‘The rise and rise of community media’
by Susan Forde, Michael Meadows, Kerrie Foxwell
In their analysis of global community broadcasting, Price-Davies and Tacchi (Community Radio) note the ‘lack of co-ordinated information and data available’ about the community broadcasting sector on both a national and international level. With the growth of research examining the role of ‘alternative’, ‘grassroots’, ‘radical’ and ‘citizens’ media forms, this situation is changing with community media increasingly identified as a site for innovative and more participatory media forms.  The rise of community media outlets and the subsequent increasing research attention given to community media is undoubtedly linked to the content crisis currently being experienced by the mainstream media. While reports indicate increasing profit margins for major Australian and US media conglomerations such as News Corp, PBL, and John Fairfax  circulation figures indicate consistently decreasing audiences particularly in the daily newspaper market. 
A United States study which examined the state of the US news media found the majority of journalists were unhappy with the state of their profession, primarily because of the increasing impact of commercial pressures on their work. Two-thirds of journalists felt that increased bottom-line pressure was ‘seriously hurting’ the quality of news coverage (Pew Research Center 1). Commentators further found: “…they [journalists] fear more than ever that the economic behaviour of their companies is eroding the quality of journalism. In particular, they think business pressures are making the news they produce thinner and shallower. And they report more cases of advertisers and owners breaching the independence of the newsroom” (Kovach, Rosenstiel and Mitchell 27).
These issues of concern to the mainstream are inherently connected to the consistent decrease in audiences for mainstream daily newspapers over the past 20 years, signified by the death of large numbers of newspapers and more recent falls in classified advertising revenue (ANHG 13). The search for solutions to decreasing audiences for the mainstream media continues (Project for Excellence in Journalism):
A growing number of news outlets are chasing relatively static or even shrinking audiences for news. One result of this is that most sectors of the news media are losing audience. That audience decline, in turn, is putting pressures on revenues and profits, which leads to a cascade of other implications. The only sectors seeing general audience growth today are online, ethnic and alternative media… Without investing in building new audiences, the long-term outlook for many traditional news outlets seems problematic. Many traditional media are maintaining their profitability by focusing on costs, including cutting back in their newsrooms. Our study shows general increases in journalist workload, declines in numbers of reporters, shrinking space in newscasts to make more room for ads and promotions, and in various ways that are measurable, thinning the product.
There is evidence, in this US study and others, that the independent and community media sector is in fact the only sector that is actually growing in the Western media landscape.
Research works by authors such as Clemencia Rodriguez (Fissures), Chris Atton and John Downing attest to the growing importance of community, ‘grassroots’, alternative, radical media sources. Regardless of the difference in terminology, all words really refer to different parts of the same sector – the non-commercial, niche publications and broadcast outlets which do not belong to any of the major media ownership chains. The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported only a a few months ago in the United States that, along with the niche ethnic press, the alternative press in the US was the only part of the news media that had an increasing, rather than a shrinking, audience.
In terms of growth, the only sector that may match the explosive numbers of the ethnic media is the alternative press. In the booming economy of the 1990s, the number of alternative weeklies grew rapidly, drawing national advertising. In recent years, the sector’s growth has slowed, but not stopped (Project for Excellence in Journalism
There are obvious signs that the US growth of alternative media outlets is also being felt in Australia and Europe – the phenomenal growth experienced by the community radio sector over the past decade is just one example. The number of community radio stations in Australia now surpasses the number of commercial broadcasters. The Australian Broadcasting Authority lists around 340 community broadcasters and 50 active aspirant stations working toward a full license. In comparison, there are 255 commercial licenses. In 37 places in Australia , community radio is the only broadcast service (Melzer).
Recent data about community radio audiences indicates that one-in-four Australians have listened to community radio in the past week….and 40 percent have listened to it in the last month (McNair). These are surprisingly high audience figures for the community radio sector and suggest an increasing audience for community and grassroots media outlets. Previous work has revealed a shift by community radio into regional Australia , the emergence of significant numbers of Indigenous and ethnic stations, and the existence of an estimated 25,000 volunteers across the sector who perform work estimated at $145 million each year. Our research has suggested that the sector plays a significant role in contributing to public sphere debate through its program production processes (Forde, Meadows, Foxwell Creating a Community; Community Radio; Culture).
In addition, community TV stations have been broadcasting on a trial basis in the capital cities of Brisbane , Sydney , Melbourne , Adelaide and Perth from 1994. The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) is expected to issue the first permanent licences for community television throughout 2004. Community radio and television have been touted as the ‘most vibrant and hopeful response to the trend towards globalisation and commercialism’, probably because local communities identify strongly with local cultural issues (Morel; Pedergart; Lephaille; Herman and McChesney 200).
It is being recognised internationally that in the face of globalisation, what needs protecting is ‘cultural diversity’ rather than ‘cultural exception’ and it is community broadcasting that has a particularly important role to play in this process (Dabbous-Sensenig 42). The community media sector worldwide is diverse and expanding, yet manages to maintain special links with its varied communities—described by some as a ‘participatory relationship’ (Girard Passion 13). The empowering possibilities of local media have been canvassed and acknowledged globally in the past 10 years but virtually all this work has focussed on production rather than reception (Atton; Downing; Molnar and Meadows; Rodriguez).
Community media in the global environment
A scan of global media developments reveals a diversity of approaches: from the state-controlled broadcasting systems in the Pacific and Papua New Guinea, Africa, Asia and Latin America (Molnar and Meadows; Lopez-Vigil 8-9; Truglia 10-11; Camara 20-21; Mdlalose 14), through NGO-sponsored development projects (UNESCO 2003), to ‘innovative and vibrant programming’ in South Africa (Onkaetse Mmusi; Tacchi and Price-Davies). Community media seems to have found a place in post-invasion Afghanistan and East Timor (Girard and van der Spek). Japan ‘s unique community broadcasting sector is based around large shopping centres with many of the radio and TV licensees being local government authorities (Yamada; Ishikawa 10).
In the United States , a recent resurgence of pirate radio reflects community dissatisfaction with licensed local broadcasters who are becoming less distinguishable from mainstream media (Robinson 17). Meanwhile, US public, educational and governmental (PEG) access television attracts around one million volunteers producing in excess of 20,000 hours of new programming each week, prompting critical debates over the potential of this sector for encouraging increasing public involvement in the public sphere (Alliance for Community media; Higgins 15). Further north, the community media sector in Canada has been well established since the 1970s with more than 200 campus and Native community radio stations operating and access TV commonplace on cable networks. Pilot ‘access’ radio projects are underway in England and Ireland reportedly making a promising start on delivering their social gain objectives (Everitt; Tacchi 69; Tacchi and Price-Davies).
While much of Eastern Europe grapples with the transition from monopoly state-controlled radio, public broadcasting in Western Europe is under threat from a creeping concentration of media ownership and threats to pluralism, diversity and the quality of information (Konstantinova; Peters). Despite this, the European Broadcasting Union (2003) has reported that state-funded radio listening has increased across most markets in the past few years. C ountries such as France and The Netherlands continue to support extensive community broadcasting sectors while the brief of the Paris-based Confederation Nationale des Radios Libres includes community radio in former French colonies in North and West Africa.
The World Association of Community Radio broadcasters, AMARC, has been grappling with financial difficulties and in 2003 closed its European bureau but it continues its philosophy of seeing community radio as a medium for stimulating debates over cultural diversity and a wide range of human rights’ issues (Morel). It was t he radical radio that emerged across Europe in the 1970s that set up a framework for modern participatory community broadcasting by pushing the boundaries of what was permissible (Downing 182-188). This is what Rodriguez (Fissures164) defines as ‘citizens’ media’, emerging from communities within local contexts. And perhaps one of the most interesting ‘citizens’ media’ systems is based around community TV in Catalonia . Here, around 100 stations have been producing various kinds of local programming since 1984 in a curious ‘a-legal’ environment. Several local networks have been established and although much of the sector has been criticised as being ‘local’ rather than ‘community’ television, it has played a crucial role in the promotion of the Catalan language as the primary language above Spanish in this fiercely independent region of Spain (Prado and Moragas; Gatnau).
In this Issue
It is this international ‘explosion’ of community media that this special issue of Transformations builds on. Drawing on work from the United States , Australia , Britain , Greece and Africa , this special issue suggests that the community media initiatives occurring around the world represent a real change in the way media outlets report news and communicate with their audiences. Kevin Howley frames an important discussion about community radio by placing it in the context of debates about globalisation. His paper suggests that while community radio’s strength is, by its very nature, in its ability to be local, the industry is ‘increasingly transnational in its scale and scope’.
Jon Pike builds on this suggestion through an important examination of the work carried out by the IndyMedia movement, which has received a great deal of research and general media coverage since its inception during the World Trade Organization protests of 1999. At the time of writing this, the seizure of IndyMedia servers in London —apparently at the request of the US Justice Department—had effectively shut down 20 different IndyMedia websites across Europe . Activists searching for a legal response had identified complicity by governments in the UK , the USA , Switzerland and Italy . Perhaps this, more than anything else, demonstrates the potential power of alternative voices (Rodriguez Email Communication). Pike focuses on the St. Louis collective of the Independent Media Center and considers the collective within the context of Freire’s concept of critical pedagogy, and Melucci’s networks which examine the way social and communications networks democratise everyday life.
Still in the United States, Australian researcher Charles Fairchild offers a valuable comparison of community radio policy practices in the US, Australia and Canada. Fairchild focuses on the policy difficulties faced by US community radio, particularly in terms of the extreme deregulation of the US broadcasting landscape and the lack of effective community media policy. Fairchild issues a timely warning to community radio sectors in Australia and Canada , which have operated in a far more supportive and fruitful environment than their US counterparts:
For those outside of America , it is useful to realise that reliance on limited sources of funding, support and participation, as well as ambiguous policy and slack community outreach can harm community radio in ways that are sometimes surprising in their consequences.
Australian writers John Cokley and Chris Capel perhaps provide a shining example of how community participation and outreach can be used to best effect, with their description of experiences in reviving a rural community newspaper, the Barcoo Independent, in regional Queensland , Australia . Journalism educator John Cokley, and rural public servant Chris Capel joined forces to revive the newspaper after being approached by enthusiastic community members from the town of Blackall who were keen to revive their newspaper that had closed in 2001. Through cooperation and pooling of community resources – with the aid of government and James Cook University – the Barcoo Independent was revived as a publication and is now under full community control. This near-subversion of hierarchical control is in evidence in the operation of Bush Radio in South Africa.
Tanja Bosch takes up practical and theoretical issues based on her own work as a community radio station manager there. She draws on the concept of the rhizome, in both metaphorical and theoretical ways, to argue its appropriateness as a symbol of the multiple connections Bush Radio has with its communities. The blurring of roles in day-to-day radio production at such sites suggests an organic process which further complicates the very notion of community but seems to serve audiences remarkably well. She suggests it might be defined as a curious melange of both ‘structure’ (habitus) and ‘anti-structure’ (communitas).
In contrast, Robert Moore and colleagues report on the difficulties faced by sub-Saharan countries who are struggling with concepts of ‘community’ – after being reinvented from small colonies to self-government independent countries, nations such as Zambia, Numibia, Malawi and others are struggling to generate a sense of community and to make connections across cultural borders. Moore et al argue that community journalism – which they believe is the newer, exportable form of public or civic journalism – is taking place in community media outlets around sub-Saharan Africa and leading to local community development. Moore et al’s paper also highlights an important issue in the community media debate – they argue that the sub-Saharan communities determined that one of the most important aspects of a successful community media outlet was its commercial viability and success:
Community media is a business. It requires income, market share, identity, and a programming niche.
In contrast, Pike argues that the IndyMedia’s strength as community media outlet – serving the community of activists in the St. Louis area – is its very non-commercial nature which gives contributors necessary freedom to be primarily concerned with content rather than commercial imperatives. Vatikiotis’ examination of Greek grassroots media practices similarly found that the outlets he examined were committed to non-commercial, public-sphere oriented journalism which presented ‘an alternative culture that opposes the commercial one’. Greek grassroots media were attempting to represent social issues that did not appear in the ‘official’ public sphere, and by doing so were creating their own, alternative public sphere.
This special Media Communities issue of Transformations brings together some new ways of thinking about community media; and also highlights some of the contradictions in the global community media movement which are clearly the result of the huge diversity currently existing in the ‘sector’, if it can be considered that. Research into media communities around the world is exposing forms of journalism, activism, social networking, coooperation and community development that have been seeking broader acceptance and exposure for many years. The contributions received for this volume suggest that it is now time, in light of the crisis in mainstream media audiences and content, for the burgeoning community media forms to be assessed in terms of the contribution they are making – and can potentially make – to improved community and civic engagement.
Susan Forde, Michael Meadows, Kerrie Foxwell.
School of Arts , Media and Culture
Griffith University , Nathan, Qld , Australia .
 See Forde, Foxwell and Meadows Community Radio; Creating a community; Community radio and local culture; Atton; Downing; Rodriguez Fissures, Ewart; Forde Journalistic practices[return]
Alliance for Community Media. 30 Oct. 2003
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Camara, M. “Giant too big for its britches.” Interadio 8.1 (1996): 20-21.
Dabbous-Sensenig, D. ‘From dwefwndinf “cultural exception” to promoting “Cultural Diversity”: European cultural policy and the Arab world’, Quanderns del CAC 14 (September-December 2002): 33-44.
Downing, J. Radical Media: rebellious communication and social movements . Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2001.
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Ewart, J. “Capturing the Heart of the Region – How Regional Media Define a Community” Transformations 1 (2000): 1–13.
Forde, S. “Journalistic practices and newsroom organisation in the independent and alternative press”. Australian Journalism Review 21.4 (1999): 60-79.
Forde, S Meadows, M and Foxwell, K. “Community radio, radicalism and the grassroots: Discussing the politics of contemporary Australian community radio”. Transformations 4 (Oct. 2002). <transformations.cqu.edu.au/journal/issue_04/pdf/FordeMeadowsFoxwell.pdf>
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Forde, S Meadows, M and Foxwell, K. Culture, commitment, community: The Australian community radio sector . Griffith University, Brisbane 2003.
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Gatnau, M J. “Program Director: Televisions locals de Catalunya”. Interview with Michael Meadows 25 September, 2003.
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Girard, B and van der Spek, J. “The Potential for Community Radio in Afghanistan: Report of a fact-finding mission: October 5 to 22, 2002. 12 Feb. 2003.
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Ishikawa, Sakae. “Promoting community culture: growth of community FM radio in Japan”. Paper presented to the MacBride Round Table, Seoul 1996.
Konstantinova, R. “Head of Radio, European Broadcasting Union” interview with Michael Meadows, Geneva. 30 September 2003.
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Lephaille, M. “News Director Xiberoko Botza”. Interview with Michael Meadows, Maule 17 September 2003.
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Molnar, H & Meadows, M. Songlines to Satellites: Indigenous communication in Australia, the South Pacific, and Canada. Leichardt: Pluto 2001.
Morel, O. “Chief Administrator, Confederation Nationale des Radios Libres”. Interview with Michael Meadows, Paris 15 September 2003.
Onkaetse Mmusi, S. “Impact of Community Broadcasting on Rural Development in South Africa”. Paper Prepared for CODESRIA’s 10TH General Assembly on Africa in the New Millennium. Kampala, Uganda. 8-12 December 2002.
Pedergart, Y. “News Director Radio Pais”. Interview with Michael Meadows, Pau. 18 September 2003.
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Wireless World: Global Perspectives on Community Radio
This paper places a discussion of community radio in the context of ongoing debates surrounding ‘globalization.’At first blush, this may seem an odd tack to take given community radio’s theoretical relevance to and practical application in local settings. Indeed, community radio is generally defined in terms of its service to populations within discrete geographic locations (Price-Davies & Tacchi 50-51). Yet, as media scholar David Hendy reminds us, radio, an ostensibly local medium, is very much a global phenomenon inasmuch as radio technology is ubiquitous, the medium is pervasive in industrialised and developing societies alike, and the industry is increasingly transnational in its scale and scope.
Jon R. Pike
‘A Gang of Leftists with a Website: The Indymedia Movement’
The Independent Media Center Movement, an international media activist movement born during the World Trade Organization protests in 1999, has since grown to more than 100 local collectives in over 40 countries. It is dedicated to the production of media texts, mostly on the Internet, organized along non-hierarchical, consensual lines. Their production of media can best be understood through the radical education theories of Freire and the new social movement theories of Melucci. From a Freirean perspective, this movement educates people in creating media relevant to their own lives and frees them from a consumer-based media economy which regards them as mere objects to be exploited. From Malacca, this movement shows evidence of “hidden networks” that maintains a movement collective identity, affective bonds and periods of latency and mobilization. This study examined one Indy media collective through the use of ethnographic techniques.
Community radio in the United States has been struggling from crisis to crisis throughout most of the last decade. Yet, the community radio sectors in many other countries have not experienced anything like the difficulties faced in the U.S. In some countries the opposite is true. There are three main causes of the problems community radio faces in the U.S.: a hostile broadcasting environment defined by an extreme form of deregulation and the absolute dominance of commercial media over broadcasting law and policy, the lack of a clear and effective policy to define and govern community radio and the lack of effective community outreach and mobilization of existing community support. When compared with community radio in Australia and Canada , solutions to the difficulties faced in the U.S. become easier to envision and the lessons of the American experience can be made useful for those participating in community radio in other countries.
Chris Capel and John Cokley
A Thumbnail Dipped in Tar…
Residents of the remote central-western Queensland town of Blackall (pop. 1,833) watched their last locally reported and produced newspaper close in 2001. The nearest newspapers in the intervening years had been and continue to be controlled and produced from Longreach, 200km to the north-west, and in Charleville, another 300km to the south-east. In 2002, a group of Blackall residents formed a committee and asked local officers of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to help them in a project to start a new locally controlled and produced newspaper. Through the DPI, they also approached journalism lecturer John Cokley at James Cook University, Townsville, for advice and assistance. This article documents subsequent preparation for, and publication of, a pilot newspaper called The Barcoo Independent on October 24, 2003, and evaluation by survey, email and telephone interview.
Community radio in post-apartheid South Africa: The case of Bush Radio in Cape Town
This paper deals with the community in “community radio”, with specific reference to community radio station Bush Radio, located in Cape Town, South Africa. Firstly, this paper provides a history of Bush Radio, tracing its roots as a cassette production facility, to one of South Africa’s new community stations after the end of apartheid. Looking at different conceptions of “community”, this paper traces how Bush Radio approaches and perceives the concept; and how through its rhizomatic nature, it both builds community and builds bridges between artificially constructed communities. Using Deleuze and Guatarri’s theory of rhizomatics, and Victor Turner’s concept of communitas, this paper argues that community radio, and the community within, is best understood through an alternative theoretical framework. In particular, rhizomatics help us to understand community radio as a network of connections across which things flow and disperse.
Robert C. Moore and Tamara L. Gillis
Transforming Communities: Community Journalism in Africa
Changes in the media landscape of sub-Saharan Africa and possibilities for increased citizen empowerment and social interaction are facilitated through the integration of community journalism and community media as process and mechanism. Citizens of the world are experiencing greater news and information services that affect the decisions of everyday life. Yet, in Sub-Saharan Africa, for the first time in their lives, citizens have the opportunity to engage in a partnership with media that allows people in diverse geographic settings to share in decision-making concerning issues that affect their future. This paper defines the concepts of community journalism and community media and shows how these concepts are able to make a difference in the lives of people.
Grassroots media practices in Greece: a sociological approach
The paper explores diverse grassroots media practices that are implemented ‘on the margins’ of the conventional public domain in Greece, drawing both on their contribution to the wider public sphere (what is called here the ‘spatial’ aspect), and on their intervention in the sphere of politics (what is called here the aspect of ‘agency’), pointing out their implications for Greek civic life. By evaluating the practice of these projects (originated from ‘below’) in a resonant context that prioritises the ‘agents’, the paper highlights both the challenges and the limits of these initiatives in their own terms.
Andy Opel and Rich Templin
Is anybody reading this? Indymedia and internet traffic reports
This paper examines the Internet server traffic reports of eight North American Indymedia websites from January to May 2003 in an attempt to address the question of audience research and alternative media. The traffic reports indicate a significant increase in traffic at all of these websites beginning in March 2003, the month when open hostilities broke out in Iraq. These results suggest a connection between Indymedia and mobilization. In addition, further research based on Internet server traffic reports is described and encouraged.