Legal, enabling frameworks for Community Media

For community media development, it is the role and responsibility of the community itself to establish and sustain a strong organisation that ensures close contact with and participation by the community (and all the communities within the community). To be able to do this, the community usually depends upon a number of enabling frameworks, within which the regulatory framework often is the first stumbling block.

Government is thereby the core enabler of community media. It defines the rights and duties of individuals and communities within the regulatory framework for community media. In its role as enabler, government inter-acts both with external partners (e.g. UN organisations, inter-statal organisations and donors) and with internal partners (e.g. national civil society, national media, but also the communities and community radio stations themselves).

An enabling framework

Community media function in a national and international setting, with legal frameworks and international conventions that set the immediate framework for the functioning of community media. Frank LaRue, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in La Plata, Argentina, during AMARC 10, November 2010 identifies four major challenges for community radio in the 21st century 2010 (reported by: Arne Hintz http://media.mcgill.ca/en/blog/872). While the physical threat against journalists is not only perpetrated by governments, the other three challenges are further manifestations of inappropriate legal frameworks, or their inappropriate implementation, as follows:

Censorship laws in many countries (including the North and West), penalize freedom of expression. In this context Frank LaRue rejects the criminalization of the unauthorized use of radio frequencies (or, 'pirate radio'). Secondly, physical violence against journalists is persistent around the globe, particularly violence against non-professionals from community radios, blogs and other grassroots media. Thirdly, media concentration and the links between media power and political power (in countries such as Guatemala, Italy and elsewhere) reduce media pluralism. LaRue rejected limits to transmission power for community radio which assign these media a role as 'second-class media' and 'poor people's radio'. Finally, he pointed to increasing surveillance by state and private sectors. So,there is a lot to organise around and against!

Pioneering Community-run Radio in Laos: The Khoun Community Radio

Dreams of a better life for themselves, their families and their communities motivated the first group of trained community broadcasters to volunteer and ultimately become the pioneers and trainers of community radio in the poorest districts of Laos. The broadcasters and board members of the Khoun Community Radio for Development live in the mountains and rice fields of the Laos province of Xieng Khoung. Read about the mobilisation and capacity building process in this photo essay by Birgitte Jallov.

EMPOWERHOUSE's Birgitte Jallov was invited by the UNDP and the Lao PDR Ministry of Information and Culture to get involved in the process of rooting a community radio in the community at the same time as finding a balance, where the Government in the one-party communist country could let go of some of the control. With focus on participation by ethnic people and vulnerable groups in all aspects of the radio station, the aim was to increase the voice and participation of the local communities in the development of the district by producing relevant information and by providing a channel for community debate and dialogue.

Through engagement on and off over a period of three years, a lot of powerful change happened in the community as the change took root. In an impact assessment the following change was by the community identified as most significant one year after the radio went on air:

  •  Increased harmony in families
  • 60-70% more ethnic women use health facilities when pregnant
  • 50% more women bring their kids to vaccination – increase especially among Hmong people, who used to refuse vaccination
  • Important decrease in numbers of diarrhea-related illness due to improved practices like water sources & treatment (boiling it)
    The local nurse estimated more than 50% decrease!
  • Parents taking more responsibility for kids’ welfare (before: the school was expected to do so)
  • New agriculture techniques demonstrated :

    “With Khoun Radio we can know things that we did not know before.
     TV shows or national radio talks about other places far away from us;
     Khoun Radio talks about things that are close to us.
     We can go and see what it says on the radio (e.g. about model farmers).
                                     Focus Group – Adult Men – Hmong village

 

Building it all up from scratch – a case from Myanmar 2016

Myanmar in August 2015 passed a long-awaited broadcast legislation, with a clear division of the three tiers: public, commercial and community media. As the community media part was very open and thus open to interpretation, the media development cooperation partners with civil society in Myanmar joined hands in start-up discussions and plans for what was desirable – and what not. The emerging understandings were to be shared with Government as a basis for a dialogue on best ways forward.

As a part of this process, EMPOWERHOUSE was asked to engage and develop a set of documentation to base the further development and the dialogue upon. After two big national conferences with civil society, Government and international development partners, and with a clear mandate agreed with the UNDP, IMS, Fojo and DW-A, EMPOWERHOUSE produced the following three documents:

 

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What can EMPOWERHOUSE do for you?

EMPOWERHOUSE can assist in developing such frameworks with respect to the national legislation, culture and tradition and based on best international practice. Contact us: mail@empowerhouse.dk