Broad-minded youngsters win hearts of radio listeners

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Ehsan Noroozi and Susanne Fatah

They're not journalists - they're young people with no special regard for political correctness who have met with great success working for Sweden's Public Broadcasting. Ehsan Noroozi and Susanne Fatah told us the story behind their innovative radio station.

Din Gata (‘Your Street') hit the airwaves in Malmö in southern Sweden with the aim of creating a reliable point of contact for the city's large, mostly Muslim, émigré community. The Rosengård district in Malmö is well known to the wider public for the negative attention its spates of vandalism and unrest have drawn. But the radio station, with its tiny budget and a bit of help from the young people living in the notorious district, has achieved what every information and integration programme has so far set out - and failed - to do.

Everything about Din Gata is unusual, including how it got started. Noroozi, who ran a small tea shop, received a call one day which he decided not to answer, since the caller's number wasn't showing. This happened three or four times more before Noroozi's father finally answered and discovered that it was Swedish Radio producer Ulla Svensson on the other end of the phone. Even then Noroozi erred on the side of caution and declined to speak to the producer - who knew what they might be cooking up.

Eventually, however, Noroozi and Svensson got to talking, and to the tea seller's astonishment he soon found himself setting up a radio station. One which was actually being aimed at the interests of young people in the area, not just people's ideas of what they needed.

In terms of running the show, Noroozi received carte blanche. The same went for Fatah, who ended up at the station in much the same way. They were joined by a third youngster, and the new radio station started out with a crew of three, none of whom knew anything about radio or journalism. And so they started to build up a station for their listeners.

What did you do to win the trust of the young people in the area?

Noroozi: "We wanted to give them a chance to make themselves heard, especially those the mass media so often paints such a negative and one-sided picture of. So that their views and feelings could find a place in the big media picture too. In other words, we took what they were talking about amongst themselves at home and made it public. And if something wasn't right, we said so; maybe a bit too directly sometimes. But we maintained a very clear distinction between what was direct and what was vulgar. And we came down hard on those who crossed it."

Fatah: "We were offering a 24/7 web platform with all of the modern information and communication interfaces that go with it, plus a radio station. But the most important thing was that we were always prepared to listen to people. Even if we had our stuff for the day's show sorted out but someone called just before we went on air who'd just been through something awful in their private life, we went with that instead, talked about it and discussed it. We're really open ourselves, too - we don't talk about faceless people, but things we've been through ourselves and how we feel about them. And we often disagree on the things we're talking about, as well."

Is there some kind of secret agenda behind the whole thing? Now that you've won the trust of the listeners you'll be laying on the state's integration propaganda?

Noroozi: "That's not what my contract to work here is about. There wouldn't be any point. Everything's gone really well so far, so there hasn't been any need to ask those kinds of questions."

Fatah: "Not at all. At least, that's not something I know anything about. We talk to young people, we listen to them, we open ourselves up and we create an atmosphere of trust. I have more to do with relationship stuff, and Ehsan's more into social issues. That sort of division seems to have worked out pretty well.

I suppose I should add that our chat programme only amounts to about four or five hours a day. The rest of the time we play music. R'n'B, hip-hop, that kind of thing."

What about "touchy" subjects? How do you handle them?

Noroozi: "What's a "touchy" subject? Who decides who's touchy about it? An issue the state sees as touchy won't necessarily bother me or my listeners. I might be employed by the state, but I serve the public. That gives me a fairly clear line to follow. But if for some reason I can't get my listeners' views across, I just try to approach it from the human perspective. We often lose sight of the bigger picture if we talk about ‘touchy' subjects. That's something I always remind myself of - we're all people, and we all have the right to be here.

A humane view helps a lot when you're dealing with religious and military conflicts. And actually the problems we've all been affected by at one point or another are surprisingly similar. Everyday things that tend to get overshadowed."

So where to next? What are your plans from here?

Noroozi: "We'll be getting too old for it soon! We need new blood. We're already looking for it."

Fatah: "We've already moved on a lot from where we started out - we're not just a niche radio station for immigrants any more. We've got a much broader audience now, because basically we set up a really good radio station. And that kind of programme is something that shouldn't just be going out regionally, but at the national level."

Ehsan Noroozi and Susanne Fatah were speaking to Madis Tilga, information adviser with the Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Estonia.

Noroozi and Fatah shared their thoughts on new media and the media-related behaviour of young people at the media conference held in Kumu in Tallinn on 11 and 12 June 2009 organised by the Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Estonia, Estonian Public Broadcasting ERR and the Nordic Public Service Broadcasters.

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