2020 was perhaps the year in which radio most clearly demonstrated its impact and importance in society. This 110-year-old "young medium" – as UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay refers to it – has a penetration rate of 75 percent in developing countries.
The figure thus demonstrates the role it has had during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, not only in transmitting information related to the disease, but also as support in the educational process after face-to-face classes were canceled.
For this reason, for the 10th edition of World Radio Day, UNESCO chose the theme "New World, New Radio" in which the role of radio in the present and in the future is reaffirmed.
“Because, more than ever, we need this universal humanist medium, vector of freedom. Without radio, the right to information and freedom of expression and, with them, fundamental freedoms would be weakened, as would cultural diversity, since community radio stations are the voices of the voiceless,” Azoulay said in her message to celebrate the occasion.
“Wherever you are, radio is with you. Confined, radio opens up to the world, to health information, to education, to the arts, to cultural diversity. Radio is an invaluable tool for the transmission of information, a common good of humanity,” Azoulay said.
Along the same lines, Mirta Lourenço, chief of Media and Information Literacy and Media Development Section at UNESCO, highlighted how radio helps to build stronger democratic societies.
"The media – including radio stations, affect our beliefs, our choices, and how we live together," Lourenço told LJR. "By encouraging the coverage of local issues and making people critical in their interactions with media, we can help to build stronger and better-informed democracies."
And radio, as indicated by the sub-themes of the celebration, has managed to evolve, innovate and connect in the midst of a world that is constantly changing. UNESCO thus highlighted the evolution of radio as well as the resistance and sustainability of the medium. In terms of innovation, it talked of radio’s adaptation to new technologies, “to remain the go-to medium of mobility, accessible everywhere and to everyone.” Finally, UNESCO emphasized the capacity of the radio to connect, highlighting its “services to our society – natural disasters, socio-economic crises, epidemics, etc.”
During a virtual forum on Feb. 12 in anticipation of World Radio Day, Mónica Valdés, vice president of the World Association of Community Radio for the region, talked about how the current pandemic shined a light on the importance of community radios.
They provided essential information -- such as where to find food --, promoted social solidarity, and put health as a right on the public agenda.
However, community radio faces challenges in the region in terms of governmental legislation and economic sustainability, as Valdés pointed out. She added that the governments need to include these radios in emergency and permanent measures for funding.
“The social service provided by community radio stations and which they continue to provide around the continent have been fundamental to guarantee things such as access to rural education, the possibility of educating in rights and democracy, and facilitating a worthy way to speak so that political rights and citizen participation are heard,” Valdés said.
World Radio Day was proclaimed by UNESCO Member States in 2011 and was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 as an International Day to be celebrated every February 13.
To celebrate the day at LatAm Journalism Review (LJR), we asked radio journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean why radio is important for press freedom in the region. You can find their answers here.