By Carolin Tornqvist
Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) can often be seen as a tactical part of ICT expansion and is often perceived as the idea that new technology is the gateway to hope and a better life (Nederveen Pieterse, 2005:19). New, often digital, media strategies are therefore widely recognized as central actors within development projects, foreign aid agencies and NGOs. Technology devices and internet access are moreover frequently provided, not as methods to strengthen local knowledge and traditional means of support, but as central and emblematic steps towards modernity (Granqvist, 2005:292).
Significant for ICT approaches within the above mentioned context, is the underlying assumption that information technologies are the tools needed, to bridge the gap or “digital divide” between marginalized people and the “network economy” (Ibid 285-286). Absent thus, in this mainstream discourse, is the practice of empowerment of marginalized groups or communities that are entering the new, so called information age. A critical stance on this is therefore of great importance when trying to direct attention to issues relevant for marginalized groups or communities assumed as beneficiaries of ICT4D projects. In order to see how community media and community and grassroots based organizations can benefit from ICTs, this chapter will further discuss approaches on ICTs in community media.
The design of technologies has for long been ignored as a social matter in the ICT4D dialogue. But within alternative media theory and new social movement theory, community media and networking are the principal revenues of social movements’ attempts to encounter dominant social codes, test new designs and experiment on current relations of power. It is also within this context the ICTs can be seen as possibilities for community organizations to further their work on behalf of marginalized groups. (O´Donnell, 2006:1) Castells trilogy on the network society deals with these transformation, meaning that social movements are built around communication systems by which they are reaching out to others who share the same values and exclusion from the network society (Castells, 1998, 2001).
It is of great importance to understand that the concept of ICT can encompass both “traditional” as well as new forms of information technologies. Radio is the most extensive electronic communication device in the world, often used as community media. Community radio is a practical and cost-effective way to reach out to, and connect with the most marginalized and poor communities on the globe. The intersection of radio and the internet has further increased networking opportunities for communities and has also been giving new strength to community radio with examples such as The Pulsar Network in Latin America and Local Radio Network in Indonesia. (Githaiga, 2005:6) ICTs give new dimensions to the bottom-up direction of information and the conjunction of radio and internet gives community radio access to serve the information needs of the community (Ibid: 8). However, processes and technologies, used within community media projects and networking, are not always simple or without tension. Traditional technologies may be more comfortable, within some processes, than the digital technologies since the more traditional ways of using ICTs might have more central importance on the structure and arrangement of a community or community organization. (O´Donnell, 2005:8-9). Through digital technology, messages, information and dialogue can be forwarded endlessly, at no cost but only with the premise that community members have access to this device and tools needed in order to approach it (Ibid: 14-15). Technologies of use in community media have changed over time as new technologies and possibilities are being introduced, but to date, radio continues to be the most successful ICT since it is cheap to consume and neither the creators nor the listeners of radio need to be able to read or write since it is explicitly oral in its nature.
An assessment of new ICT efforts for community media therefore needs to be put in relation to allowed usage, the behaviors they advance as well as the social values they advocate and confront since all positions chosen within a project carry social meaning and further cause reactions with their users. (Granqvist, 2005: 291) To this must also be added that the same technology may be understood and treated in a different way by different groups and communities. Dagron states that “technology alone may not be the answer if culture and identity are not at the heart of the discussion.” (Dagron 2001:23) As a result, new ICT initiatives can build upon existing community media, particularly radio and video with long traditions of community content, in order to develop media content closer to the local relevance.