The term “community radio” refers to any radio station that serves a specific geographic group or a community of interest. These stations typically are low budget and involve broad participation by community members—often on a volunteer basis. The ownership and control of these stations often lies with the community through NGOs, universities, students, religious organizations, or trade unions. A station is generally governed by a board that reflects the diversity of the community, defines its mission, sets policies, and oversees finances while being responsive to the needs of the community.
This definition is drawn from CIMA's 2008 report Empowering Independent Media. Some have argued for a stricter definition of community radio, such as Mary Myers, an expert on international media development with many years of experience in this field, who defines community radio as "radio by and for the community--be that a physical one or a community of interest." This definition requires that ownership and operation of the station be squarely with the community itself.
In the developing world, community radio has become a valuable tool for bringing communities together by focusing on issues important to local populations. For media developers, community radio has been demonstrated to be a powerful source for empowerment, especially for disenfranchised and marginalized groups in society.
Examples of radio’s ability to empower developing communities are numerous. Among them:
- In Nepal, after the king seized power in 2005 and ordered stations to broadcast only music, community radio broadcasters responded by singing the news and Nepal’s constitution to inform listeners about the political crisis and their constitutional rights. Broadcasters also urged peaceful protest.
- With funding from USAID, the State Department, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Internews set up a string of community radio stations in remote eastern Chad. The stations have provided Sudanese refugees from Darfur and local Chadians with updates on security issues and food and health services.
- In Pakistan, Internews helped to train Pakistan’s first generation of female radio journalists and establish the country’s first nongovernmental radio stations. The initiative also produced the first independent radio program on gender issues, Meri Awaz Suno (Hear My Voice), which explored groundbreaking topics such as HIV/AIDS, “honor” killings, and women’s political participation.
- And in Jordan, when Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab tried to start an independent radio station in 2000, he was thwarted by a government stranglehold on the airwaves. Kuttab took his radio idea online, founding AmmanNet, an Internet-based station in a region he says is “probably the poorest for community radio and independent media in the world.” Now an FM station, AmmanNet is credited with improving local journalism by introducing new practices in Jordan—airing “actualities” (sound bites from interviews), covering Parliament, and focusing on local news. AmmanNet received initial funding from UNESCO and OSI, and today relies on a variety of donors, including NED, as well as income from training its staff conducts for other media.
- While radio has sometimes been used to spread hate—most infamously to spark genocide in Rwanda in 1994 (though it is important to note that these stations were commercial, and not community radio)—it can also serve as a force to calm tensions and help avoid conflict. In Kenya, where more than 1,000 people were killed and 500,000 displaced in ethnic clashes after a disputed presidential election in December 2007, Pamoja FM, based in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, broadcast messages to its listeners to remain calm and nonviolent. Funded with donations and run by volunteers, the station’s mission is to bring local news to Kibera’s 1.2 million residents.
See CIMA’s report on its working group “Community Radio: Its Impact and Challenges to Its Development”
Other Relevant Reports
Broadcasting in UN Blue: UN Radio’s Unexamined Past and Uncertain Future
One Size Does Not Fit All: Objectives and Priority Areas for Media Assistance in Different Societies
Community Media Sustainability: The Business of Changing Lives
Independent Voices: Radio’s Role in Democracy and Development
Hate Speech in Divided Societies: Should it be Regulated?
Community Radio Organizations
Developing Radio Partners