By Respect Bangu
The concept of community media is difficult and controversial as it can be defined in many ways. According to Renie and Ellie (2006:208) “it is elusive to define the term in an absolute manner because it can take so many forms, be applicable to so many different groups of people and be directed at such a wide range of issues”.
Community media, according to Cammaerts & Carpentier (2007: 244) responds to local needs and is situated under the community control with a wide range of media actors involved (from grassroots to NGOs and large media organizations). It could be said, that within a globalized context where centralization and homogenization forces try to maintain a single inclusive global village, the current challenge of community media is to promote and deal with a diversity of smaller villages, harder to govern but with a plurality of voices in its interior.
Scholars concurred that community media was developed as an agent of participatory democracy which granted inclusive role to members of society in determining matters that were relevant to them with primary characteristics of audience being either geographic community or a community of interests and its developmental function within the relevant community (Hollander et al, 2002, Hadland, 2004, Howley, 2005) (p. 63). According to the Collins dictionary of Sociology (2006:47) a community is any set of social relationships operating with certain boundaries, location and territories, however, meanings are not fixed. Traditional community only covered certain geographical territories, however with the advent of the Internet and Social Media, vast and diverse communities emerged and it became increasingly difficult for community media to meet the needs of the community.
Langlois and Dubois (2005:7) simply defined community media as a tool which is owned and controlled by the community in response to local needs as it puts “more focus on participation and openness often showing the ability of non professionals to organise media production themselves” As a development tool, “community media is the empowerment of people by giving them the means to inform and be informed within a participative communication medium” Rama and Louwe (1993:73) Since meanings are not fixed, contemporary community media has shifted the definition of community to encompass community of interest or shared identities rather than just the geographical boundaries. Target audiences should take an active role in content generation, creation and distribution because when local communities are not involved in the decision making process development projects tend not to be successful. As Melkote (1991) argues “People who are objects of policy need to be involved in the initiation, design, and execution of the development process (p.191.
The contemporary community media has variations of activities like alternative media, media education, community based media, participatory media, public access movement, radical media, tactical media, community based media movement and employees various channels to reach their objectives with the target audients acting like change agents. It is in this role as a change agent that O Sullivan (1994:10) argues community media can act as a tool to enable a community to “advocate for change in society, or at least a critical reassessment of traditional values.” It is with this consideration of the role of participation that we move to the next chapter.