By Vanessa Vertiz
In the previous part we considered the impact of ICT in community media capturing its condition as social process and not just a tool within development initiatives. Within this context, civil society plays an important role in guaranteeing accountability into global development and political decisions. Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and World Association of community Radio Broadcaster (AMARC) are good examples of intervening within global policy processes, questioning paradigms and recognizing the role of group and local media.
Also for Cammaerts & Carpentier (2007:243-264) community media appears embedded in a radically and pluralistic public sphere at a transnational globalized level, where the ability of civil society to transnationalize its practice and discourse of resistance assisted by ICTs is fundamental. For example the community radio movement has struggled for a better policy framework that can promote equal access to traditional media, in this sense the interaction among offline and online spheres and communities is relevant and crucial towards organizing, mobilizing and debating resistance, and at the same time, civil society is struggling to have a voice inside international forums as the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). However civil society cannot be understood as a singular actor, there are different actors, each one with different approaches and objectives (Lovink 2005:7-8).
Some civil society organizations and NGOs have had a gradual rupture from social movement grassroots, putting in first place their own agendas and adopting corporate models with an intergovernmental summitism (Lovink 2005:8). As a consequence, AMARC proposed a community media working group separately for civil society groups within the WISS concerned about raising the voices of traditional media and the digital divide victims. Controversial issues as accessibility, pluralism and the third sector of media were discussed in this parallel context, looking for solutions to make technology more accessible to marginalized groups and bridge the digital divide (Cammaerts 2007: 256). Therefore, community media could be analyzed from within this new and challenging ICT context, from a social and a political perspective. From a social perspective we can consider it a process because it is stand on a community – based approach, where its main goals are people appropriation, empowerment and active participation (in this sense, ICTs are an aid to improve its role). Meanwhile, from a political aspect some contextual features should be considered to guarantee accessibility, participation, sustainability and governance of communities and countries within a globalized world.
Some important questions to take into account in this reflection are: Which voices are being heard in a community media? Is it the voice of the marginalized or donor’s /project planners’ voices and what is the role of community within community media? Granqvist in Hermer and Tufte (2005) were concerned with power relationships within project planning and technology dissemination and appropriation, arguing that “…investigators, users and average citizens do not typically have the power (the finances, knowledge, and societal positions), to alter the circumstances of ownership, design processes and technological outcomes” (Hermer 2005:290). Granqvist’s concern with how marginalized groups are socially affected by technologies and what it means, and in what ways technologies promote activity or passivity, creativity or monotony, autonomy or dependence in communities, and if technology appropriation interfere with value or traditions, or community interests (Granqvist 2005:291-2).
Accordingo to Rao in Hemer & Tufte (2005: 271) several ICT projects have failed because they were too technological centered. He argues that the information society should not be see just as an instrument, but as an industry (and, I will say in addition, as a social process), in the sense that should be seen as part of a context in construction, developing all the criteria that can guarantee appropriation, sustainability and a really social change. Looking ICTs as an industry, according to Rao, includes an 8 Cs analysis framework being: connectivity, content, community, commerce, culture, capacity, cooperation and capital . For Rao, these factors can help us to analyze the impact and potential of ICTs within countries (ibid: 275) and their impact in different sectors (education, health, rural development, etc), as well as ranking countries in terms of their maturity in the ICT industry. However, using his approach can make us raise some provocative questions: Is a comparison really possible between developed and developing countries in term of technologies? Is it correct to rank countries, as if every country should reach the same goal? Rao’s conjecture assumes as a fact that technology appropriation is directly connected with development or better living conditions.
However, there are additional approaches to evaluate the success of ICTs appropriation, taking also into account the social aspect and community involvement. Cisler in Lovink (2005:151-6) makes an analysis of the following aspects of ICTs: the framework (where is the hardware and the software produced); unequal technological system (not all technologies can be applied in the same way in different places); the complexity of the projects (by whom was the project planned?); financial costs (costs of technology installation is higher in developing countries); sustainability (focus on local economy and capacity development); and genesis of ICTs. This last criteria is particularly interesting because it mentions how projects are focused on advocating technologies without looking at other community medias (as radio for instance) that are more focused on rural and poor communities. A good recommendation of the author is to listen to the needs of people before introducing new ICT’s and ensure sustainability by keeping development initiatives simple, to ensure they have a greater impact and desired effect.