1: Why Community Media? Defining the term

I would love this conversation to get started, but I do not have time to be as lengthy as I would like to be on this topic – therefore, I will start with a brief introduction to the first topic, and hope that my fellow classmates can help me flesh it out and set the tone for the next couple of weeks.

In order to discuss the role of New Media and ICT in community media, we must first try to define what it is, and how we are going to be using the term. In our required reading, we focus more on that second step – how is it being used, and altered, to fit with the new conditions under which it operates? Therefore, we must go back up a bit in order to make sure we are all on the same page.

In his 2005 book “Community Media: People, Places and Communication Technologies”, Kevin Howley points out that not a lot of research has been done on the topic. “Despite their keen appreciation for local cultural production and their affirmation of popular culture of resistance, cultural studies scholars likewise and inexplicably overlook community media. /…/  an important subtext of this book is, therefore, the contention that community media represents a significant, but largely untapped site of analysis into the dynamics of media culture.” (2005:4, 6)

We can delve even deeper into why it might be hard to define community media, if we turn to the field of anthropology. A culture, or a community, can be defined by their shared experiences, rules, languages or traditions-  sometimes loosely held together, sometimes so closely knit that others can have a hard time being accepted into the fold. Usually, however, people belong to many different communities and, in a world that is increasingly interconnected, where do we draw the line between community and alternative media, for example?

Howley’s definition of community media, therefore, involves a willingness within the group to sustain a “deep, horizontal community”, but at the same time he sees it as a local phenomena, place-bound – “properly viewed as a complex form of resistance and accommodation to transnational media flows” (ibid: 33) In many instances, the resistance seems to be key to a community media project: It must be, somehow working with a self-identified group with somewhat set boundaries, and reject at least part of the hegemonic structures in which the group operates.

As for the place argument, I am not sure that is as important as it once was. We see groups like Anonymous, but also others, who self-identify as a community and control their own media outlets from different parts of the world. The web might not be a physical space, but I would argue that these groups would still fall under the definition of community media.



  1. Hello Linnea,

    I found your definition of community media quite interesting.Indeed a community can be a group of people ,a network,a corporation,the diversity of actors within community media is very wide.

    You took the exemple of the group “anonymous” and those persons are everywher ein the world,I think it’s even quite easy to join them as an activist.However ,their purpose is not so well determined,it has an interesting anarchist taste and a modern similarity of Robin Wood,everyone must access informations according to their logic and nevermind if it’s stolen from “the bigger”

    I think community media has this interesting feature,being accessible,now with technology,the actors have changed.Contrary to mass media,community media involes a certain interraction between the people,the content of an information,how it is produced.

    On the variety of actors,I noticed a difference between the way people were organising their community media.For exemple,corpations have bigger means,sometimes they used other tools than their own brand in order to produce a community media on a certain topic.

    I noticed that for exemple,students can create their own community media,by forming students organisation and groups and promote their work,ask other students to join and to participate and the media grows bigger.
    I think it’s interesting knowing that students for exemple can use “old fashioned” media such as papers,magazines and also use technology,like social network,blogging to defend their idea.Many corporations would rather use the mass media or focus on new media,such as internet for a single project.
    I think that groups like students have bigger possibilities since the financial risks might be lower.

    From your comment,and from my research,I understand that community media is fromed by a group of persons with similar interests who create a media to show their work and ideas and that those people can communicate and gather somehow even though they live at different sides of the planet.


  2. Sophie,

    Thank you for your input. I agree about the widened definition of “local” – as I said, I think the physical space has shifted somewhat, but the main, underlying need for the community to 1) self-identify as a group (through religion, politics, or any other sort of ideology or, as is the case sometimes, in opposition to another movement)
    2) have some sort of “border” or rule, in which others are also exluded
    3) be opposing the main stream in some way.

    I wonder what you think about number 3? Is it necessary to be trying to change or alter society in some way?

  3. Well regarding your point number three,I think many groups are in opposition to something,whatever this something is,it is the strengh of a group to opppose to ideas and concepts which are well established and which rules society.

    For exemple ,students group will often target the government,saying the people leading the country do nothing for the youth,that unemplyment is keep on rising.
    I think about a french movie callled “le peril jeune” which is a portrait of the youth from the 70’s,this movie from Cedric Klapsich,offers a quite realistic view of a young generation with dreams and hope,inner conflicts,who grow from experience and fight against social injustice,I think it’s incredible of this portrait could match today youth society in France.

    I think people will always have to fight against something and often the manichesit concept of Good/evil is very present.Even with education,knowledge,science and globalisation,I think groups will always be determined by the concept that someone is right and the other is wrong,and that agreeing even partly with the other side would only weaken the group.

  4. So basically,I agree with your idea of “border”,to be in a gorup,you must understand it’s ideas,defend them and promote them,and participate at different degrees to be accepted.

    I wonder however how it works in more dispatched groups,modern social network groups,such as facebook groups,or in twiter since technology challenge everything.

  5. I think we will get in to that notion a bit later in our discussion (“since technology challenges everything”) but I wanted to just touch upon it briefly.

    Of course technology is changing our world in some ways, but I think we need to be careful and really examine to what extent it is happening, and what actually remains the same. Because in a lot of ways, there are basic assumptions about the way in which humans interact and group themselves that seems to be applicable also on the way we move around on the web.

    As someone who has a background in anthropology, it is natural for me to turn to those theories, so I apologize if I do so too frequently. However, I find it interesting to see how the new field of digital (or virtual) anthropology is applying old theories of the way in which humans interact to these new digital spaces.

    One of the things these studies point out is just the ‘crisis of boundaries”‘ which we have previously not experienced, “between the real and the virtual, between time zones and between spaces, near and distant. Above all, boundaries between bodies and technologies, between our sense of self and our sense of our changing roles: the personae we may play or the “hats that we wear” in different situations are altered”. (Page 7. Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies. 1996. Shields, Rob)

    In that same book, we can find further discussions about community and how the arena (physical/virtual) changes and amplifies certain characteristics. For example, the author examines MUD (Multi-User Online Dungeon/Dimension/Domain, multi-player online games) -communities and presents troubling findings: “The paradoxes that lurk within cyberspace gradually translate into cultural perversions and social-political distortions. /…/ It has led to commodification and reification of much human experience. Destructive stances and discourses, which would demand and provoke resistances in the bounded political ‘real’ world, remain largely unopposed. Note the brutality, violence and enslavement that flourish in virtual worlds, especially in the MUDs”. (Page 117)

    It is a very negative outlook of what it means when we lose the physical bodies that we inhabit… But we will get more into that later, when we compare old and new media.

  6. So, to go back to the original question we posted this week: Yes, community media can be important for development. But it can also be a tool used to keep people down or alienated, or spread “information” or ideas that are detrimental to progress. For example, depending on how you define progress, the social/community media project “God hates fags” – is a multi-dimensional hate speech campaign.

  7. You raised an interesting question on how to differentiate community media from alternative media in your initial post Linnea and that is particularly important at this defining stage. Rather than seeing global interconnectedness as an obliteration of the concept of local community to the extent that it makes it hard to separate the two “medias” above, I see two important functions of ICTs to the contrary. First, as a tool to reclaim and maintain the idea of a local community. Even though a community radio in Arizona can be listened to by someone in Kiruna, Sweden thanks to the internet the catch phrase in Howler`s definition of community media is “grassroots or locally oriented media access initiatives”. This grounds community media in a specified geographic setting and not “community” in an abstract sense where it can span the globe e.g. a global community of poor people. Secondly, ICTs are used to articulate difference for what makes a community a community is difference in language, ritual you name it. As you rightly say, people belong to many different communities some of which are global and for the benefit of doubt I think Community Media should be preceded by the word Local.
    You and Sophie accept what Sophie calls a widened definition of “local”. If I understand you correctly, a community of university students can run an online newspaper with contributions from students in India, Swaziland and Canada. In my view, this hardly passes the test of building a more democratic media culture as it takes deliberative actions back to the global forum where discursive practices will be dominated by students from the global North in part due to the realities of the digital divide. On the question of identity and collective self-interest, the students in my example hardly share common concerns as these are circumscribed by specific cultural and national challenges. The expanded definition of local thus undermines “the creativity, pragmatism and resourcefulness of local populations in their struggle to control media production and distribution”( Howley 2005:3)Even within a nation, regional and thus community challenges differ. In my view therefore a more democratic media culture is built through what I would call a devolution of media power devoid of an expanded meaning of the local. This does not imply that local communities will always agree or that there can be no common concerns in the expanded version of the local but that expansion should be understood in the Habermasian context of quantity of participation in a given local community.
    Finally, a word on question 3 raised by Linnea, I agree with you Sophie on the idea of opposing ideas and concepts in the mainstream media. The very essence of community media is to create space for the articulation of interests which to a large extent may run contra to government and corporate interests.

    • Isaac, I understand your objection to our “widened definition” of local. However, I must ask you what you think about expat communities, where one or several actors have been forced to move from their communities (either because of external threats, or because of economic opportunities) but still maintain a connection to their points of origin? For example, I think about community radio projects in which Zimbabwean expats are contributing from outside the country, since they were unable to work undisturbed in their home towns. Are they not participating in community media? Despite their very local roots, and ambitions? Likewise, what about students from small indigenous communities who spend their semesters at a university in a different country, but still work with community media? Are they not local, just because they are working from a different geographical location?

      I also do not agree with your second example – I would not take for granted that a community of university students from all over the world could not count as community media according to our definition. Not all Indians, Canadians and Swazi people are the same, and some segments of the population might have more in common with each other than with their fellow countrymen. For example, indigenous people from the North and the South who experience some of the same challenges from the majority, can they not share an identity and a collective self-interest? I am thinking, of course, of indigenous media – you can read more about these knowledge-sharing projects here, here or here. There are also some interesting media projects like the Global Oneness project, where the aim is to bring stories into the mainstream… would be interested to hear what you have to say about that.

  8. Thanks Linnea,radio stations operated by Zimbabweans in the diaspora are indeed community radios.My point is not where they operate from but what their orientation is.Their main focus is the Zimbabwean audience and most of them actually broadcast in the local languages.I accept that a community can be larger than a collection of villages,after all the EU was once the European Community(EC)or that it can refer to relationships which are not locally
    operative but exist at a more abstract, ideological level e.g a global community of lesbian women.Of course it makes academic sense to think of communities that way too. I agree but I still think that for practical reasons the more global it goes some people in the local community(spatial/geographic sense)lose control.Thanks very much,I emerge out of this debate wiser.

  9. Absolutely Isaac, I agree with you on that. And for the most part, local should be the “default setting” for community media – but we must not ignore those communities who might have emerged together, but then moved apart geographically, or those who share common features despite being in different countries from different parts of the world.

    I think we have a definition of community media we can all agree on – which makes it easier to move on and discuss how New Media fits into it!

  10. Hi Linnea, Sophie and Isaac. It’s interesting to follow your discussion here about community media, how to define and interpret it. We are struggling with similar ideas on our blog on the same topic, and I keep thinking about what role community media can play in counter-weighting majority community, mainstream ideas and local elites. What do you guys think about that? I see Linnea is mentioning “opposing the main stream” as part of defining community media. But isn’t there a risk that already existing local elites (churches, traditional leaders) may strengthen their already established influence in a community? Please feel free to join our discussion on this on our blog: http://wpmu.mah.se/nmict132group2/2013/09/29/what-is-community-media/

  11. I think there’s a point in not trying to define neither community media nor community too strictly. On a more general and philosophical point, I think that the phenomena underlying most concepts are more heterogenous than we like to think, and not acknowledging this will lead to problems further down the road. When talking more specifically about community media, I think it has to be up to the communities and their members to define their community and adopt the media they are using to their specific needs and interests. Trying to decide, so to speak, from the outside what is and what is not a “proper” community or what community media should look like is running close to ignorance.
    From a academic point of view this is, obviously, somewhat problematic. It becomes hard to, for example, say what effects community media might have if we, to begin with, can’t say what community media really is. However, I think that we simply have to restrict ourselves to examining one branch of community media at the time. That is, sticking to the examples that we actually can fit under one single definition. Although this might make our results less radical, I think it, in the end, gives a truer picture and, at the same time, respects different communities own needs and interests.

  12. Marit and Magdalena, great to see you joining the discussion. Of course groups should be given the right to identify themselves as a community, and others should respect them as such.

    However, if we are too lax with the term community media, everything will start counting, which rather goes against not only the academic purpose of having a defined term, but also all ways of distinguishing it against other types of media. Especially today, when mass media conglomerates are actively trying to create “fake” communities around their brands, because it enables them to sell more products when they can use people to act as brand ambassadors. Most literature agrees on the need to distinguish commercial communication and commercial media from community media –all terms need to be defined not only based on what they are, but also on what they are not.

    For example, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, AMARC defines community radio as “a vital alternative to the profit-oriented agenda of corporate media. They are driven by social objectives rather than the private, profit motive. They empower people rather than treat them as passive consumers, and they nurture local knowledge rather than replace it with standard solutions. Ownership and control of community media is rooted in, and responsible to, the communities they serve. And they are committed to human rights, social justice, the environment and sustainable approaches to development” (2003).

    So, once one has “determined” that community radio is an alternative to for-profit radio, and should be driven by social objectives, many communication projects can no longer count as community media, even though they might call themselves that. We have discussed the case of religious organizations on a different blog (http://wpmu.mah.se/nmict132group4/2013/10/07/new-community-media-and-the-african-charismatic-church/) , and I wonder how you would look at something like that.

    If we are too lax, and do not exclude certain projects from the term “community media” I fear we might shoot ourselves in the foot, when we are no longer able to distinguish “good” media development projects from “bad” ones, because they all claim to be community media.

    AMARC: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CC8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.itu.int%2Fdms_pub%2Fitu-s%2Fmd%2F03%2Fwsispc3%2Fc%2FS03-WSISPC3-C-0107!!MSW-E.doc&ei=iNdmUu2QFavt4gTFr4HwAw&usg=AFQjCNHNmJPW5XS0AYAfHlAJaJJAuSBGRg&sig2=A2Rh5D_2xUzRFelqKsz5Sw&bvm=bv.55123115,d.bGE

  13. I think the key point when it comes to defining community media is not related to research needs but rather a need for a definition in order to create a media policy that ensures that all voices in society are heard. Making your voice heard is something that is very difficult today – a paradox when you look at all the new opportunities emerging for people to express themselves. As Karppinen points out that even though new media technology has allowed a more differentiated and individualized model of communication this does not necessarily mean that citizen’s get more access to information. With an overload of information it can be difficult for minorities to make themselves heard. (Karppinen, 2007, p 12-16). In order to be heard PR is becoming increasingly important for all types of organizations in society. One way of constructing a more democratic public sphere could be increased and more stabile funding for civil society media, the so-called third sector. Community Media Forum Europe is an organization in Europe that is working to strengthen the participation of the “Third Media Sector” in Europe. They define community media as non profit-making media serving a local community. I think the non-profit definition is an important part of defining community media. The question is, for media policy, do we need to add another dimension regarding for example that the aim of community media in order to receive funds, should human rights based. Or should we just accept that everyone has the right to recieve funds as long as they are non-profit?
    For more on this subject see http://wpmu.mah.se/nmict132group3/2013/10/23/who-has-the-right-to-communicate/

    Community Media Forum Europe

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