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Radio B – Hungary’s First Prison Radio

The aim of prison radio is to provide information and communication forum for prisoners that helps prisoners deal with conflicts, decrease tension and prepare inmates reintegrate into society after release. The radio is run by prisoners for prisoners.

Speak Out Association in collaboration with the Hungarian Prison Service Headquarters have started prison radio at Vác Penitentiary that can be the starting point to a nationwide network of prison radios.

Radio B is an initiative of a small, dedicated team of Hungarian and British journalists and psychologists.

It is based on a highly successful British model, run by the Prison Radio Association of the UK since 1994. Our initiative has been welcomed by the Hungarian Prison Service (BVOP), and so we have launched a pilot project at Vac Penitentiary, in close collaboration with other prisons including Eger, Balassagyarmat and Tokol.

Our aim is to provide a tool to make time in prison more valuable and less miserable, for the benefit of prisoners, prison authorities, and society as a whole.

Radio B will apply the good practice of the Prison Radio Association which now broadcasts 24 hours a day in 95 of the 120 prisons in the UK. The initial idea came as a response to a UK prison governor’s request for help to combat the high suicide and self-harm rate. The first programs were broadcast at night, when prisoners feel most vulnerable. The project soon had a significant positive effect, and has won many awards: www.prisonradioassociation.org

Our initiative is tailored to Hungarian needs and traditions. Programs are produced by prisoners for prisoners. Radio staff are carefully selected from among prisoners who volunteer. People convicted for manslaughter and child abuse as well as those with high profile are excluded from radio work. We continuously look for potential candidates – probably with no prior journalistic experience – who could later serve as role models for the listeners. They are trained and assisted in their work by the radio journalists of our foundation.

Programs can be beneficial in a variety of ways:

  • Direct information on health, work, training, finances or social support can prepare prisoners for release. In an environment with a very high rate of illiteracy verbal information is especially valuable.
  • Prison radio can popularize support groups and other projects in prison – training, work, pastoral or psychological opportunities –
  • By providing meaningful entertainment it helps to structure time.
  • Disseminating success stories of ex-convicts can give hope and determination.
  • Interviews with prisoners can highlight resources and strengths that can later be summoned in times of crisis either in prison or after release.
  • Request music shows help maintain relationships with family and friends beyond the prison walls.
  • The radio also provides a valuable tool for the prison authorities to communicate swiftly with inmates.

Prison radio is a joint venture of the radio staff and listeners. It gives inmates a sense of pride in producing something valuable for their own community. It helps develop responsibility, empathy and confidence in being able to produce something worthwhile. It also promotes non-violent communication.

Radio B is run by experienced radio journalists and psychologists with a wide range of expertise and a strong sense of social responsibility. We are all committed professionals ready to work for the benefit of society. There are now approximately 18,000 inmates in Hungary’s 33 penal institutions. 1,000 of these are women. A disproportionately high proportion are Roma. It is essential that they find their voice and so once they have completed their prison service be able to keep their determination to stay out of crime and find support from family and social services to do so.

In our programs we seek alternative stories that encourage tellers and listeners alike to live by.

We have a responsibility to our audience, our contributors, and the victims of crime. The victim’s point of view is always considered.

We promote education and training and encourage prisoners to take control of their own lives. We guide prisoners around the prison system addressing a range of issues including; induction, resettlement, health and exercise, drug awareness, family relationships, employment and finance. We inform vulnerable prisoners about the help and support available to them.

We emphasize positive outcomes.

We initiated a 4 month pilot project. This included basic radio training, journalism and participatory action research to make the radio station truly their own. At the end of the pilot project the first programmes are being broadcast on a closed-circuit radio within the prison at peak listening time. All inmates will have access to the radio, and be encouraged to listen.

After the expected success of the pilot project, Radio B aims to gradually increase broadcasting time and transmit to other interested prisons, in close co-operation with individual prison governors and the Hungarian Prison Service. Later programs can be made in different institutions such as young offenders or women’s prisons and shared by all. The penitentiaries of Tököl, Balassagyarmat and Eger have all expressed an interest in the project. The prison where the pilot project begun will serve as the hub or mother studio for prison radio nationwide. Our long-term aim is to establish Hungarian national prison radio broadcasting in as many prisons as possible.

Prison Radio need not be limited to Hungary. We have already made contact with the Romanian and Slovenia prison authorities and radio journalists, who have expressed a strong interest. We are actively seeking contacts in Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland. We will continue to promote the idea through the region, after its success in Hungary.

The initiators of the project:

Nick Thorpe, BBC Central Europe correspondent based in Hungary since 1986

Judit Hajdu clinical psychologist, family therapist

György Kerényi, founder and first editor in chief of Radio C

Gyula Csák, former news editor of Radio C, current editor at InfoRadio.

Zsuzsa Megyeri, former HVG journalist, family therapist

Zsolt Braun, has worked for BBC and Radio C

Julianna Nyári, radiojournalist

Henrietta Benkő, economist and psychologist

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Radio B – Hungary’s First Prison Radio

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