Community radio is one of the fronts of community media. Other fronts include community theater, community film, newsletters, billboards, road-shows and paintings,community resource centers, among others. What gives meaning to community media is when viewed as community communication outlets which are targeted, owned and managed by, for and about the community served. A community can either be a geographic community or a community of interest. Community radio is considered as the flag ship of community media in the manner they are able to integrate and provide space to the other community communication outlets.
There are various types of community radio stations around the world which makes it difficult to give them a single, agreed definition. Indeed, there has been caution against fronting a definition of community radio since each community radio is unique. Nevertheless, there are common attributes for community radio stations all over the world. Key among these attributes includes the active participation of the target community in the generation of the content and in the production of the programmes .Another key attribute is that community radio is born out of a struggle, a cause, a desire to bring about change.
The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, better known with its acronym AMARC has adopted a working definition of community radio as local,not-for-profit and participatory broadcasting with a development agenda. In Africa,the definition of community radio in countries such as Kenya and South Africa takes community radio as that which is owned by a non-profit making entity and operated for non-profitable purposes; serves a particular community; encourages members of the community served to participate in the selection and provision of programmes to be broadcast and may be funded by donations, grants, sponsorship, advertising or membership fees. Hence, community radio stations are usually established by a broad range of civil society organisations based on five principles which are widely recognized as key pillars of community broadcasting: Community ownership, community service,community participation, a non-profit business model and independence (Coyer 2009,Fairbairn 2009)1
Place of community radio in community development
In spite of the varied definitions of community radio, there is a general consensus that they are effective community communication outlets for community development.Community radio has clear potential and opportunities of promoting people’s participation in the debates and the management of public affairs. They are platforms for discussions in a community rather than reporting outlets for packaged information.In spite of the varied definitions of community radio,there is a general consensus that they are effective community communication outlets for community development.
Gumucio (2001: 34)2 traces the practice of community radio to the theory and practice of participatory communication as reflected in the writings of Paulo Freire. Freire opines that people have the right-individually or collectively-to speak their word and name the world in dialogic encounters. Freire fronted the concept of liberating education in which he perceived communication as dialogue and participation.According to Gumucio, participatory communication is distinguished from other forms of communication strategies through its strategies focused on horizontal versus vertical communication; process versus campaign; long-term versus short-term;collective versus individual; with versus for; specific versus massive; people’s needs versus donor’s musts; ownership versus access and consciousness versus persuasion.
The identity of community radio is often misunderstood and unappreciated. In Kenya for example, there is the widespread assumption that any radio station which broadcasts in an ethnic language, or covers a small geographic area, is a community radio, This confusion is arguably due to the reality that community radio operates within the confines of commercial radio framework, in terms of licensing and programming. While community radio is legally recognized in Kenya as a distinct tire of broadcasting alongside private and the public broadcaster, there lacks the architecture,clearly defined through a policy framework, to ensure that community radio exists and operates in a clearly distinguishable manner
.Nevertheless, community radio stations in Kenya which have strived to be true to their identity and mission have proved to be key pillars in communication for development in communities where they are located or serving. The ability of community radio to act as an agent of change is demonstrated by the experience of Mang’elete community served by Radio Mangelete. In an impact assessment survey carried out at the radio in 2007 by Birgitte Jallov, the Chairperson of the women’s group of Ivingoni village observed:
“The radio has created a very good feel about ourselves – I am saying this with particular reference to the status of women in our community. We might not be rich or powerful. We might not even be famous.However we have all over a sudden gained recognition, starting from the family and household level all the way up to the district and national levels”.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Policy brief of 2008, after the Post- Election Violence (PEV), established that community radios did play a positive role in trying to prevent or minimizing the tension that led to the violence.
The report noted;“Pamoja FM, located in Kibera slum – one of the main centres of the post-election unrest in Nairobi –has played an especially courageous role. It has, despite its position, insisted on providing a voice for different communities and worked to calm conflict. Young people make up its main audience and it has directed its efforts at trying to stop fighting between groups of youths”.
This assertion came amid accusations that vernacular radio stations, which were seen largely confused with community radio stations, played a significant role in fanning the violence. Samuel Poghisio, then minister for Information was quoted:
“The violence experienced especially after the polls was due to the polarity in the media especially vernacular media which were turned into political tools.”
The foregoing underpins community radio as an important contributor to the advancement of community development and of the internationally-agreed development goals. They are indicators of an enabling media driven by the principles of pluralism, diversity and participation. Enabling media is essential for providing space and choice to the general public in pursuit of community development and democratic governance.
One of the obstacles of community radio as a platform for community development is when they are viewed as community development projects to generate returns for its “owners” or for providing employment opportunities to the members of the community. Another obstacle is when community radio is focused on ‘pushing’ to the community information on what is considered as development issues. These obstacles have constrained community radio from performing their roles effectively as platforms for community development.They are platforms for discussions in a community rather than reporting outlets for packaged information.One of the obstacles of community radio as a platform for community development is when they are viewed as community development projects to generate returns for its “owners” or for providing employment opportunities to the members of the community.
To surmount these obstacles, community radio should take an educational approach to community development as foregrounded in the practices of participatory communication. The educational approach takes community radio as a facilitator of community development. This way, the sustainability of community radio is pegged on the development and improvements of livelihoods in the community. This approach enables the community radio to focus on broadcasting programmes that are of educational benefits to the development of community projects and of changing people’s perceptions. This approach is attuned to Chitere (1994)6 who argues that community development is nothing more than change in people’s perceptions of themselves, community and society.
The community radio should be participatory in the generation and development of content and programmes as opposed to the radio being used to ‘push’ information that the community did not participate in its identification and development. In addition, community radio should not operate as a know-it-all communication channel, but one which takes community members as knowledgeable and active participants in development communication. Being community communication platforms, community radio should not displace other means of communication,such as newspapers, public meetings, word of mouth, mobile phones, the internet and others. Rather, it complements these means and amplifies what goes on in these platforms. For example, a community radio can broadcast development discussions held at a public meeting to a larger audience. This way, the audience who were not physically present at the meeting will feel involved in the discussions at the public meeting. The platform concept goes hand in hand with the practice of participatory action research which enables the community radio to identify priority community issues that will lead to the generation and development of content and programming by, for and about the community served.