Community Media: conclusions

The world is experiencing a constantly changing cultural landscape. This change is driven by political factors such as governments, economic factors such as private enterprise, and the nexus between the two. At the same time, the fabric of society is being pulled and pushed in ways that challenge both, civil society, and its free expression in the public sphere. Community media has a central role to play in this tug of war.

Due to forces of globalization, CM has to deal with issues that are local and global at the same time, due to rapid technological changes has to deal with both old and new media forms (such as radio on one hand and social media on the other), due to changes in the level of education worldwide and decolonization of many countries CM has to deal with education and development issues, due to difference in approaches of participants, it has to deal with diverse forms which may on one hand be artistic and journalistic and on the other be very instrumental. Lastly, due to different types of organization, CM has to be able to deal with arrangements that can vary from the very formal to completely informal.

The promise of CM is what has allowed it to survive, but the challenges are many. The challenges are well understood but participation is the key.

At an international level, the role of UNESCO in Community media can be seen here.

Community media is not just for developing countries. Even in developed countries like the US they have an important place and an example of which can be seen here.

The voice of civil society

Scholars seem to agree that the common denominator is that community media represents civil society interests as opposed to state or business interests. Referring to the International Association of Media and Communication Research, in Community Media: A Global Introduction Ellie Rennie describes community media as something which “originates, circulates and resonates from the sphere of civil society… This is the field of media communication that exists outside of the state and and the market (often non-government and non-profit), yet which may interact with both” (Rennie, 2006, p. 4).

Community media has and continues to defy a strict definition but a good feel of what it is can be experienced by Rennie’s comment that CM can be “a local television in Denmark”, “microradio and public access television in the United States”, “local newsletters produced by a womens’ group in Bangladesh”, “the web-based Indymedia that operates in 70 cities around the world” (Rennie, 2006, p. 3) or more.

Another attempt at defining CM is due to Howley: “By community media, I refer to grassroots or locally oriented media access initiatives predicated on a profound sense of dissatisfaction with mainstream media form and content, dedicated to the principles of free expression and participatory democracy, and commited to enhancing community relations and promoting community solidarity” (Howley, 2005, p. 2)

Jankowski provides a more specific definition of CM as “Community media refers to a diverse range of mediated forms of communication: print media such as newspapers and magazines, electronic media such as radio and television, and electronic network initiatives that embrace characteristics of both traditional print and electronic media” (Jankowski, 2001, p. 6).

Community media has also been defined by its regulatory constraints (Rennie, 2006, p. 23).

 

What is Community Media?

The idea of “Community media” is a concept which has been used for a long time in development to describe the means by which a local community is able to articulate its voice, be it through radio, television, print or, more recently, web-based.

In order to understand Community media (CM) one has to understand not only community and media separately but also how the two are synthesized into one. Community is deeply tied to the public sphere and civil society which makes it imperative to delve into these ties if one has to unravel the workings of a community. At a deeper level, community is not just based on a certain locality as one might first assume but can also mean a group of people having shared values and shared cultures (such as a diaspora population) or even special interest groups. In the internet age, communities do not necessarily have to even be collocated. A community can be scattered so sparsely that every member may be in a different global location.

Media, on the other hand, is largely understood as a form of a carrier of information. Similarly, at a deeper level, media is not just the technology of carrying information but a whole slew of related entities that operate in very interdependent ways. It is because of this highly entangled nature of community which comes out of society, and media which comes out of technology, that writers like Warschauer (2003) have stressed the idea of “social embeddedness of technology”, something which has also been pointed to by Hemer and Tufte (2005).