. Founded to respond to the disaster aftermath last year, the radio called Suara Pangandaran Darurat Recovery Ciamis Selatan (Drecs) has been providing post-disaster information that's easily accessible by affected people. They have good contact with the meteorology and geophysics agency, and even sometimes the police and army asks them for some information.

Now the local teachers' association (PGRI) has been collaborating to provide distance education through radio waves. A show called "free talk," where community members and local leaders alike can participate, discusses local development issues, from regularization of informal traders to issues of internally displaced people.

Now, wouldn't it be cool if we can see some kind of collaboration between a technology like OFDM and community radios?

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Monday, March 12, 2007

True cost economics

A significant change happening in my thoughts for the past few years is this increase of interest in economics and finance. My dear sister, who happens to be an economist, is damn tired of me asking her all sort of dumb economic questions :) She even wrote a nice post about my new obsession, which - of all things - should be read by Greg Mankiw the economics professor himself! Yikes.

Anyways, I find it amusing that a lot of what matters, we already learned in our early childhood years. I remember how grade school taught me that economics comes from the Greek words "oikos" and "nomos", which means "household" and "science". And when you're running a household, you want your family (meaning everyone in the household) to be wealthy and happy. Thus gaining/creating wealth is as important as making sure that it gets distributed accordingly.

And so I find it interesting how The Economist views globalization (free trade across national borders). In their special report of September 2006, titled The Power of the Emerging World, the magazine pointed out (subscription required) how globalization has increased the total "wealth" created by the whole world: that profit, as percentage of total economic output, is at an all-time high; that globalization has brought better outcome to the world.

But hold on. Who is "the world"? I am reminded of the recent corny Pertamina (Indonesian state-owned oil company) TV ad that says "if you buy Pertamina lubricants, you gain and the nation gains". The question is, "who do you mean by 'the nation'?" It's quite common knowledge that profits of big state-owned companies is kept or even misappropriated by a few people. So does the nation really gain? Theoretically, yes - because Pertamina is a state-owned company. In reality, not if you consider the majority of the people who have very little to gain from it (if at all).

Which brings back to the question of globalization. OK, so globalization has brought more profit at the world scale over time. And if you divide this increasing profit by the number of the population, it seems that the world is getting better off, on average. But that's not how profit is distributed. You don't just give it out evenly to everybody. What's happening now is that although the cake is getting bigger, more and more of it is being eaten by less and less people. The Economist admitted that
workers' share of the cake in rich countries is now the smallest it has been for at least three decades (see chart 5). In many countries average real wages are flat or even falling.…
In other words, we have increasing inequality, and this this can be better seen through the median, or the Gini Coefficient.

It's funny how economists are taught all these quantitative tools, but when it comes to free trade, they seem to only use the average. Thus I am reminded of a quote from my sister's professor: "Ideologies are for people who are too lazy to think."

So far we've just been talking about the paradox behind the internal workings of economics when applied to free trade. What about the impact of free trade on the environment and on communities? What about leisure time, unpaid housework, family breakdown, increase of crime? What about ecological footprints? Are they reflected in the GDP? Economists have often dismissed these as "externalities." But if we're trying to view/study economics in all its completeness and in real world application, these should be seriously factored in.

Alright, I'll stop here. I'm not even an economist. But I am thrilled that Adbusters is co-leading the campaign to demand better economics education, based on a more realistic science. They call it "True Cost Economics":
This is our most urgent campaign: a fight to revolutionize economics before our planet is destroyed. We need a new economic paradigm - one that is open, holistic, and human scale [...] The economic revolution begins with jamming Economics departments. It ends with an entirely new way to measure progress.
Here's another interesting quote:
[E.F. Schumacher] coined the term “Buddhist economics” to describe the opposite of the Western economic model, one that didn’t allow for unlimited growth and consumption and emphasized renewable resources. For those who questioned what Buddhism had to do with economics, Schumacher replied, “Economics without Buddhism, i.e., without spiritual, human and ecological values, is like sex without love.”
Don't get me wrong. I think economics is important, and livelihood (earning money) is a big factor of what makes the world tick. However, isn't it time that economics be freed from economists who are blinded by their own ideology, be it left or right?

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