Community radio, rural radio, cooperative radio, participatory
radio, free radio, alternative, popular, educational radio. If the
radio stations, networks and production groups that make up the
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters refer to themselves
by a variety of names, then their practices and profiles are even
more varied. Some are musical , some militant and some mix music
and militancy. They are located in isolated rural villages and in
the heart of the largest cities in the world. Their signals may
reach only a kilometre, cover a whole country or be carried via
shortwave to other parts of the world.
Some stations are owned by not for profit groups or by cooperatives
whose members are the listeners themselves. Others are own ed by
students, universities, municipalities, churches or trade unions.
There are stations financed by donations from listeners, by international
development agencies, by advertising and by governments. To get
a picture of the variety of experiences, it is worthwhile to look
at the situation of community radio in various regions of the world.
World Tour 1995
In Africa, eight out of ten people live in rural areas. It follows
that rural radio is the most common form of community broadcasting.
Traditionally owned by the State, these stations broadcast in local
languages and strive to get by with a minimum of financial resources
and equipment. Often, their ability to reflect the concerns of the
community is prejudiced and they are as much the voice of the State
as of the community. In recent years this situation has changed.
The rural radio stations persist, but the radio waves have ceased
to be a State monopoly. Independent and democratic radio stations
have appeared in urban and rural areas in countries ranging from
South Africa to Burkina Faso.
Asia, the planet's most populous continent, is the one with the
least community radio. Notable width="100%" exceptions are found
in the Philippines, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Taiwan is the site of a
large movement of unlicensed stations struggling for the legalization
of their project to democratize communications. In other countries,
such as Thailand, a few licensed radio stations are doing their
best to serve their communities, despite heavy censorship. In India,
broadcasting remains a State monopoly, but some observers are predicting
that independent stations will soon be on the air.
Community radio stations began to appear in Europe in the 1970s.
In most western European countries, the movement began with unlicensed
"pirates", the fruit of frustration with the State broadcast monopolies
existing at the time. The precise number of community stations is
not known, but is at least 2,000. With the recent political and
social changes in the eastern and central parts of the continent,
independent community broadcasters have quickly been establish ed
and are found in most countries. AMARC's European regional office
has been quick to support the development of new stations in the
former Soviet bloc countries, with a program of training and exchange
between the various regions of Europe.
Community radio first made its appearance in Latin America at
the end of the 1940s and in the early 1950s. Since then, the region
has developed probably the most dynamic and diverse radio environment
in the world. In addition to a very strong tradition of commercial
radio and a weaker history of State radio, there are indigenous
peoples' radio stations, as well as stations owned by trade unions,
students, rural associations, churches and women's organizations.
In recent years, there has been a rapid growth in the number of
low power community radio stations in many countries. Many of these
stations were unlicensed, but obtaining legal status was a priority.
By the time AMARC 6 began, there were several proposals for legislation
favourable to these new stations. AMARC's regional office, located
in Ecuador, is also responsible for the Caribbean. In general, the
French and Spanish speaking countries have experiences similar to
those of South and Central America. English speaking countries have
been slower to rid themselves of their colonial legacy but stations
have begun appearing in the past few years and many more are expected.
North America also has a diverse tradition. In the United States
the National Federation of Community Broadcasters has close to one
hundred member stations, ranging from the giant stations of the
Pacifica Network to those serving small communities in remote areas.
In both the United States and Canada, urban stations serve diverse
communities with specialized programs for communities defined by
their political and cultural interests. Indigenous peoples have
radio stations throughout North America, with over 100 in remote
communities in the far north. The French speaking population of
Canada also has radio stations, including more than twenty five
in Quebec -- where most of the population speaks French -- and another
fifteen serving minority French speaking populations in the English
speaking parts of the country.
In Oceania, a region largely made up of small island nations,
Australia is the most developed, with over 100 community radio stations.
Funded by both public and private sources, Australian stations serve
diverse communities and include a growing number of Aboriginal peoples'
programming groups and stations. Recently, the Regional Media Centre
of the South Pacific Commission has generated some interest in community
radio among member states. It is hoped that more community radio
stations will emerge by the time AMARC 7 is inaugurated in Australia,
What makes a community station "community"?
One might ask what unites representatives from such a variety of
radio stations at AMARC 6? What is it that makes a radio station
a community radio station? Perhaps the best way to answer this is
in the words of a conference participant:
The answer is not very complicated: it is enough to look at
the objectives of the station. What does it look for, what are its
goals? The determining element is the social nature of the medium.
Commercial radio stations define themselves as profit making
institutions. As communications media, they have to have the same
social and cultural responsibility that all good journalists do,
and have to design programming to serve their communities. But,
when a conflict arises, when they have to choose between God and
a golden cow, the owners of commercial radio stations will be inclined
towards the latter.
Our option is different. And in it we find the precious jewel,
the unnegotiable characteristic of our radio projects: Do we work
primarily for our own gain, or to help improve the social conditions
and social conditions and the cultural quality of life of the people
in our communities? Community radio stations are not looking for
profit, but to provide a service to civil society. Naturally, this
is a service that attempts to influence public opinion, create consensus,
strengthen democracy and above all create community--hence the name
José Ignacío López Vigil, ¿"Que hace
comunitaria a una radio comunitaria?" Chasqui, Quito, Ecuador, November,