Networks, associations and fora are critically important to the development and eventual sustainability of community media. In most countries where you can find flourishing community media there are national associations and networks.
Most networks perform functions that go beyond their core work of lobbying and advocating on behalf of their members. In some places, community media associations were established in order to create and build community media sectors.
For example, the Community Media Association in the United Kingdom was launched in 1983 as a membership body to lobby and advocate for an enabling environment some twenty years before the first community radio station was licensed; the National Community Radio Forum in South Africa was launched in 1992, three years before the first station was licensed, as was the case with the BNNRC of Bangladesh.
In countries, where community-run radio is still in its infancy, like Lao PDR, but where its importance for national development is recognised, a national support framework could function as a development facilitator, to promote and accommodate the sharing of experience and best practice. It could be envisaged that such an externally installed support service could become a component of a national community radio forum, when the community radio movement matures and develops.
In countries where community media are more affluent, national associations can earn a fair percentage of their income from membership fees. Still, almost all such networks also receive grant support and, when lucky, public funding, and seek other ways of generating income.
Olon in the Netherlands is an example of how networks can diversify their income base. Representing some 300 broadcasting organisations that provide radio, television, text television, teletext and internet services, Olon receives over half of its income from structural funds distributed by the Dutch Broadcasting Services Corporation. The balance of its funding comes from membership fees, services charged to members, and project income. In developing countries Community Radio fora are often funded through a variety of partnerships, including international funding partners and donors.
The Crucial Role of Community Media Networks
The role of national networks in sustaining community media can be crucial. In Mozambique, for instance, the Forum of Community Radio in Mozambique (FORCOM) strives to cover all of the areas of support to the development of a strong community radio sector in Mozambique and strong, individual community radio stations. This includes (i) legal support; (ii) management and OD support; (iii) coaching and training; (iv) content development and programme exchange; (v) technical support and repair – help desk (covered by CAICC); (vi) community outreach support and community representation; (vii) financial management support, channelling of partnerships to radio stations; (viii) community research/impact assessment support; and (ix) support to a national women’s community radio network.
Provision of financial support through coordinating nation-wide or regional partnerships between the organisation that wants to convey a message and the individual community radio station has become a particularly important role of FORCOM.
In a country like Mozambique, many want to use the community radio stations as information providers, awareness raisers and promoters of conversations on specific issues, be it the National Bank needing to inform effectively about currency reform nation-wide; a HIV/AIDS project wanting to provide information to specific regions; agricultural or water projects needing to effectively reach out to rural areas of the country etc. With more than 70 community radio stations operating, most partners would not want to work with individual radio stations but FORCOM through its membership can channel funding to its members, gather evidence and reports and thus ensure appropriate and simplified relations with partners.
The many different possible mandates, roles and responsibilities of national networks
Shape, services and regional outreach of such networks vary widely. In Colombia, while there is no strong national association, there are twenty-three regional groupings. FORCOM In Mozambique includes regional networks to facilitate contact and save resources. Similarly a strong national network, South Africa’s National Community Radio Forum (NCRF) is establishing decentralised “hubs” to provide services to stations grouped according to region and language. One activity of the South African hubs will be to market groups of stations to advertisers – an important service in a country where national commercial advertising agencies charge thirty-five per cent commission. In some places, like Mali, networks have both community and commercial stations as members.
Despite their value as important facilitators for sustainability of the community radio stations, networks and associations also struggle with financial sustainability, particularly in places where members cannot afford to pay for services or to pay fees. In some places, networks are heavily reliant on grant funding, and in some places, networks have been criticised for competing with their members for funding.
A World Bank Institute study of the development of community radio in five countries underpins the above national cases, through its conclusion that national or sub-national networks are instrumental to the development of community radio. The study identified nine ways in which these networks can support community radio.
- represent member stations in negotiations with government and lobby on their behalf;
- represent stations in negotiations with other bodies such as performing rights organizations and advertisers;
- provide advice on licence application and renewal procedures;
- provide or arrange for training and technical assistance for member stations;
- produce training materials for use by members;
- facilitate the exchange of news and programs;
- coordinate solidarity actions and campaigns to defend stations under pressure from political or financial interests because of their programming;
- mobilize support for the stations from donor organisations; and
- provide spaces for debate, exchange of experience, cooperation among stations etc. by organizing meetings, publishing newsletters, websites, etc.
The networks described above have all been national networks, focusing on the immediate enabling and facilitating role such networks can have. At the global level, the World Association of Community Radio.
 The Community Media Association, CRA from UK: http://www.commedia.org.uk/
 From: “The business of changing lives” by Jean Faribairn for Internews, 2009.
 CAICC (Centro de Apoio à Informação e Comunicação Comunitária) is a very close partner to FORCOM: www.caicc.org.mz/
 Girard B 2007, Empowering Radio, Fundación Comunica. http://comunica.org/radio2.0/archives/69