A few cool things about civil society & community media

Access to voice is powerful.

There’s a discussion happening in Montreal tomorrow as part of a world gathering on civil society.  They’ll be talking about community media and civil society, and it reminds me of some of the compelling evidence linking community media to improved immigrant integration and social cohesion.  I think there’s enough evidence for civil society organizations to start convincing governments to re-invest in community media for urban solutions.

In research done for the Council of Europe, Peter Maynard Lewis* noted, “on the question of whether third sector media (community media) contribute to social cohesion or threatens it, the evidence points to the sector being an important factor in social cohesion and citizenship, particularly for minority ethnic communities and refugee and migrant communities”.

In the UK, Myria Georgiou showed that multicultural broadcasting and ethnic media are growing, and that alternative minority media can challenge exclusion.

More studies have been done in places such as Australia, Ireland and Scotland show very positive associations  among participatory radio, empowerment of marginalized populations, and integration of new immigrants.

A report to the representative organization for community radio in Ireland (CRAOL) in 2003  pointed out high levels of collaborative work between community radio and community bodies, and said that’s especially true of community-based groups that have a focus on social inclusion issues.

In Scotland, a report commissioned by the Community Media Association said that community media provides a platform for those who are often voiceless in society.  It said community media allows marginalized people to present their perspectives and challenge negative images of themselves, and that it can bring attention to inequality and injustice in communities.

An Australian report reflects in this way – linking not just community media to empowerment, but (significantly for governments considering funding) community media to increasingly active citizenship of immigrants.  It said that where community voices can be heard – “and for many marginalized communities, it is the only places their voices can be heard – empowerment comes through an awareness of the monolithic nature of mainstream media and frustration at its increasing inability to take account of cultural difference”.  It said, “It is clear that the community broadcasting sector is playing a significant role in revitalizing the idea of active citizenship”.

Austria passed legislation protecting community media in 2009.

What is very recent and I think momentous is that governments are starting to make big statements about the connection between citizen media and integration.  Just in 2009, The Council of Europe issued a declaration – a declarationsaying that community media can serve as a factor of social cohesion and integration.

So I think civil society groups and immigrant service organizations and struggling community media outlets can start pointing to evidence as well as anecdote and arguing for more funding to improve immigration challenges in cities.

But all of that with one reminder — development communication wizards like Sylvio Waisbord and Alfonso Gumucio Dagron,who consult for UN agencies and INGOs, say that for citizen or community media to be effective at affecting change, it’s critical that community members rather than ‘professionals’ be in charge of the decision and production processes.

If the funding comes but it’s for programming that’s top-down, it won’t work.

Free downloads:

*(2008) Promoting Social Cohesion: The Role Of Com­munity Media

Making Waves: Stories of Participatory Communication for Social Change


Global Village CAT – ‘Worldwide links to media sites related to the movement for freedom of speech’

Community Media in Europe: Legal and economic contexts of the third broadcast sector in 5 countries (full report in German) (summary in English)

Sylvio Waisbord’s blog

Alfonso Gumucio Dagron’s blog (in Spanish)

Anthology ‘Communication for Social Change’

What is development communication? (theory)

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