Thepower of community media, particularly community radio, to mobilize groups andbring change to societies is well documented in history. This power has beenmostly manipulated and used to spread hate and violence. Adolf Hitler has usedcommunity media to spread propaganda against Jews and spread hatred.
Another example is the case in Rwanda in 1994when Hutu militias called their community to “kill the cockroaches” (Tutsis).Cautioning against the negative potential of community radio, an organization, Searchfor Common Ground, demonstrated how this organization relied on community radioto prevent the spillover of violence from Rwanda to Burundi by focusing onbringing people together and fostering dialogue and peace.Giventhat community media can be used both positively and negatively, we must sailthis water carefully.
The impact of independent media on society iscross-cutting and encompassing, and thus should be regarded as a uniquedevelopment sector. Within media development, it is essential to focus oncommunity radio as a powerful source for empowerment, especially fordisenfranchised and marginalized groups in society. Research efforts toquantify, analyze, and draw conclusions regarding the impact of community radioare essential and can serve as a sound basis for assistance advocacy. The mostimportant aspects of community radio, which serves a geographic group or acommunity of interest, include the broad participation by community membersoften on a volunteer basis, and the ownership and control of the station by thecommunity through a board of governors that is representative of the communityand responsive to the diversity of its needs.Understanding Community:Tounderstand community media, it is essential that we define what is considered acommunity. Based on contexts and perspectives community can take many shapesand forms. The concept of community in the discipline of communication can beunderstood as a construct of either terrestrial or social parameters.Asa terrestrial or geographical parameter, “community refers to a specificgeographical territory of or within or under a particular political entity” (Karikari, 2000).
In simpler words, this parameter includes apopulation under a certain political administration, often defined by abstractor otherwise geographical boundaries, but constituting only a small portion ofthe whole of the jurisdiction of a country. The ‘geographical community’ isoften interchangeable with the expression ‘local’. Examples of this kind ofcommunity would be a small-town community in a remote area, the community of acertain city, etc.Thesocial parameter defines community in terms of “shared interests, tastes andvalues,” and even in “demographic or psychographic terms” (Karikari, 2000).
This implies that groups of people who identify themselves with certain social,economic, cultural, political or ideological interests, views and orientations,might constitute a community. This type of community might or might not berestricted by any geographical area such as a town, a city. Neither they needto reside under a common political and administrative jurisdiction. The LGBTQcommunity, the black lives matters community, the alt-right community areexamples of such community.Community Media:Community mediacommonly includes radio; television; print; and computer networks, but thenature and purpose, regardless of the medium, carries shared characteristics.
Howley (2005) defines community media as follows:By community media, Irefer to grassroots or locally oriented media access initiatives predicated ona profound sense of dissatisfaction with mainstream media forms and content,dedicated to the principles of free expression and participatory democracy, andcommitted to enhancing community relations and promoting community solidarity(p. 2).According to Howley, thephrase “community media” encompasses a range of community based activities thatintend to “supplement, challenge, or change the operating principles,structures, financing, and cultural forms and practices associated with dominantmedia” (2009). This generic definition is focused to the extent that itaccommodates a diverse set of initiatives such as, to name a few: communityradio, participatory video, independent publishing, and online communication, operatingin a variety of social, political, and geo-cultural settings (Howley, 2009).
CommunityRadio:Amongthe variety of community media, community radio is undoubtedly most impactfulin terms of audience reach, given that radio is still the most powerful mediumin terms of reach. According to UNESCO World Radio Day 2013 report, there areabout 44,000 radio stations worldwide and at least 75% of households indeveloping countries having access to a radio. One of the primary limitations of radio as a medium and wasand still is to some extant is interaction with the audience. Without channelsfor feedback, radio is “…
purely an apparatus for distribution, for meresharing out” (Brecht, 1932). However, community radio has bypassed thetechnological limitations in the medium and found ways to create feedbackchannels through ownership, community surveying and in other ways pursuinginvolvement from the community. Despite a lack of ability to directly respondto broadcasts, community radio has involved its listeners through listeningclubs, surveys and direct feedback to shape the content of broadcasts (Jallov,2012). Consequently, the radio has becomean important medium for development and social change, giving communities aplatform for communicating about local issues, news and challenges that directlyaffect their daily lives (Mtimde, 2000). It has also demonstrated many positiveattributes that benefit in preserving local culture, giving the community avoice and capacity to express their identity, and empowering the community withdirect positive effects on democracy (Myers, 2011). While community radios cancome in different shapes, a few criteria are essential for it to be ‘truecommunity radio’. Community radio is two-way communication where the communitycan directly influence and be involved with content production andorganization; it is not-for-profit; uses local languages; promotes local music,and; is owned by the community (Odine, 2013).
Radio of this kind isparticipatory and functions as a community communication mechanism and aplatform for local development, which is defined by the community itself(Jallov 2012). The community radio provides a platform for the members of thecommunity to hold governments accountable, to advocate for their rights and todrive social change (da Costa, 2012).Anotheradvantage of radio in the context of development and social change isavailability. Equipment for both broadcasters and listeners are widelyavailable at low cost; the broadcast caters to the illiterate; and they canserve the community in its local language (Odine, 2013). However, even thoughcommunity radio has been around since the 1940s (Jallov, 2012), it has beenconstrained by state ownership of the airwaves in many parts of the world.
Withthe liberalization of the airwaves and availability of cheaper technology inthe last two decades, licensing to community radios has increased dramaticallyand Africa alone has experienced a growth of 1,386% between 2000 and 2006(Myers, 2011).Conclusion:Themost important aspects of community media, particularly community radio, whichserves a geographic group or a community of interest, include the broadparticipation by community members often on a volunteer basis, and theownership and control of the station by the community through a board ofgovernors that is representative of the community and responsive to thediversity of its needs.Thepotential of community radio to bring about social change is not a matter of mereobservation but, as Population Media Center President William Ryersondemonstrated, an empirically proven fact based on quantifiable andstatistically analyzed results. Focusingon women’s rights promotion, HIV rates reduction, family planning, reproductivehealth issues, and prevention of child trafficking, the Center uses communityradio to produce behavioral change among large audiences in 15 countries inAfrica, Asia, and Latin America, educating through entertainment, includingwith soap opera characters.
The highly significant results of pre andpost-broadcast random-sample surveys, Ryerson noted, indicated positive changesin the behavior of those who listened to the programming. In Ethiopia, forexample, those who listened to special programming on HIV were more likely tobe tested for the virus than non-listeners.Thisapproach builds on the power of media to create high emotional contexts thathelp make information more memorable, and the Population Media Center relies oncommunity radio as the most appropriate and cost-effective medium to reach itstarget audiences.
According to the estimates of a project in Tanzania, forexample, the cost of getting people to take steps to avoid HIV infection waseight cents per listener.These are just a fewillustrative, even if anecdotal, examples of what community radio can achieve.Given community radio’s enormous potential forparticipatory communication as a way of identifying, analyzingand solving problems at the grassrootslevel, and of stimulating communities to become more proactive in the pursuitof their own betterment, governments that have not done so should liberalizetheir media policies in its favor. And development agencies should actively promoteand support it as part of their projects.