Community Radio: An Accessible Citizen-Developed Information Source

Community Radio: An Accessible Citizen-Developed Information Source

Since its origins, radio has been closely related to globalization as well as social and political development. This medium was used in colonial regions to promote their own new national identities and as an endeavor to achieve independence. Furthermore, it was (and still is) a way to connect people living in periphery and isolated areas with the rest of the world.

In countries and regions with a lack of access to the Internet, for example, radio has continued to be a democratizing tool, especially community radio projects.

Community radio is the process by which local people develop and broadcast their own programs. They even operate the radio themselves. It is a mix of a hobby and a tool for sociopolitical change – depending on the region and the purpose. They can be compared to student radio with the difference that community radio arise from citizen’s initiative instead of from an educational institution.

Uniting Regions, Audiences, and Interests

Community-run radio stations are located in the intersection between what has traditionally been defined as journalism and what has not. Leaving aside academic discussions, there are many aspects of community radio that resemble traditional journalism: it is present in rural and urban areas; has short and long audience reach; and meets various audience needs (local info, music, entertainment). Besides, community radio strives for social gain (promotion of own language, values, beliefs), which is a very distinct aspect of this kind of radio.

In New Zealand, there is currently one of the most popular community radio initiatives. It is driven by the Maori community, the indigenous people of the mainland Aotearoa – that means New Zealand in their own language. The community radio has proven its great value in case of disaster twice already – during an earthquake and during a terrorist attack – providing up-to-date information in several languages. Even the Ministry recognized the importance that community radio has in order to reach non-English speakers with relevant information.

Traditionally, community radio projects have also been relevant in regions with an unstable governance or political unrest as a way to disseminate information that is not controlled by any executive power. Since the 90s, there has been a resurgence of these type of stations in countries such as Hungary, Mexico or Venezuela. In some cases regulation of community radio has favored accessibility to radio production tools but in other cases it has set limitations to the content that is broadcast.

The situation is different in Western countries. Community radio in the US and the UK, for example, struggle to survive despite their participatory and democratic importance due to a wide offer of professional media radio stations.

Listening to what Citizens Say and Need

Community radio is, firstly, a public service that counteract the commodification of the market, and, secondly, a service that counteract the dominant messages that appear in the mainstream media and favor diversity and accessibility of information for all.

Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that community radio projects are not foreign to the digital transformation that is taking place globally and in the world of communication in particular. Terrestrial broadcast remains central for community radio but there are stations around the world that are embracing digitalization and provide a website, promote themselves via social media, or offer live streams. This process keeps community radio stations connected to what happens in the virtual sphere as well.

A complete overview of community radio would fill books but in a nutshell; the existing projects globally are as diverse as they are original. These kind of stations are shaped by the distinctive culture and the historical aspects of each region. But one lesson to take from here is that the value of community radio – often non-profit and participatory media – resides in them providing a service to a specific community.

Broadcast Monitoring: Paying Attention to Community Radio

When it comes to analyzing the messages that are being disseminated and understanding the citizens’ needs it is not only insightful to carry out broadcast monitoring of mainstream media but also looking at community radio around the globe.

Two examples why broadcast monitoring for community radio stations might be worthy are: one, where other media do not reach, these stations may be the only source of information. Therefore, they will have a great impact on their listeners and this should not be underestimated. Two, community radio, as we have seen, can have a political purpose and function as propaganda tools for interest groups. Therefore, investigating these stations via broadcast monitoring can be relevant for political, social and economic reasons.

While it is impossible to include the tracking of this kind of source for many media monitoring services, eMM offers this possibility to its clients. We provide a tailored online media monitoring service, which is able to track news coverage and ad presence in community radio for anyone interested in paying attention to this socially relevant medium.

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