After eight years of being a current affairs producer, Francis Rolt was bored and frustrated by doing the same kind of stories under different headlines day by day, year after year. Then he came across Search for Common Ground, an organization working in 30 countries.
It has been working in Nepal to support the Peace Process since 2006. SFCG trains radio journalists in developing contents that help build peace at local and national levels.
It was Rolt’s friend who insisted that he apply for a position at the organization. He did and there’s been no looking back ever since.
Now with more than two decades of experience, Rolt is a master trainer, program designer, and a peace builder through his shows and dramas.
He is among those who have created and advanced the field of radio in peace building. For many of those working in radio, he’s now a role model, having made significant impacts on the works of SFCG in Nepal.
Not only has he provided training to a hundred media professionals in Nepal but he has also been instrumental in creating many radio shows, including Naya Bato Naya Paila (New Path, New Footprints) produced by Antenna Foundation in collaboration with SFCG.
Rolt has been involved in the trainings and designing of the dramas from the beginning in Nepal and still continues to play a significant part in training journalists for talk shows and radio dramas for social change.
Even this time around, when SFCG organized a radio drama writing training, Rolt played a key role. The objective of the workshop was to enable radio stations to produce such dramas for social changes by themselves.
“I’m not here to tell you how to resolve your conflict. But with my experience I can help you understand it better and then it’s up to you to take it from there,” says Rolt who is undoubtedly an expert in the field of peace building through radio.
His determination and dedication to his work is a lesson in itself not just for media professionals but for each and every one of us.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did you specialize in behavior change and conflict prevention through radio?
I was a journalist and was producing current affairs programs for quite a few years before I got a bit bored with it. I felt I wasn’t doing much. And then I came across an organization called Search for Common Ground, an American non-profit organization. They were looking for someone to run a radio production studio in Burundi. That was in 1999. My friends thought I should apply for the job which I eventually did and I got it.
I learnt from Search for Common Ground and from my colleagues there. Basically, I learnt on the job. You learn by trying different things out and talking with people which is what happened to me. I learnt about conflict prevention and different ways to address it in Burundi.
In the age of Internet where information is available at the press of a button, how and why do you think radio can still be an effective means of communication?
Radio is a very powerful medium, mainly because of the wide audience it caters to.
In a country like Nepal, not everyone will have access to Internet but nearly every household has a radio. It can be an effective means of communication since it gives the public a chance to hear the leaders of their country’s side of the story as well as a chance to express their own views.
How do you think radio can help in building peace in conflict areas?
The most important thing radio can do is to keep hope alive. Also the people who benefit from conflicts are the leaders of the political parties and they need to be questioned. Radio can be a medium by which you can hold leaders to account. A media like the radio gives the public an opportunity to question those who are accountable for such conflicts. Besides that, radio provides an opportunity to the citizens to voice their opinions.
Your works are mostly talk shows, soap operas and dramas. Is entertainment a key factor in the shows? Why is that?
Everybody needs entertainment. And especially people who are surrounded by conflict. They get fed up with the constant bad reports and news, and entertainment is a very good way to reach them. You don’t want to be too direct while giving out a message. You want to be as subtle as possible yet not so subtle that your message is not powerful enough.
For that, I’ve learnt from experience that adding the entertainment factor in your shows can be just what is needed. People enjoy as well as take away something from shows like that. People surrounded by conflict don’t want to listen to news and current affairs all the time. They want an escape sometimes. An escape from the harsh reality that surrounds them; and radio soap opera provides that kind of escape.
And how do you achieve that and still make sure that you’re getting your message across?
Dramas should have a behavioural change objective. It should be carefully planned and written in order to attain that objective. You don’t want to give a lesson but try and lead the audience in the direction. And as far as talk shows are concerned, they need to go beyond the obvious problem. Rather than focusing on the current conditions of the state, they should focus on the values and interest of the parties at war. That can help create an understanding between political groups. The focus should be to reach the mass with a message that’s not perceived as a message.
Which show or shows in particular have been the most impactful and the most interesting one for you so far?
That is easy. Naya Bato Naya Paila produced by Antenna Foundation in Nepal in association with Search for Common Ground has been the most interesting one so far. The youth-oriented soap opera focused on encourages youth to build relationships across ethnic and caste lines and to take on leadership roles in building peace in their communities.
I’ve been involved with it right from the start. From writing to training the journalists, I’ve been a part of the entire process which is why it’s close to my heart. And I keep being kindly invited back to Nepal because of that one show. The recognition it’s got me is amazing.
What are your views on Nepal?
I love Nepal. I think it’s a fantastic country with a lot of scope for growth. In 1978, I was working in Bangladesh and I came to Nepal for trekking. I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. I think there’s a lot of hope here despite all the conflict that’s going on. I think the political leaders need to see some sense and work for the betterment of the country rather than trying to fulfil their own agendas. The country is amazing. The people who rule it need to make most of the resources they have.
Do you think radio can make any impact here especially during these uncertain times, and how?
Oh, definitely! Like I said earlier, radio is a very effective means of communication. It’s perhaps the only means of communication that people from all backgrounds and status have. If you’re looking for a way to help change a society, you have to choose the most dominant medium. Radio is that dominant medium at large, especially in Nepal, as every person has access to one.
There are many ways of approaching problems or conflicts. You have to do a lot of research after deciding what the objective of a particular show is. Also, radios need to focus on doing all kinds of programs and not just hosting talk shows. Only then can it make a significant impact.