Challenges

The challenges of community media have been frequently raised in both formal and informal arenas. Formal challenges have been highlighted by scholars in journals and other academic literature, as well as at events, such as the first World Congress of Communication for Development (WCCD), organized by the World Association of community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) in 2006. At the informal level, individuals and/or groups have raised issues concerning ICT4D and community media through private emails, as well as, in down time during the myriad of conferences held on ICT and development (Lovink, 2005 p.151).

Community media such as community radio, television, computers and mobile telephones, are increasingly being recognized by multilateral institutions and governments as an effective tools of C4D. The evidence of its value in enriching democratic processes and poverty eradication is more compelling than ever (WCCD, 2006, p.9), such as LINCOS project in Costa Rica and Dominican Republic and the ITU Multipurpose Community Centers in Uganda, Mali, and Tanzania, ICT for medical empowerment project in Uganda, and reforms through citizen participation and government accountability in Kenya, among others.

There are a number of challenges to implementing successful, participatory and sustainable community media initiatives. These challenges make it inevitable to achieve the vision of knowledge societies, such as increasing ICT diffusion and adoption, creating ICT pilot projects, ensuring sustainability and visibility of ICT initiatives, creating ICT industries and systematically analysing research on the global information society (Rao, 2005, p272), among others. As Lovink (2005) elaborates, funders and implementers underestimate the complexity of the projects. For example, many projects face the problem of sustainability and are plagued by a short life cycle (Lovink, 2005, p151).

One of the challenges donor organizations face is how to support community media facilitated by the democratization promise (WCCD, 2006), while at the same time achieving long term, sustainable results with their funding. It is also difficult for community media stakeholders to highlight the practical contributions made by community media as distinct from those of mainstream state and commercial media (WCCD, 2006, p10). Furthermore, as Lovink (2005) states, “less than one percent of global research and development is currently spent on technological innovations for poor countries” (Lovink, 2005, p.152).

Lack of proper enabling legislation is a barrier hindering community media’s potential to initiate and foster the communication processes that empower individuals and communities (WCCD, 2006, p.12). Cammaerts (2007) explains that there is a lack of a regulatory legal framework for media systems to ensure pluralism and ownership and diversifying of content. This characterizes community media with bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles, especially state-owned telecommunications monopolies (Rao, 2005, p.432). Journalistic institutions have limited capacity to establish press councils, and as a consequence NGOs that are advocates of media freedom and organizations are concerned with current journalistic training and accreditation (Cammaerts, 2007).

Community media depend on the existence of community ownership of the media; on community participation in the management and in the programming, thus being related directly to the themes and challenges of the community without the mediation of state or commercial interests (WCCD, 2006, p.11). What is in existence are corporations developing electronics, computers, and telecommunications to benefit the shareholders or the principals (Lovink, 2005, p.153). While corporate responsibility may manifest itself in company grants, public-private partnerships and community affairs projects, the major activities and driving forces of the companies ideally result in profit. Journalists and reporters often serve only as spokespersons of the state or of commercial media owners, rather than report about urgent humanitarian crises and development challenges facing the marginalized and poor (Cammaerts, 2007). The genesis of ICT projects; for all the talk about participation is that many ICT projects do not originate with the target populations, whether they are a village without connectivity or a clerical staff in a ministry about to automate some complex process (Lovink, 2005, p.156).

In terms of financial costs, ICT projects in developing countries are usually more expensive than those in places with developed technological systems (Lovink, 2005, p.154). The hardware must be imported at a higher cost, the software (unless it is pirated or open source) will be more costly as will support and consulting fees, especially if the funders rely on outside experts. If a local entrepreneur is undertaking the project his or her cost of money in the form of a loan is much higher.

Sustainability in the development industry equates to financial stability, and to Lovink (2005, p.155), even if we give lip service to community, political, and technological sustainability, the problem begins long before this point. The rules of the donor/lender agency usually require the applicant to explain how they will ensure the sustainability of a proposal. It is assumed that creative planning can find sources of money in places where little exists. For instance, Singhal et al (2003) demonstrate how uncertain political support and the fear of heavy taxation have forced companies such as Telenor to re-invest all Its profits into the same country venture rather than attempt to take these profits out of country as dividend for its shareholders.

However, there are possible remedies to the above challenges; according to Lovink (2005 p.156) “the demand for sustainability may result in more modest projects, ones that a village or ministry in a poor country, or a rural school can afford more readily than lavish telecenter. Singhal et al (2003) suggest that development organizations should have a good “brand” value and wide rural reach in a developing country and are uniquely positioned to partner with corporations to extend the benefits of information technology in rural areas (Singhal et al, 2003).

Low-income emerging markets for information technology products can be profitable. Reaching out to rural customer segments in emerging markets should not always be equated with charity and benevolence; rather it is possible to create models of social entrepreneurship which subscribe to multiple, co-existing, and mutually-reinforcing (win-win) bottom-lines. Lovink (2005) states in addition that “there needs to be a better forum to talk about failures in ICT without worrying about loss of face, loss of further funding, or loss of consulting work. Such transparency and frank discussion will continue to be rare occurrences in a world of constrained resources and professional reputations”.