power of community media, particularly community radio, to mobilize groups and
bring change to societies is well documented in history. This power has been
mostly manipulated and used to spread hate and violence. Adolf Hitler has used
community media to spread propaganda against Jews and spread hatred. Another example is the case in Rwanda in 1994
when Hutu militias called their community to “kill the cockroaches” (Tutsis).
Cautioning against the negative potential of community radio, an organization, Search
for Common Ground, demonstrated how this organization relied on community radio
to prevent the spillover of violence from Rwanda to Burundi by focusing on
bringing people together and fostering dialogue and peace.
that community media can be used both positively and negatively, we must sail
this water carefully. The impact of independent media on society is
cross-cutting and encompassing, and thus should be regarded as a unique
development sector. Within media development, it is essential to focus on
community radio as a powerful source for empowerment, especially for
disenfranchised and marginalized groups in society. Research efforts to
quantify, analyze, and draw conclusions regarding the impact of community radio
are essential and can serve as a sound basis for assistance advocacy. The most
important aspects of community radio, which serves a geographic group or a
community of interest, include the broad participation by community members
often on a volunteer basis, and the ownership and control of the station by the
community through a board of governors that is representative of the community
and responsive to the diversity of its needs.
understand community media, it is essential that we define what is considered a
community. Based on contexts and perspectives community can take many shapes
and forms. The concept of community in the discipline of communication can be
understood as a construct of either terrestrial or social parameters.
a terrestrial or geographical parameter, “community refers to a specific
geographical territory of or within or under a particular political entity” (Karikari, 2000). In simpler words, this parameter includes a
population under a certain political administration, often defined by abstract
or otherwise geographical boundaries, but constituting only a small portion of
the whole of the jurisdiction of a country. The ‘geographical community’ is
often interchangeable with the expression ‘local’. Examples of this kind of
community would be a small-town community in a remote area, the community of a
certain city, etc.
social parameter defines community in terms of “shared interests, tastes and
values,” 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 be
restricted by any geographical area such as a town, a city. Neither they need
to reside under a common political and administrative jurisdiction. The LGBTQ
community, the black lives matters community, the alt-right community are
examples of such community.
commonly includes radio; television; print; and computer networks, but the
nature and purpose, regardless of the medium, carries shared characteristics.
Howley (2005) defines community media as follows:
By community media, I
refer to grassroots or locally oriented media access initiatives predicated on
a profound sense of dissatisfaction with mainstream media forms and content,
dedicated to the principles of free expression and participatory democracy, and
committed to enhancing community relations and promoting community solidarity
According to Howley, the
phrase “community media” encompasses a range of community based activities that
intend to “supplement, challenge, or change the operating principles,
structures, financing, and cultural forms and practices associated with dominant
media” (2009). This generic definition is focused to the extent that it
accommodates a diverse set of initiatives such as, to name a few: community
radio, participatory video, independent publishing, and online communication, operating
in a variety of social, political, and geo-cultural settings (Howley, 2009).
the variety of community media, community radio is undoubtedly most impactful
in terms of audience reach, given that radio is still the most powerful medium
in terms of reach. According to UNESCO World Radio Day 2013 report, there are
about 44,000 radio stations worldwide and at least 75% of households in
developing countries having access to a radio.
One of the primary limitations of radio as a medium and was
and still is to some extant is interaction with the audience. Without channels
for feedback, radio is “…purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere
sharing out” (Brecht, 1932). However, community radio has bypassed the
technological limitations in the medium and found ways to create feedback
channels through ownership, community surveying and in other ways pursuing
involvement from the community. Despite a lack of ability to directly respond
to broadcasts, community radio has involved its listeners through listening
clubs, surveys and direct feedback to shape the content of broadcasts (Jallov,
Consequently, the radio has become
an important medium for development and social change, giving communities a
platform for communicating about local issues, news and challenges that directly
affect their daily lives (Mtimde, 2000). It has also demonstrated many positive
attributes that benefit in preserving local culture, giving the community a
voice and capacity to express their identity, and empowering the community with
direct positive effects on democracy (Myers, 2011). While community radios can
come in different shapes, a few criteria are essential for it to be ‘true
community radio’. Community radio is two-way communication where the community
can directly influence and be involved with content production and
organization; it is not-for-profit; uses local languages; promotes local music,
and; is owned by the community (Odine, 2013). Radio of this kind is
participatory and functions as a community communication mechanism and a
platform for local development, which is defined by the community itself
(Jallov 2012). The community radio provides a platform for the members of the
community to hold governments accountable, to advocate for their rights and to
drive social change (da Costa, 2012).
advantage of radio in the context of development and social change is
availability. Equipment for both broadcasters and listeners are widely
available at low cost; the broadcast caters to the illiterate; and they can
serve the community in its local language (Odine, 2013). However, even though
community radio has been around since the 1940s (Jallov, 2012), it has been
constrained by state ownership of the airwaves in many parts of the world. With
the liberalization of the airwaves and availability of cheaper technology in
the last two decades, licensing to community radios has increased dramatically
and Africa alone has experienced a growth of 1,386% between 2000 and 2006
most important aspects of community media, particularly community radio, which
serves a geographic group or a community of interest, include the broad
participation by community members often on a volunteer basis, and the
ownership and control of the station by the community through a board of
governors that is representative of the community and responsive to the
diversity of its needs.
potential of community radio to bring about social change is not a matter of mere
observation but, as Population Media Center President William Ryerson
demonstrated, an empirically proven fact based on quantifiable and
statistically analyzed results. Focusing
on women’s rights promotion, HIV rates reduction, family planning, reproductive
health issues, and prevention of child trafficking, the Center uses community
radio to produce behavioral change among large audiences in 15 countries in
Africa, Asia, and Latin America, educating through entertainment, including
with soap opera characters. The highly significant results of pre and
post-broadcast random-sample surveys, Ryerson noted, indicated positive changes
in the behavior of those who listened to the programming. In Ethiopia, for
example, those who listened to special programming on HIV were more likely to
be tested for the virus than non-listeners.
approach builds on the power of media to create high emotional contexts that
help make information more memorable, and the Population Media Center relies on
community radio as the most appropriate and cost-effective medium to reach its
target audiences. According to the estimates of a project in Tanzania, for
example, the cost of getting people to take steps to avoid HIV infection was
eight cents per listener.
These are just a few
illustrative, even if anecdotal, examples of what community radio can achieve.
Given community radio’s enormous potential for
participatory communication as a way of identifying, analyzing
and solving problems at the grassroots
level, and of stimulating communities to become more proactive in the pursuit
of their own betterment, governments that have not done so should liberalize
their media policies in its favor. And development agencies should actively promote
and support it as part of their projects.