Thinking aloud: what does community media mean?

Community media are “of, for and by the people.” – Lewis 1976

Have you ever came across the term community media? And are you still trying to figure out what it means? Most people just assume that it has something to do with much of the obvious – ‘community‘ and ‘media.’ In this blog, I re-introduce this concept, because it remains an important area of media and I have a personal interest in this subject.

Screenshot 2016-06-21 22.54.13Community Media – Screenshot was taken by Rachel-Ann D. Charles

The term community media emerged in scholarship as early as 1977, where Frances Berrigan first introduced ‘Western Models’ of community media in her edited report titled: Access: some Western models of community media. In this article, the authors present mainly broadcast models of community media from The United States of America, Canada, and Europe. In a subsequent UNESCO report ‘Community Communications the role of community media in development’ she defined the term community media. In this report she identifies the significance, function and key features of this. Take a look at Berrigan’s definition of community media below.

“Community media are adaptations of media for use by the community for whatever purposes the community decides. They are media to which members of the community has access, for information, education, entertainment, when they want access. They are media to which the community participates, as planners, producers, performers. They are the means of expression of the community, rather than for the community.”

(Berrigan, 1979, p.8)

We see words like access frequently mentioned in the description above. This idea of access relates to the provision of a platform for amateurs to produce media content rather than media professionals providing and constructing content for the public. Berrigan further qualifies the notion of community media by claiming that one of the primary objectives of community media platforms is to make two-way communication possible for communities. Mostly, community members are seen here as both senders and receivers.

Within the last decade, community media has received more attention and since then, further theories and concepts of community media have been proposed bearing common characteristics similar to previous ideas. However, some of these views on community media have also proven too general while some have provided interesting debates on this subject matter. If you would like to examine more definitions of community media you can take at look at the following works:

I am sure some people may wonder whether or not there is an operational definition for this media sector? The fact is that community media has different labels throughout the world. For example, community radio is referred to as “popular or educational radio” in Latin America, while within some parts of the African continent community media is termed “rural or bush radio,” and in Europe community media is commonly referred to as “free or association radio (Jankowski, 2003).” So how can any one definition explain this phenomenon?

What about the word ‘community’ doesn’t that term complicate the meanings of community media? The term community also does not have a fixed meaning as it can be representative or unusual. Like many other media scholars such as Downing (2008) I too believe that the term “community” problematises the concept… because of these conceptual issues community media is then seen as lacking a boundary or parameter – but is this a good or bad thing?

Another question is whether or not community media has a place in a globalised world? Or is this an appropriate media form? In my view, community media has a major role in articulating the voices of the voiceless. Much of these voices are often excluded from the mainstream media platforms. However, with the advent of social media, there are increased opportunities for the marginalised voices in the community to share their views. However, issues such as disempowerment, etc. often rears its ugly head amongst these groups. Legitimising this field i.e. showing the benefits of using community media is one of the ways to overcome these matters.


NB: This post was updated to reflect current thoughts on the subject matter.