Community radio: For Social Change

There is much discussion about the effect on local cultures of the increasingly globalized commercial media output with its well-tried and standard – if not banal – entertainment formats. But one thing is clear: they can never respond to the socio-economic and development needs of the countries they reach, let alone those of marginalized communities within those countries. Hence, globalized media and community media do not compete. The former provides irrelevant entertainment, while the latter deals with local issues in the local languages and cultural context, relating to local problems and concerns, and aiming to help the community develop socially, culturally and economically. The principal functions of community radio are:
To reflect and promote local identity, character and culture by focusing principally on local content. Culture is how the people of a community talk about their past and their cuture. It is what they care about. Like life itself, culture is infinitely variable and constantly evolving. Community culture is also artistic expression through local music, dance, poetry, theatre and story telling. Local performers are encouraged to go on air uninhibited by considerations of the ‘professional standards’ they may have acquired from mainstream media. Culture is also language, so programming includes the languages of any minority groups in the community.
• To create a diversity of voices and opinions on the air through its openness to participation from all sectors. Some discord is present in all communities, but the acknowledgement of con-flict is necessary for democracy and for democratic communities. Community radio tries to air objectively all sides of a discussion without itself taking sides.
To encourage open dialogue and democratic process by providing an independent platform for interactive discussion about matters and decisions of importance to the community. In essence, the core of democratic process is the ability of people to hear and make themselves heard.
To promote social change and development. In marginalized communities people all have their individual perceptions about their situation, but what is required for change and development is a collective perception of the local reality and of the options for improving it. This collective perception can only be achieved through internal discussions to analyse specific problems, identify possible solutions, and mobilize the appropriate people or groups for action. Community radio provides the perfect platform for this internal discussion.
• To promote good governance and civil society by playing a community watchdog role that makes local authorities and politicians more conscious of their public responsibilities. The marginalized and the oppressed normally have no way to complain when authorities take advantage of them, but community radio gives them a voice to air their grievances and obtain their due rights.
Some other functions of community radio include: sharing of information and innovation; giving a voice to the voiceless, especially to women and young people in some societies; and providing a social service as a replacement for the telephone.