In this blog post, I aim to answer the following questions based on this book:
- What is meant by community?
- How is community media defined?
- Why is it important in terms of social change?
What is meant by community?
Claiming to be a space that lies outside of politics – or being pre-political – community still requires politics to conceptualised or recognised. Community is formed through identification and a sense of affinity or of belonging, making it uncalculated, but made operational through the institution as a third sector. It is viewed as a type of governance, or a means of achieving political and/or social change in society and is placed within the concept of civil society. As the third sector in society, civil society consists of both formal and informal networks of associations, groups, clubs and cultural allegiances of everyday life that create social bonds, tying communities together.
How is community media defined?
The book is global in its scope and community media as definition is employed in a broad sense, including everything from local television in Denmark and newsletters by women in Bengal to web-based Indymedia that operates globally. Rennie has chosen to adopt a definition of community media by the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR):
Community media “originates, circulates and resonates from the sphere of civil society…This is the field of media communication that exists outside of the state and the market (often non-gonvernmental and non-profit), yet which may interact with both.”
Participation, accessibility and being non-profit are a few key elements are central to community media. Equally important to the methods, structures and organisation of community media is its aspirations and motivations. Rennie makes the connection to civil society and that community media works as one of its communication platforms and serves as both maintenance and as an extension of civil society itself.
Why is it important in terms of social change?
In terms of social change, Rennie partly relates the inclusive nature of community media and its ability to bring skills to a community. This relates to the political trend known as the third way where emphasis is put on partnership between local governments and civil society. In its essence, community media offers an alternative way of doing things, both in terms of production and organisation which makes it better adapted for activist networks and social movements to employ it to achieve social and political change. Even though Rennie argues for the transformative potential through participatory communication, she calls for caution on the expectations on development and social change. The danger lies in assessment, measurability and priorities pushed by donors that in effect shape what community media is made and by whom. Rennie calls emphasis to be put on the empowerment aspects of community media, supporting the “on-the-ground” usefulness and not donor-expected development objectives.
One of the most important aspects are credited to the self-representation and self-expression that community media offers, which is an essential part for societies to foster democracy and free speech. Participatory acts of representing oneself, presenting ideas, expressing culture or politics through personal stories, local concerns and unhindered commentary, show us what is happening in civil society and ultimately has consequences for democracy.