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The Role of Community Media in Development

Published 11th June 2010 - 9 comments - 14614 views -

etuktuk project of community media in vehicles here for schooling purposes

The role of media in promoting good causes is indispensable. However, in some cases, media may fail to play that role. This could happen because there are political or financial pressures, or lack of knowledge, interest and understanding of certain issues. In such cases community media can have a vital role. Even more, they are essential when it comes to giving voice to particular social groups and communities, notably those disadvantaged. This kind of media exist in many countries in all continents, and in media systems they usually stand in-between public broadcasting and private media outlets. I will try to give some more information about these media, their roles and the possibilities for preserving their sustainability by presenting findings from the book "Community media Sustainability Guide" published by Internews in 2009. 

Community service is at the heart of community media. All community media must have a community and the intention to serve and build the community. In the community media environment, communities tend to be defined in terms of geography (a group of people living in a particular location)  
or interest (religion, politics, culture,hobby, or any other interest). A quality community service is one that: 
• Validates and strengthens communities 
• Covers topics that are relevant to the community 
• Encourages community discussion and debate 
Participation is the key defining feature of community media; it is what places community media outside of traditional media models, in which audiences are  
passive receivers of messages. In the community media model, senders and receivers together create messages and meaning through participatory processes.  

Social, institutional and financial sustainability. 

Social sustainability refers to all the social processes that are needed to create sustainable community media, including community participation in governance, management, operations, content production, generation of income, and feedback.  
Conditions to achieve social sustainability: 
• Community ownership of the communication process.  
• Development of local content, through community participation in the selection of topics, research, writing, filming, recording, and editing. 
• Language and cultural relevance.  
Institutional sustainability refers to the policies, governance structures, management structures and styles, staffing, internal relationships, and practices etc. 
The important issues in achieving institutional sustainability are: 
• Enabling legislation, regulation and policies for community media. 
• Internal democracy of staff and management systems;  
• Appropriate technology. 
• Networking and convergence.  
Financial sustainability is the organization’s ongoing income-generating potential, and includes cash and donations of goods and services.  
The question of whether governments should directly or indirectly finance community media is controversial. In some places, direct state support would dramatically reduce independence or create the perception that the media are the voice of government. However, most policies that encourage long-term sustainability are those that also include some form of indirect financial support.When there is government support, in order to ensure independence, it should be administered through an independent public body, separate from the regulatory agency or any government ministry. The body should include both  government and civil society representation. 
Examples of financing include: 
• A community radio fund paid into by the state (such as in Hungary or the United Kingdom, for example; in South Africa, the fund also includes support from the media industry and donors). 
• A tax on cable or telecommunication operators (Colombia). 
• A percentage of license fees from commercial stations (Denmark). 
• A percentage of advertising revenue from commercial stations (France). 
• Indirect public funding in the form of support for employment, skills development, and lifelong learning, social inclusion programs, cultural programs, youth programs, or neighborhood regeneration support (South Africa and the United Kingdom, for example).  
• Support from local councils, local community funds, or regional bodies.


I would like to know of community media in the countries you come from, or know well. What is their program like? Did they manage to give an important contribution to community and in what way? Where does the support come from? How much the role of community media is different from that of mainstream media? What is their role in fostering development?

Photo credit. More about Etuktuk project here.



  • Aija Vanaga on 11th June 2010:

    I need to say that it is hard for me to understand difference between community media and media itself. Where it differs? In coverage of community definition?

  • Larisa Rankovic on 11th June 2010:

    Hi Aija, Community media can have different forms in different countries and media systems, but the basics are: They should be non-for-profit, should involve community in program creation (in most community media at least part of the staff are volunteers), and the content/program is made for geographic, minority or interest community. There is Wikipedia article which I linked, I think it offers all important information. Some authors use terms ‘alternative media’, ‘the media of civil society’ etc.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 12th June 2010:

    Hi Larisa,

    Interesting post! It’s a good discussion on community media. Here in the Philippines, community journalism as we call it is practiced mostly in the provinces. It’s tough. There are “development” pains and the problems you mentioned are also prevalent. These include financial resources and lack of understanding of issues on the part of practitioners but slowly, we are working on improving it.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 12th June 2010:

    I forgot to mention that there is one group really active in promoting community journalism. Here it is:

  • Larisa Rankovic on 12th June 2010:

    Thanks Iris for these information and for the link, I’m going to take a closer look at the texts there.
    I hope that with raising awareness of the importance and positive roles these media play, more support will come from different sources.

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  • Arsalan on 28th June 2010:

    Friends i need help in how can a community jourlist highlight the community issues???

  • Sylwia Presley on 25th July 2010:

    I think media - at least the edited mainstream media - can fail, but also cause damage by shifting balance away from areas that need support. I prefer to think of citizen journalism and new media as potentially response here, but with the web coverage limited and assumption that we can be global (but truly are not) this becomes a challenge too.

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