Alternative and community media > COMMUNITY MEDIA > 3 Defining community media > 3 Defining community media

3 Defining community media

Media scholars have used a lot time and energy on debating on suitable concepts to refer to the non-professional and non-mainstream media sector (alternative media, radical media, citizen media, community media), and on defining the criteria and essential characteristics of these media. In this learning module we put less emphasis on the theoretical debates and focus more on the concrete examples of such media, which call themselves community media.

Some scholars use alternative media and community media as synonyms or competing terms referring to the same phenomenon. In this module, in stead, alternative and community media are understood as related but still distinct forms of media.

Alternative media, as understood in this module, refers to the media with somehow radical and oppositional contents. These media could often be called also “radical media” or “activist media”, as they are often produced by various social movements and activist groups.

Community media as a concept, instead, puts more emphasis on the group of people the media is supposed to serve, than the actual content of the media (see Medrado 2007, 126). Community media is essentially media made by the community for the community, regardless of the possible radical or oppositional nature of its content.

Both of these media are inclusive and participatory in nature, mostly made by non-professional volunteers, and they are not run for profit. Both of them have usually small and loyal audiences. They are based on horizontal communication among a certain community or network.

Different definitions of community media emphasise their participatory nature and their role in significance in media diversity. Definitions differ from each other, though, when it comes to the extent of involvement of the community into running the radio. Some see only community owned and controlled media as genuine community media, some define it more carefully as “community-based” media:
”Community Media is community owned and controlled, giving access to voices in the community and encouraging diversity, creativity and participation.” (Community media association)
”Community-based media ensure media pluralism, diversity of content, and the representation of a society’s different groups and interests. Community media encourage open dialogue and transparency of administration at local level and offer a voice to the voiceless. They are established on the concepts of public access, sharing experiences and information.” (International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), Unesco)
Not just on the level of theoretical definitions, but also in practise the degree of community involvement varies. For example in local community radios, participation varies from total ownership to different degrees of audience involvement in programming and management (Communication Initiative 2002). In some cases the local community, organized in form of an association or a trust, owns the media and controls it, in some cases community media may be owned and ran by NGO’s, and members of the community are involved in suggesting ideas and producing programmes as volunteers.

In an analogical way to the division of the society into public, private and so called ”third sector” consisting of various civic organizations engaged in voluntary work, community media can be seen as a third sector of the media system, which is different from the public and private media sectors. Yet, as Anréa Medrado (2007) points out, boundaries between the community media, public service media and commercial media are not always as clear in practise as theoretical definitions may suggest.

Read more about community media issues from these sites:

[Community media association]

[Alliance for community media ]