New Perspectives on Traditional Radio: seminar

This interesting seminar was organized on the first World Radio Day (13.2.2012) at the SOAS university in London. Topics of the seminar include for example the free, open-source software FrontlineSMS which enables radio listeners to interact with radio through sending and receiving text messages. The software has been downloaded already 20 000 times!

The number of viewers for this video just like for the UNICEF video tells the harsh truth on what interests people in YouTube: cat videos have millions of viewers whereas these serious videos gather perhaps a few hundred views…with some exceptions such as the Kony video last year, is it even possible to use YouTube as a channel for social change purposes as well?

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Community radio defined by UNICEF

For an understanding how big development organizations see community radio, check out the UNICEF India promotional video from 2010. It goes through in a very practical manner how to set up a community radio and what its benefits are for the local communities. Participants seem to feel empowered, but the whole process seems quite bureaucratic – what do you think?

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Defining Community Media

Say “community media” and an image of a local radio station, run by amateurs producing locally oriented news, might pop up in your head?
At a first glance the concept of community media seems quite easy to define, and you can find hundreds of existing examples of community media initiatives like the one described above. But while digging deeper into the topic you soon end up with some definition challenges.

Like Kevin Howley writes, quoting himself, “community media is a ´notoriously vague construct´” (Howley 2010: 15). He continues by stating that there are many terms for describing “media that´s produced by and for local communities”, such as: participatory, alternative and citizen’s media. And that the technology for transmitting the locally produced media can vary (Howley 2010: 15).

Leah A Lievrouw is calling one genre participatory journalism or participatory media within the greater genre of alternative and activist new media and is presenting Indymedia as one of the most important examples of that (Lievrouw 2011:125). Community media initiatives have been around for decades, so how come participatory media suddenly is discussed as something new? Is it really new or is it just the same concept trying out new technology…?

Short definitions

Though difficult to define, there are, of course, some suggestions of definitions of community media. Howley does one attempt:

“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 committed to enhancing community relations and promoting community solidarity.” (Howley 2005: 2)

UNESCO, that´s supporting various community media initiative in the name of democracy defines community radio like this:
“A community radio station is one that is operated:

  • in the community,
  • for the community,
  • about the community and
  • by the community.

The community can be territorial or geographical – a township, village, district or island. It can also be a group of people with common interests, who are not necessarily living in one defined territory.”

Two definitions that contradict each other at one important point: must a community be local?

What is a community?

No matter how you twist it, the term community plays a vital role while trying to define community media and positioning it within the greater genre of alternative media. Howley describes one of his attempts of defining community like disappearing “down that particular rabbit hole” (Howley 2005:5).

Down that rabbit hole, Howley grabbed on to Anthony Cohen´s definition of community: “Through an array of symbolic practices – language, dress, custom, and ritual – communities come to identify themselves. By participating in these symbolic practices and investing meaning in them, individuals define themselves as members of a particular community. In turn, these symbolic practices help differentiate communities from one another” (Cohen 1985: 20 in Howley 2005: 6).

Howley does think that the local aspect of community is important, and he suggests that globalization “intensifies the significance of place” because “place provides a basis for individual and collective identity formation” (Howley 2011: 9). Since communication plays an important role in the process of shaping individual and collective consciousness of the relations of ´significance and solidarity´ called community (Williams 1973 in Howley 2011: 9), Howley argues that while “dominant media tend to conceal the interconnected and mutually dependent character of social relations, community media work to reveal this fundamental aspect of human communities.”(Howley 2011: 9) And therefore the democratic structures and participatory ethos are important ingredients in community media.

Another view on community and the construction of identity is offered by Auli Harju in Reclaiming the Media. He claims that an identity includes the idea of belonging to a community, and that community can be local. But a collective identity doesn´t necessarily depend on geographical proximity, that it´s merely a system of relations and representations. (Harju in Cammaerts and Carpentier 2007: 95).

Viewing the audience

Community media initiatives have over the years questioned the view of the audience as mere media consumers and chosen to see them as social agents within their community that, at least in theory, can take the step from being audience to produce their own media and take active part in the communication process.  Some of the fundamental characteristics of new media such as viewing the audience and media consumers like media users and participants (Lievrouw 2011:1), can be found in many community media projects. But in some cases using traditional technology such as radio creates a boundary between the listener and the producer, and when a similar initiative uses digital tools such as social media the boundary is far less difficult to round. That´s probably why you can find more and more examples of more traditional community media initiatives trying to combine i.e. radio broadcast with internet based platforms or mobile phone solutions.

By Lisa Hanson


Cammaerts, B. and Carpentier, N. (eds) (2007) Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles. Intellect: Bristol, UK.

Howley, K. (2005) Community Media – People, Places, and Communication Technologies. Cambridge University Press 2005.

Howley, K. (2010) Understanding Community Media. SAGE Publications Inc. 2010.

Lievrouw, L. (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media, Digital Media and Society Series. Polity Press 2011.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO (2013). Community Radio. [Electronic] Available: [13-03-20]

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Old and New Media

Old and New Media

There are various approaches to media history and scholars have different understanding of it, some traces media back to pre-literate history of humans, who communicated andwere socially active but couldn’t write. People could convey news through drawings on clay tablets. Furthermore, another understanding of old media supports the public sphere that was theorized by Jürgen Habermas, where he recognizes the organizations enabling an appropriate atmosphere for the public opinion and he emphasis on the coffee houses and newspaper.  From this perspective academics assess old media as newspaper, radio and television. (Stuart, 2008)



Old media and Downtown Community

Television (DCTV)

A new form of television was aired in 1975; the produces were independent video artists who captured the essence of the community of Lower East Side of New York.  This was an overcrowded neighborhood with immigrants from different part of the world, with various issues of adapting to what was for many a new society, norms and tradition. The unemployment rates were high and it paved the way for criminality, discriminations and exploitations of new arrivals of immigrants. The founders of DCTV are Jon Albert and his wife Keiko Tsuno documented the conditions in which people lived in, and they spread information and brought awareness to the community. DCTV was the first media that captured real life events of a place which was neglected by the authorities, however DCTV’s struggle for social change lead to improvements for the community. The DCTV is distinctive due to the duration production. The work of Albert and Tsuno didn’t solitary contribute to social change but also paved the way for progression of democracy, as they educated people in the independent production of video (camera recording). (Howley, 2005, 133-184)

“Despite dramatic changes in the neighborhood and in television technology, one constant remains: DCTV’s unflinching commitment to communicative democracy”(Howley,2005,150-151)

New Media

New media which is mostly internet based communication includes new trend of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, You tube, news agencies online and various sites etc. . New media is a form of mass communication whereas it reaches out to a large amount of people and it also paves the way for globalization, as it can gather people from different parts of the world at one place. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become a part of our daily lives, though there are many critiques of ICT’s development it still has impacted governments and institutions to use digital services. (Carpentier, 2007)  (Pieterse, 2010)


New media and Vicnet

Victoria’s Network (Vicnet, Australian network), is a community based network which allows the people of Victoria to share, publish and find information both locally and globally. In this case ICT’s development work as a facilitating means of the daily life of the community. Furthermore the site also attracts tourist which indeed is beneficial for the economy of Victoria’s community. The government does not only publicize information but they also profit from the expanding of the network. (Howley, 2005, 226-258)

As ICT develop and progressively turning governments to e-governance and e-democracy.  Carpentier argues with e-governance we can enable e-democracy, and the advantages for the citizens are

1. “may have access to relevant information”

2. “At the consultation level governments interact with citizens, adopting mechanism, such as online forums, web-based platforms, and e-mail newsgroups, through which public debates and deliberation can inform decision- making process”.

3. “A third level is defined as active participation, stressing the potentialities (and challenges) for active engagement in partnership and policy-making process”. (Carpentier, 2007, 34)

Pietrse argues, the continues progress of the digital world in fact creates greater issue it does not create  “bridging a digital divide” as many indicates but it further increases the gap between the developed countries and the developing countries. Moreover it funds “growing inequality within and between societies since 1980’s is growing skill differentials and IT and digital literacy is a major part of this growing gap (Nederveen Pieterse 2004:ch.5;Cornia 1999)” (Pietrese 2010: 167-168)

The development of new media may not always serve for the best but when it involves community media ICT serves for the improvement of equality, a sustainable participation in democratic progress. (Carpentier, 2007

By: Nian Babker


SMS Frontline for Healthcare for All

This clip was good example of how a community uses new technological forms of reaching out the important messages as Health Care. They communicate through text sms in order to reach a wider range of people, example for those who done not have a TV or electricity. Every community has its own way of communicating with its residents, and this small community in Armenia has chosen this way.






Cammaerts, B. and Carpentier, N. (eds) (2007) Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles. Intellect: Bristol, UK. (An up-to-date coverage on media, democracy and civil rights. Chapter 9: Activism and the Media, pg. 217-224, Chapter 11: Civil Society Media at the WSIS, pg. 243-264.
Available as electronic resource at Malmö University Library Catalogue

Howley, Kevin. Community Media – People, Places, and Communication Technologies. Cambridge Univ. Press 2005.
Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (2009) Development Theory – deconstructions/reconstructions. 2nd edition. London: Sage

Stuart Allen, Media History.2008 . DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x. Subject: History
Communication and Media Studies » Communication Studies Media System » Media History,  International Encyclopedia  of Comunication ,




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Who’s got the power?

information and communication, which way round?

Right and wrong topics

The ability to frame and choose issues is one of the ways media uses power (Howley 2005: 23-25). This type of power is usually affiliated with commercialized media dominated by market and corporate interests or with public media and its nation-building and civilicizing mission. On the other hand, community media is described as independent civil society-based media providing communities information and access to voice, facilitating debate and knowledge sharing and giving input into public decisionmaking (Buckley 2011: 7). This definition of community media sounds almost too good to be true – but is it the full picture?

Community media particularly in developing countries are largely dependent on external funding. What kind of limitations does Western donor-funding pose on the content of the programmes in community radio, for example? It seems unlikely that community radios would be allowed to air programmes on something completely opposed to the donor’s values, such as defending gender discrimination.

Yet, offering voice to diverse groups of people is a core aspect of truly democratic community media. Ellie Rennie highlights this viewpoint: ”Our theories of community media need to begin from its reality; a reality that involves ordinary folk producing all kinds of stuff, some of which may be hard to even recognise as democratic.” (Rennie 2006: 186). She continues that community media is unpredictable and can be used for various purposes, both good and bad, but the key word is representation. Invisible or marginalized groups overlooked or patronized by the mainstream media such as disabled people or HIV positive people have a space in the community media to represent themselves and to state their personal stories and concerns. (Rennie 2006: 187.)

How much participation is enough?

Participation is a central feature of community media as written by Lisa Hanson in her blog post. Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron lists other conditions for community media in his presentation (2004), such as language and cultural pertinence and development of local contents.

[slideshare id=257938&doc=community-media-approches-and-the-mdgs-1202485862907826-2]

Can representation of different local voices and listening to the needs of the audience be enough to constitute a ”community media”? Tanzanian multimedia edutainment initiative Femina HIP, launched in 1999, has grown to one of the best known media especially in its target group, young Tanzanians. The plethora of Femina products includes magazines (Fema and Si Mchezo!), reality television show (Ruka juu), discussion programmes (FEMA TV show) and interactive websites ( These initiatives can hardly be described as small-scale local community media anymore. The distribution of Si Mchezo! magazine alone is 175.000 copies throughout Tanzanian schools and organizations. (Bagger 2011.)

Minou Fuglesang describes the way in which Femina does its community-based editorial collection. Si Mchezo! magazine editors travel to rural areas to collect stories on their digital cameras and laptops. One of the regular magazine features, photo-novels are composed of ordinary people acting and posing in photographs. Local organizations and key individuals assist in recommending issues or people to contact and give constant feedback on the magazine. (Fuglesang 2005: 393.)

The latest product of the Femina family, Ruka juu, is a professional-looking reality television show focused on entrepreneurship. The show stars real local entrepreneurs out of which audience can vote their favourites through SMS and participate in different competitions. The only difference between Ruka Juu and regular reality television shows is its educational dimension: the show has a clear objective of educating youth on entrepreneurship as well as on responsible health behaviour.

Today it seems almost like community media has been a forerunner to the participatory  mainstream media. Nowadays people can comment on journalists’ articles, vote for their favourites in reality television shows, post their own photos to many large newspapers and upload their videos online where those videos and images can be used by major television channels…some newspapers are even rewarding and publishing best photos or videos of citizen-journalists.

Is it participatory enough to be able to influence the choice of topics, to respond and interact? Or does “real” community media imply that people themselves are also managers, creators and communicators of the content? What do you think?


Bagger, Ane-Kirstine (2011). ”Reaching Millions – Changing Generations. Femina HIP’s Role and Impact on the Tanzanian Media Scene”. Available at:

Buckley, Steve (2011). Community Media: Good Practice Handbook. UNESCO: Paris. Available at:

Fuglesang , Minou (2005). ”Si Mchezo! magazine. Community media making a difference.” In Hemer, Oscar & Tufte, Thomas (2005) Media and Glocal Change. Rethinking Communication for Development. Buenos Aires: CLACSO. Available at:

Gumucio-Dagron, Alfonso (2004). ”Community media approaches and communication for social change”. Powerpoint presentation available at:

Howley, Kevin (2005). Community Media – People, Places, and Communication Technologies. Cambridge University Press

Rennie, Ellie (2006). Community Media – a global introduction. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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