Although community journalism is a global phenomenon, it would be folly to assume that the practices and roles of community-focused news media can be generalized across diverse cultures. That may be especially true with regard to the developing democracies, where socio-political divisions remain very much a part of living memory. This monograph brings together essays by media scholars from five different developing nations to illustrate the diversity of community journalism around the world, as well as to provide some baseline information for future study of community journalism in and across those nations.
Bill Reader, Ohio University
The role of community news media in post-revolution and developing nations is an under-studied area of both media research and political science. This article presents “overview” essays of the current state of community journalism in five developing democracies to reflect the inherently pluralistic, culturally relative nature of community journalism around the world.
As noted by Hatcher (2012), scholars who study community media should be wary of generalized assumptions about community media, as “Differences in class, education, ideology, and ethnicity among community members inevitably mean that not all of them enjoy the same rights, freedoms, and access to community benefits. The ramifications of how those differences play out in the relationship between the community and the journalist can be profound” (Hatcher, 2012, p. 132). That can be just as true when comparing community journalism across different nations as it is when comparing such media within those nations. Consider the findings of a multi-national study that found significant differences in the coverage of political speeches in the news media of developed versus developing nations (Waheed, Schuck, Neijens & de Vreese, 2013). Similar differences in the perception of “news values” were found in a study of South African media that compared the attitudes of journalists who had received formal, university-based training and journalists who learned the craft more informally via on-the-job training (Hatcher, 2013). Another comparative study found stark differences in implementation of a “social-responsibility” approach to journalism at a large, traditional news outlet in the mature democracy of the United Kingdom compared to a relatively young news outlet in the tumultuous emerging democracy of Bangladesh (Hossain & Jaehnig, 2011). Those authors concluded that
The socio-political situations are different in developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Even the South Asian countries have quite different socio-political systems and media landscapes. So the implementation of the media’s social responsibility is relative and will depend on the perspectives of the social institutions and media organizations in a particular nation. (Hossain & Jaehnig, 2011, p. 239)
The issue is further complicated when considering the media landscape in nations that are not far removed from periods of revolution or civil unrest, as Hatcher (2013) found in his study of community journalism in South Africa. Nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, the nation is still operating in the shadow of racial segregation and white-minority rule: “South Africa’s desire to become a more inclusive society poses intriguing challenges for community journalists. … Efforts by media to bridge communities and overcome longstanding stereotypes face daunting obstacles” (p. 61). Other relatively young democracies not only must overcome the old socio-political divisions that remain very much a part of living memory, but other concerns such as widespread poverty, low literacy rates, unreliable or underdeveloped communication infrastructures, political restrictions on press freedoms, and fragile economic conditions.
Before getting to the overview essays, it is instructive to consider that the scholarly analysis of community media in new democracies is by no means a new enterprise. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the nascent United States in the early 19th century, he made note of the plethora of small, community-focused newspapers in the developing nation, noting “In America there is scarcely a hamlet that has not its newspaper” (Tocqueville, 1835, para. 13). Although impressed by the “almost incredibly large” number of small, local newspapers in the United States at the time, the French scholar was considerably less impressed with the quality of the journalism he found in those community news outlets: “The characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private life and disclose all their weaknesses and vices” (Tocqueville, 1835, para. 13). Tocqueville suggested that the dearth of quality was related to the multitude of outlets, “as the competition prevents any considerable profit, persons of much capacity are rarely led to engage in these undertakings. Such is the number of the public prints that even if they were a source of wealth, writers of ability could not be found to direct them all. The journalists of the United States are generally in a very humble position, with a scanty education and a vulgar turn of mind” (Tocqueville, 1835, para. 13). Despite those limitations, Tocqueville argued that such a plebeian news media was crucial for empowering the common people and for confounding and resisting those with aristocratic designs. It was the decentralized and pluralistic nature of the new democracy’s media system, coupled with a decidedly “coarse” and “vulgar” aesthetic that was more reflective of the diversity of the “common” people, that made the press in the developing United States such a powerful influence in government, economics, and culture.
Over the ensuing two centuries, the news media in the U.S. diverged. The “vulgar” community news outlets — which Tocqueville saw as necessary for true democracy and the foil of aristocracy — to this day account for the bulk of news media in the nation (Lauterer, 2006; Reader & Hatcher, 2012). But just about the time that Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was first published, the seeds of various media empires were starting to take root in the U.S., and over time the role of the community press, on a national level, was taken less seriously compared to those increasingly wealthy, centralizing media empires. That has been particularly true over the past four decades, as the mainstream “national” press in the U.S. became much more corporate and “professionalized” — essentially, aristocratic (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006). That trend correlates with an overall decline in the U.S. public’s trust in the content of mainstream media, which stood at about 78 percent in the 1970s but has fallen to below 45 percent in recent years, including an “all-time low” of 40 percent in 2012 (Morales, 2012). That same year, another national survey found that about 72 percent of U.S. adults “are quite attached to following local news and information, and local newspapers are by far the source they rely on for much of the local information they need” (Pew Research Journalism Project, 2012, para. 1). More robust comparison of those two lines of research should, at minimum, help scholars understand that any study of “the news media” in a specific country should not assume that the study of “big media” is by any stretch generalizable to an entire media landscape.
With that in mind, accomplished journalism scholars from five different countries were asked to write about the current state of community journalism in their nations. Overall, there seems to be relatively little previous research within those countries to help the scholars develop strong literature reviews; as such, these essays are intended to be starting points for continued and more robust research efforts, and much of the information is from the scholars’ own professional observations of media in their own countries. The goal of this monograph is to provide an overview, not generalizable findings.
HONDURAS: THE UBIQUITY OF LOCAL RADIO IN A MOUNTAINOUS COUNTRY
Beatriz Lovo Reichman. Universidad Tecnologica Centroamericana
Honduras is a country of about 8 million people, and 80 percent of the nation’s terrain is mountainous. The nation has, roughly, a 25 percent illiteracy rate, according to UNICEF (2012). Those factors make radio the perfect medium to reach audiences in rural areas of Honduras, and the radio industry is fragmented such that nearly every town and village has at least one local radio station.
There are 1,070 radio stations under 422 operators in Honduras; 74 stations stream online (Conatel, 2015). The online stations primarily target the Honduran diaspora – people of Honduran ancestry who live in the U.S., Spain, other Central American nations, and other parts of the world. Within the nation, terrestrial radio dominates the media landscape.
Honduran radio not only appeals to the masses. It also encourages individual listeners to contribute. Even national broadcasting stations do some community-journalism programming. For example, some national programs are focused on providing medical and legal advice to members of the public. For more than 20 years, the radio station Radio America has aired “El Medico y Su Salud,” a call-in show featuring well-known health professional Dr. Mario Rivera Vásquez. From 8 to 9 a.m. on weekdays, listeners call from all over the country and ask for remedies to common illnesses and are advised by Vásquez. The show has two segments; it opens with the physician’s essay about a particular disease or syndrome and its various treatments, and then goes on to take calls from listeners who inquire about different ailments or health problems. That show is followed by “Orientación Legal” (“Legal Orientation”), which uses the same two-segment format — the host, lawyer Henry Chavez, opens with an explanation of a particular legal term, then takes calls from the audience. (Radio América, n.d.)
Honduran radio also is a conduit for distance education. At least 21 radio stations regularly transmit educational programs that enable youths and adults to study and graduate from elementary school and high school (Conatel, n.d.). Since 1989, “El Maestro en Casa” (“A Teacher at Home”) has served people aged 14 or older who, because of distance, age, time constraints or economic difficulties, can’t access traditional schools. When the courses are completed, students are tested at central or regional offices by qualified teachers. Through the program, students can finish junior high school and can even graduate from high school in humanities or business administration (El Maestro en Casa, n.d.).
Radio in Honduras is also a substitute for church — as many as 133 religious radio stations broadcast news and spiritual programming to Christian communities of various denominations throughout the nation (Conatel, n.d.).
Other national broadcasting stations are dedicated to what they call “social service” programming, which is a radio version of the classified advertising sections of newspapers. With no cost to the caller, those programs allow people to call in to the station to announce their intentions to buy, sell or exchange anything from cars to cattle, but also to allow people to request or offer employment, to congratulate friends and family on anniversaries and birthdays, or give public notice of someone’s death.
For example, via the social-service program of Radio Satélite in Tegucigalpa, a caller makes his or her announcement on the air and the announcer repeats it at intervals three or four more times. Here is an English translation of a death announcement from November 2013: “Pedro Zelaya, who is at Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, wants to make it known to the families Zelaya-Rivera in Yamaranguila, Fco. Morazán, that Josefa Zelaya died yesterday in this hospital. The body will be arriving tomorrow to her hometown for proper burial” (Radio Satélite, 2013). That same program included typical sales announcements, such as this one (also translated into English, telephone number redacted): “For sale … 2004 Honda Civic, 150,000 km, four door, blue. Those interested may call Mario at 9xxx-2xxx” (Radio Satélite, 2013).
Radio is also the preferred medium for community-development efforts in Honduras, particularly efforts to promote citizen-produced news. The United Nations Development Programme, along with civil-society organizations and local NGOs, have set out to train young people and indigenous citizens in small cities and rural communities to produce their own community journalism. The goal is to empower disadvantaged and remote communities to express their community needs and concerns to local and federal governments. Those journalists, trained through workshops, work almost exclusively through radio (UNDP, 2012).
Some community journalism is carried out by other mass media in Honduras, but it is just not as widespread or noticeable as on radio. There are four national newspapers and 13 small-town and alternative newspapers, several publications and magazines covering different topics and interests, and 44 Internet service providers. Nearly all traditional media have their own websites and Facebook pages, but when looking at them, one can see that those online offerings are not widely followed and often not updated on a regular basis (Conatel, n.d).
Television is the second most popular medium in Honduras, after radio. Whereas radio content is typically produced in-house by each station, providing a rich and diverse community-media landscape, relatively little TV content is produced in Honduras — it is cheaper to import programming from Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States, among others. Local TV production is limited to sports, a few game shows, talk shows and newscasts. However, each of the 402 TV stations in Honduras produces at least one in-house newscast. Some stations are ill equipped or have poorly trained personnel for the task, so they rely on the audience to contribute content. Mostly, those low-quality newscasts simply use the call-in format — they allow people to call in and voice their complaints and grievances on the air until the hour-long program is over. Others limit themselves to sharing the news of the day from the print media (they actually read the newspaper on the air). There are some more sophisticated, professional newsrooms that produce credible, trustworthy TV news programs. But whether professional or amateurish, traditional news media in Honduras are truly free to say and show anything, and audiences have direct access to contribute to those media.
As of the end of 2013, the Internet remained a relatively small part of the Honduran news industry. The main reason is based on the fact that only a small percentage of the population has access to Internet — one estimate from 2012 put the Internet-access rate at 18.1 percent of the population (UNICEF, 2012). As such, social media in Honduras do not have the reach that they’ve obtained in other developing nations. Moreover, social media are primarily used to socialize and build friendship groups, but they have not been used to convey commercial, political, or citizen-interest messages to the degree found in many other countries.
As a result, radio and TV remain the dominant form of “interactive media” in Honduras, primarily through various call-in programs. According to UNICEF, 93 percent of Hondurans own a mobile phone (2012). Everybody and anybody can call a radio or TV station during a newscast and share their complaints or concerns about local or state government. People often complain, on the air, about the lack of trustworthy potable water systems in their communities, and about teacher absences in schools, electrical power outages, politicians’ corrupt practices, and so on. The more serious, professionally produced newscasts conduct follow-up reports on citizens’ complaints that seem worthy of attention, or will call, on the air, the manager of a water company or the director of a school with high teacher absences, so that officials can explain to the audience when and how the problems will be addressed. Other, more amateurish newscasts will only air complains but do no follow-up reporting nor give officials a chance to respond.
Because of a lack of legal and cultural restrictions on what traditional media in Honduras can print or broadcast, it is my belief that social media in Honduras is not widely popular yet not just because of limited Internet access, but because traditional media allow for personal interaction and are easily accessible to their audiences.
Social media are growing, however. At this writing, social media are widely used as advertising vehicles for big brand stores, and many politicians use social media to promote themselves and their activities. But much of that usage has been one-way communication — some politicians do not allow readers’ comments on their personal pages. Radio, however, is filled with citizens’ comments.
Although the Honduras government exercises no prior restraint on the news media, a rising rate of violent deaths since 2006, journalists there increasingly self-censor their views and opinions to avoid being targeted by organized crime or street gangs (Isaula, 2012). Radio will probably remain as the Honduran medium of choice and will continue to be used as a means to educate, to cry out, to denounce, to inform, to worship, and certainly to entertain. Time will tell if other news media, especially online social networks, will experience the same kind of acceptance and use by the masses.
INDIA: MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES CREATE THEIR OWN MEDIA
Anand Pradhan, Indian Institute of Mass Communication
The news media industry in India is expanding at a healthy rate and is expected to continue expanding into the near future. A 2013 industry report suggested that the Indian media and entertainment industry was expected to grow with a compound annual growth rate of 18 percent to reach to 2.245 trillion rupees (approximately US$36.4 billion) by 2017 (CII-PwC, 2013). Although newspapers in many western, developed countries are facing serious crises in terms of circulation and revenue declines, the Indian newspaper industry has a healthy annual growth rate of 9.3 percent, expected to reach to 331 billion rupees (US$5.4 billion) in 2017 (CII-PwC, 2013). Due to its phenomenal growth and expansion, the Indian media and entertainment industry is attracting big foreign and local investors and companies (Khandekar, 2013).
But it is an irony that the growth and expansion of the media industry in the world’s largest democracy seems to be limited to large media conglomerates. Smaller, community-focused news outlets in India are facing an existential crisis. Particularly in the last decade, small- and medium-sized media companies have been finding it difficult to sustain themselves in ever intensifying competition (Thakurta, 2012). That decline of community-focused media is threatening the diverse and pluralistic community-media ecosystem in India, which includes more than 86,745 newspapers in more than two dozen languages and dialects, and with different periodicity — dailies, monthlies, and newspapers that make only occasional appearances.
The Registrar of Newspapers of India (a government department within the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) treats all such print publication as newspapers, not just dailies and weeklies (RNI, 2012). Most newspapers registered with the RNI are small- and medium-circulation publications that generally cater to smaller towns and local communities. Their owners and editorial staffs often are from those same communities, and many depend on local advertising revenue and subscribers. Contrary to the bigger and multi-edition newspapers, the majority of small newspapers (and small magazines) cover community-specific issues, events and opinion. Yet bigger, multi-edition newspapers are also entering smaller towns, district headquarters and villages in attempts to increase their reach, boost circulation and tap local advertising. To achieve that goal, bigger newspapers are trying to attract more readers by increasing local coverage in smaller communities (Neyazi, 2011).
But bigger and multi-edition newspapers often lack the community perspective because of their inherent structure, as they have clear objectives to serve large numbers of readers and cater to big and medium-sized advertisers. Their approach tends to homogenize the tastes and demands of the middle and upper-middle classes, which suits their advertisers. Secondly, big and multi-edition newspapers also try to minimize their costs, and to achieve that they try to function with bare minimum local staffing, which ultimately affects the quality of local coverage and connections with community (Vincent & Mahesh, 2007).
Thirdly, the newsroom of big and multi-edition newspapers also lacks the social-cultural diversity of local communities, and are generally blamed for negligible or no representation on their staffs of marginalized and under-privileged communities such as “dalits” (“untouchables” in the traditional caste system), tribal areas, minorities and women (Jeffrey, 1998). “Schedule Caste” (“dalits”) and “Schedule Tribes” communities constitute about 25 percent of India’s population (Jeffrey, 2012). The same applies to socially and educationally “backward castes,” which are again heavily under-represented in the newsrooms of most of the big and multi-edition newspapers even though they constitute more than 60 percent of the population. Even minority communities, especially Muslims, are also unable to find enough positions in newsrooms despite the fact they constitute about 14 percent of India’s population (Jeffrey, 2012). The number of women journalists is quite small in comparison to their ratio in the population.
That stark “democratic deficit” in the newsrooms of most big and multi-edition newspapers is also true with TV newsrooms, especially Indian language TV news channels. Most of those are owned by big media companies, diversified corporations, political leaders and powerful business owners. The result of the “democratic deficit” in newsroom and growing corporate control of news media is visible in their very limited, skewed and biased coverage of marginal communities (Mudgal, 2011). Moreover, as several scholars and social activists have argued, big and corporate-owned Indian news media generally ignore or distort the real issues of rural, marginalized communities (Ram, 2012).
That ever-growing feeling in marginalized communities has been instrumental in the launch of many alternative, community-focused newspapers/magazines and other mass communication channels in recent years. Three such experiments in community journalism are trail-breaking and deserve special attention from community journalism scholars and professionals.
The first is Khabar Laharia (“New Waves”), an eight-page weekly newspaper published by a collective of 40 poor and underprivileged rural women of a socially and economically underdeveloped region of Bundelkhand, part of which is in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The broadsheet newspaper, initially published in a local dialect, Bundeli, was started in May 2002 with support from Nirantar, a New Delhi-based, non-governmental organization focused on female education and literacy. One of the more unusual aspects of the newspaper is that its all-female team of journalists comprises women from underprivileged and marginalized demographics.
The women journalists of Khabar Laharia have fought against many socio-economic biases, including resistance from powerful upper-caste men in villages, government officials, even members of their own families. The literacy level in the region is very low, particularly among women. As journalist Betwa Sharma (2009) noted about the newspaper,
The publication initially floundered in a society where journalism is a monopoly of “upper-caste” men. Caste-based discrimination is entrenched in Chitrakoot. The banned practice of “un-touchability” is rampant. Married off at an early age, women are victims of illiteracy. Incidents of dowry deaths, where brides are killed for not bringing sufficient gifts and money into their husband’s home, also crop up in these parts. This practice, which usually takes the form of burning, is prohibited by law. (Sharma, 2009, para. 6)
The women who produce Khabar Lahariya have no college or university degrees, and most of them only have been schooled to “eighth-pass” level (the equivalent of eighth-grade educations in the U.S.). Initially, those rural women were trained in a series of workshops organized by Nirantar, in which they learned how to gather information, how to interview, how to write news copy, and how to type and edit articles. In 2002, the newspaper was launched as a single broadsheet, published monthly in one language; by 2013, its circulation of 6,000 had an estimated readership of 80,000 in many communities throughout Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with various editions in about a half dozen languages and dialects (Nirantar, 2013). In 2013, Khabar Lahariya launched a website that carries news, opinion, and features in many languages/dialects. Khabar Lahariya covers problems faced by local rural communities, as well as issues related to agriculture, public health, education, drinking water, sanitation, economic development, socio-economic discrimination, crime, and both laxity and corruption among police and local officials. According to the managing editor of Khabar Lahariya, Meera Yadav, many mainstream newspapers have also started lifting news stories from Khabar Lahariya, and even local administrators are taking note of and acting to address problems revealed by the coverage (personal communication, December 26, 2013). In 2009, UNESCO awarded its King Sejong Literacy Prize to Khabar Lahariya, recognizing the achievements of the unique newspaper and its role as a newspaper by the community, of the community and for the community, and its help for vulnerable and under-privileged communities in Indian society (The Hindu, 2009).
Another good example of grassroots community journalism in India is CGNet Swara, a voice-based portal operated from one of India’s most poor and under-developed states, Chattisgarh. The tribal population in that state is about 32 percent of the total, much higher than the national average. Mainstream news media (newspapers and television) have relatively low penetration and reach there compared to other states because of widespread illiteracy, poverty, geographical inaccessibility and the violence related to the Maoist insurgency throughout eastern India. It is not surprising that most large news companies are not enthusiastic to expand and reach the remote part of that state, and they seem even more disinterested in covering issues related to those tribal communities.
CGNet Swara initially started as the “CGNet” email forum, but its limitation was very obvious as just 0.5 percent people of the state had access to the Internet (Mudliar et. al., 2012). To overcome that limitation, it shifted to an interactive-voice (IVR) portal allowing anyone to participate and share information using widely available telephones. CGNet Swara allows anyone from the community with access to a telephone (landline or mobile) to call in and record their announcements or comments about local issues, public events, or grievances. The news service allows callers to record their messages in their own languages and dialects, which makes it a fully inclusionary platform open to anyone who can access a phone. Then there is a small group of professional journalists who moderate/edit selected recorded messages and upload them to the website as well as the telephone-delivery system. The moderators also transcribe and upload summaries of a few selected message on the website (CGNet Swara, 2013). The founder of CGNet Swara, Shubhranshu Chaudhary, claims that some of the stories and messages packaged by CGNet Swara have been picked up by mainstream newspapers and TV news programs (personal communication, December 4, 2013).
Two U.S.-based NGOs support the enterprise — the International Center for Journalists and the Knight International Journalism Fellowships program. CGNet Swara explains its motivations this way: “Many of the estimated 80 million members of India’s tribal communities lack access to any mainstream media outlets. This often poses serious barriers to their socio-economic development, as their grievances about government neglect and economic exploitation remain unvoiced” (CGNet Swara, 2013, para. 2). The result fills a communication void in India’s tribal communities – it is not surprising that CGNet Swara’s reach has expanded beyond Chattisgarh and gets calls from residents of other states, including Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (Farooquee, 2013).
A third example of community journalism in India is Gaon Connection, which dubs itself “India’s rural newspaper” (Gaon Connection, 2013). The weekly newspaper is published in the national language, Hindi, and focuses on rural issues and events. The newspaper was launched in December 2012 from a village in the under-developed, populous state Uttar Pradesh. It is at this writing a 12-page broadsheet newspaper with four pages of color. It publishes news reports, features, interview, columns and commentary on issues related to agriculture, farming practices, notable peasants and rural artisans, rural education and health issues, and other topics neglected by the urban, middle-class mainstream media. The newspaper is produced by a small team of trained, young journalists (many of them from rural backgrounds) and many part-time stringers from different districts of Uttar Pradesh produce the newspaper. It is distributed in print and as an e-edition via the Gaon Connection website.
The Gaon Connection lists four goals in its publicly available mission statement (Gaon Connection, 2013, para. 2): “bring democracy to villages,” “give a voice to rural India,” “provide urbane India a lens into its villages” and “generate white-collar employment.” Its mission statement also states that “Although 70% of India still lives in villages, there is no platform or medium focused entirely on them. … In an era where India’s media industry is booming but increasingly reflects only urban concerns, we strive to give rural citizens a voice of their own” (Gaon Connection, 2013, para. 1).
It is interesting to note that Gaon Connection, while assuring its readers that it would cover rural problems generally ignored by mainstream news media, also stresses that it would publish success stories from rural areas. As such, Gaon Connection is arguably the first newspaper of India’s emerging “rural aspirational class,” which is fighting against strong odds to overcome problems in India’s poor rural communities. For example, the newspaper regularly runs a feature that helps its readers learn the English language, which is viewed in India as a language of upward social-economic mobility. It also includes tips and instruction to farmers about how to use new farming techniques, information that is essentially absent from the mainstream press.
Considered together, those three examples help to illustrate how community journalism in India is multi-layered. Each medium started as a “local” news outlet, but also as a source of information and empowerment for the underprivileged. The rapid expansion of the outlets beyond their initial range promises to connect similar communities from across large regions of India, perhaps across the entire nation and beyond. Each also places an emphasis on recruiting journalists (either amateur or professional) from those same communities, a recruitment and training practice community-journalism scholar Jock Lauterer dubbed as “growing your own” (Lauterer, 2007). The long-term advantage of that is to help young, talented journalists gain experience and an appreciation for community journalism, and raise the profile of that important, growing sector of India’s gigantic and pluralistic journalism industry.
LEBANON: MINORITY COMMUNITIES UTILIZE TRADITIONAL AND NEW MEDIA OUTLETS
Sleiman Bssawmai, The Lebanese University
In the city of Borj Hammoud in Beirut, an old Armenian man named Artin plays checkers all day in his coffee shop and talks to people about Armenian culture in Lebanon. When asked why the Armenians had developed their own media outlets, starting in the early 20th century, he kept silent for few minutes, then answered, “Well, we as Armenians are a minority and we are attached to our culture, as [Armenian media] signifies our identity. Thus, we created our own media that talks in our language and deals with our issues, as a way to preserve our culture and heritage and strengthen it among the Armenians in our second country, Lebanon, rather than simply melting in the Lebanese culture and media” (personal communication, November 23, 2014).
A visitor to Beirut may also chance upon signs of the emerging LGBT community in the country. Although still heavily discriminated against in Lebanese society, LGBT citizens have in recent years created their own media to challenge the traditional society that is ignoring and persecuting them, not only to prove that LGBT people exist in Lebanon but to push for acceptance.
Lebanon is a small, densely populated country. It is smaller geographically than the U.S. state of Connecticut and slightly more populous with an estimated 5.8 million residents (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014). As both a geographic and cultural crossroads for millennia, Lebanon has one of the most diverse populations in the Middle East, and it has long been a haven for refugees from war-torn countries in the region — for example, the United Nations estimates that a million or more Syrians sought refuge in Lebanon during the Syrian civil war that erupted in 2011 (UNHCR, 2014). Many of those diverse cultural communities have created their own media within Lebanon. This essay focuses on how two of those communities — the community of ethnic Armenians and the LGBT identity community — serve communities that often are ignored or neglected by mainstream Lebanese media.
The media of Lebanese Armenians: Armenians have been in Lebanon since ancient times through a long series of conquests and migrations. The Armenian presence in Lebanon during the Ottoman period was minimal; however, there was a large influx of Armenians after the Armenian Genocide of 1915. In 1939, the Armenians arrived in Anjar and the Bekaa Valley (Diab, 2012). A strong Armenian community remains in Anjar to this day. During the Lebanese Civil War of the late 20th century, most Armenians refused to take sides and remained neutral (Worth, 2009). Today, Lebanon is home to approximately 150,000 citizens of Armenian descent, or about 4 percent of the total population (Embassy of Armenia to Lebanon, n.d.). There are three prominent Armenian political parties in Lebanon: the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnag), the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Hunchag) and the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (Ramgavar Party). They have significant influence in all facets of Armenian life and have become a significant force in Lebanese politics. Two of the most noteworthy political “victories” of Armenians in Lebanese politics include official recognition in 1997 of the Armenia Genocide and effective Armenian opposition to proposals from Turkey to send peacekeeping forces into the region after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict (Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, 2009).
Armenian media in Lebanon have played a significant part in defining those and other Armenian political positions, and the two majority political camps in Lebanon — the pro-western March 14 movement and the Hezbollah-led opposition — both have been careful to make concessions to Lebanese Armenians (Naim, 2009). Fiercely attached to their political, historical, and cultural legacy, post-Genocide Armenians have long supported their own media, starting with their first daily newspapers in the 1920s. Today, Lebanese Armenians have several newspapers and magazines dedicated to their community, as well as a few electronic-media outlets, both broadcasting and online.
The Armenian press sector consists of several publications. There are two mainstream magazines; a sports magazine; an Armenian culture magazine; and three Armenian newspapers. The first Armenian newspaper in Lebanon, Aztag, was initiated in 1927 (Naim, 2009). The daily “political and literary newspaper” has been and remains the mouthpiece of the largest Armenian political party, the Tashnag party, and is closely tied to the culture of Genocide survivors (Naim, 2009). The Zartonk Daily is the Ramgafar party newspaper. Established in 1937, “it remained active as a daily newspaper until the end of 2006, when it scaled back distribution and then stopped publishing in a daily format in the end of 2007. It was re-launched in May 2008, and in 2009 it increased publication to three issues per week” (Naim, 2009, para. 33-34). The main ideology of the newspaper is to promote Armenian rights, to bring attention to the Armenian Genocide of the 20th century, to promote Armenian church unity, to instill a sense of patriotism, and to defend freedom of speech. The third major Armenian newspaper, Ararad, also was launched in 1937 (Ararad, 2014). Representing the Hanshak party, the newspaper suffered from harassment from the Lebanese political authorities in the 1950s and 1960s because of the paper’s editorial opposition to the Lebanese government. The newspaper covers the Lebanese political movement, the essential activities of the Hanshak party, news about the Armenian diaspora, and local Armenian current events. It also focuses on analysis concerning local, regional and international political events. Ararad also focuses on news from the Republic of Armenia and its neighboring countries.
Lebanese Armenians have two main radio stations. Voice of Van is located in the heart or Beirut. It provides 24/7 broadcasts of political, social, economic and educational shows, as well as a blend of Armenian music in numerous genres. The other station, Radio Sevan, strives to provide information, entertainment and cultural programming to a global community of listeners, united in their appreciation of Armenian music and culture.
In the early 2000s, as the Lebanese-Armenian political and business influences began to have more sway in the country’s political scene, Lebanese television networks began catering to the Armenian audience. Today, a 30-minute news journal is divided into three categories: Lebanese news, Armenian news, and international news items. In the Lebanese segment, the program focuses on the main local political news. The Armenian segment includes news of official political events in the Republic of Armenia. It is worth mentioning that two Lebanese channels, OTV and Future TV, also have daily Armenian news programs that air at 4:30 p.m. The broadcasts contain coverage of local, regional and international news broadcast in the Armenian language.
Lebanese Armenians also use social media to share news and information. An example is Lradou, a Facebook page that has been active since 2012 that shares news articles about current affairs and issues that are happening in Lebanon and Armenia. Armenians also produce journalistic blogs, such as Seta’s Armenian Blog, which explores contemporary issues concerning Armenia and Armenians everywhere. It shares articles by Lebanese Armenian writers such as Sevag Hagopian.
Overall, Lebanese Armenians initiated their media outlets as tools to preserve their culture and heritage and keep the Armenian society in contact with their primary identity. Over time, those community media further became conduits for Lebanese Armenians to attain and maintain political, economic, and cultural influence in broader Lebanese society.
LGBT Media in Lebanon: The community media of LGBT Lebanese are not nearly as established, as the open LGBT movement in the country is relatively young and struggling. The subject of homosexuality is still considered a taboo in Lebanese society. Lebanese people have been progressing in terms of being able to discuss the subject out loud and even in academic work; however, mainstream Lebanese society is still not ready to let go of traditional customs and beliefs that do not tolerate homosexuality. Laws against homosexuality make it even harder for relevant NGOs to promote homosexual rights in Lebanon. However, the topic of homosexuality is not a taboo subject in public discourse, although the majority view is to speak against homosexuality and to not accept homosexuals as normal human beings — 79 percent of Lebanese believe homosexuality should be rejected, and same-sex sexual acts are illegal there, punishable by fines or up to a year imprisonment (Assi, 2012). Many parents of homosexuals go so far as take their children to therapy just because of their sexual orientation. Absent mainstream acceptance, the LGBT-rights movement in Lebanon has created its own media channels to circumvent the more hostile mainstream media.
Lebanon is the first Arab country to have its own gay periodical, Barra (“Out” in Arabic). Helem is the eponymous website and online newsletter of the most popular LGBT organization in Lebanon. In 2009, the book Bareed Mista3jil was published by the Lebanese Lesbian Feminist Collective organization in Beirut. The most famous LGBT news outlet in Lebanon is a Facebook page called LGBT Media Monitor, reporting about Lebanese LGBT movement. There also is an online newspaper for the Lebanese LGBT community called #LebLGBT Weekly — it is full of new articles, features, and briefs about LGBT activities, parties, experiences, etc. One can register freely for it and the subscriber receives it weekly by mail (The #LebLGBT Weekly, 2014).
There are a number of Lebanese blogs focused on the LGBT community. Raynbow Blog is the most popular LGBT blog in Lebanon. It is being used to call for action as well as sharing stories, mostly tragic ones. One feature of the blog is the “Homophobes Hall of Shame,” which identifies Lebanese celebrities as either “homo-friendly” or “homophobic” (Raynbow Blog, 2014). Gino’s Blog is another popular website within the LGBT community; although blogger Gino Raidy has never declared his sexual orientation, his blog frequently covers media stories about homosexuals. He often writes positively about LGBT media and causes. For example, he followed a story about some homosexuals who were put in prison when they were caught having sex and he defended their rights as he criticized Joe Maalouf, a well-known Lebanese TV presenter for an offensive episode in which he falsely accused 36 men of being gay, causing them serious problems (Raidy, 2012). Recently, Raidy was among the first to raise awareness of a Lebanese movie about homosexuals that was going to be screened in the U.S. but not in Lebanon (Raidy, 2013).
Internet-based social media have been a driving force for the LGBT community in Lebanon. A number of Facebook pages are focused on LGBT news and information about LGBT events and struggles. Helem’s Facebook page is, of course, flooded with stories and official notices from the organization. The page is also used to organize and promote LGBT events and demonstrations as well as to announce organizational meetings at the Helem office. As with many Facebook pages, Helem’s is full of photos and videos from members. Another example is LGBT Media Monitor, which is newer than Helem; the two work collaboratively, however, and are not in competition. LGBT Media Monitor is more focused on LGBT media and community service. For example, in late 2013, they were calling for volunteers from all over Lebanon to support LGBT people and causes. It has multiple active administrators, or “admins,” and each admin is known by a color rather by his or her name. Pages of People is another Facebook page that focuses on individual Lebanese homosexuals who have been struggling to live in Lebanon. Some of them have traveled elsewhere, while others are still struggling in Lebanon. And personal Facebook pages of individual strugglers can be found that share their different stories locally and abroad.
Other social-media platforms are used by the LGBT community for journalistic purposes. LebanonLGBT’s Instagram site listed more followers than its Facebook site by early 2014, and most of the LGBT media mentioned above also are active on Twitter.
LGBT people in Lebanon also use social phone apps such as Grindr and Growler to connect with homosexuals who are nearby. Users can read one another’s profiles, see their pictures, read short biographies, and have the option to chat online. Manjam.com, a popular dating website, also is used by gay men in Lebanon to meet other gays. Though not really modes for journalistic communication, such online tools are clearly part of the overall media framework used by LGBT Lebanese to build and support their community.
The LGBT community in Lebanon is highly active on social media, especially considering that they are ostracized from mainstream media outlets. Through their own media, LGBT Lebanese can express themselves freely and challenge the broader society to pay attention to them, if not accept them. Time will tell whether the LGBT media in Lebanon will become agents of progress and acceptance for the LGBT community as Armenian media have been for Lebanese Armenians, and whether such community-specific media will eventually lead to accommodation of LGBT voices and agendas in the mainstream media.
UKRAINE: ACTIVIST COMMUNITIES USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO CIRCUMVENT MEDIA OLIGARCHIES
Yuriy Zalizniak, Ivan Franko National University
To successfully run a community media project, one has to meet at least four objectives: to be devoted to the idea of serving the community interests; to have the time to create and support the project; to be qualified enough to conduct the work, along with a willingness to learn and adapt during the process; and, last but not least, to attract both cultural and financial support. All four objectives are substantial hurdles currently in politically divided Ukraine.
More than 20 years after becoming an independent democracy, Ukraine still does not have as many community news media as there are in other modern democracies. Much of the community journalism in Ukraine is produced by student media, trade-union media, and public media funded by NGOs. Those media have some distinctive similarities. They are mostly informal (meaning they are not legally registered as professional news media). They are established and operated by local activists, and often do not have stable staffing or financial support. They are situational, producing whenever they are able to, often with no regular publication periods and rarely remaining viable over long periods of time. And they do not require the sophisticated equipment and complicated procedures used by national and regional newspapers and broadcasters (Klymenko & Pavlenko, 2003).
To be clear, there are some territorial community media in Ukraine that are quite professional — officially registered newspapers, mainly, that are issued on a regular basis with general-interest breadth. The country still has rural newspapers, and they represent a classic type of “local” media for a post-Soviet country, as such newspapers used to be issued in almost every region of Ukraine, if not throughout other former Soviet republics. Those rural-region newspapers are not the same as community media when it comes to issues of political independence, economic activity and financial viability. Regularly issued community newspapers are possible only when initiative-driven groups of citizens manage to find some reliable sources of financial support.
Ukraine’s media landscape in recent years has been dominated by local oligarchs with close ties to the presidential families (Dutsyk, 2010). The opposition has not had adequately powerful media resources by which to compete, and in the run-up to the presidential elections of 2015, a strengthening of pro-government, oligarchic media is noticeable, although the early 2014 secession of Crimea certainly will change how some oligarchic media cover election politics. Absent representation and access to mainstream media in Ukraine, local activists tend to create their own news media to bring attention to specific community problems.
Those media enable numerous action groups to mobilize neighbors or like-minded citizens to collectively stand for common interests or to guard against or oppose actions against their causes. As such, they are more factional than typical “small-town” media in other countries. The majority of Ukraine’s “activist community media” are in print: newspapers, flyers, newsletters, etc. Examples include student newspapers, such as the two at Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Mogu and Kredens. Lviv also has a Greek-Catholic community newspaper, the All Saints of Ukrainian People Church Bulletin. Similar forms of niche community media can be found in cities throughout Ukraine. But in recent years, other formats have been widely adopted, particularly social media and multimedia (using audio and video) that are shared through the Internet.
Sometimes, local NGOs can be the publishers of such newspapers, or can provide content for TV and radio bulletins on local channels and stations. An example is the project called Establishment of Media Centers in Rural Areas. Its aim in 2007 and 2008 was to foster democratic dialogue in rural areas and to give rural citizens a means to voice their concerns and opinions by setting up community media centers. But that was a short-term project funded by the European Union (Shutov, 2008).
Public-opinion studies show that news media are, along with the church and armed forces, the most trusted institutions in Ukraine (Democratic Initiatives Fund and Razumkov Centre, 2013), yet it is very hard to gather money to start a community media project — unless it is backed by oligarchs. But even oligarchs in Ukraine prefer buying TV and radio stations, magazines, newspapers and websites that they can control to increase their wealth and power rather than donating some of their wealth to independent community media. That is why almost all national media in Ukraine are commercial and owned by businessmen who have close ties to the ruling parties or strong opposition parties. Oligarchy has a tremendous influence on the content of mainstream Ukrainian media; as such, local community stories are often not covered when “national” problems are discussed, usually according to the “blessing” of the media owners.
The financial barriers to truly independent media in Ukraine are substantial. Ukraine has a smaller middle-class relative to the rest of Europe. Wealthy Ukrainians tend to be oligarchs, politicians and authorities at all levels of government, and they are conspicuous in their consumption of luxury brands such as Ferrari, Maserati, Chanel and many more. The rest of the population lives near or below the poverty line. The Global Wealth Report 2013 of Credit Suisse Bank notes that the average annual income of a Ukrainian citizen is less than 41,000 hryvnia (about US$5,000), which is 10 times less than the world average. Ukraine’s nearest cultural neighbors, Poland and Russia, are richer: Russia is among the countries with an average income between US$5,000 and US$25,000, and Poles have average incomes between US$25,000 and US$100,000 (Global Wealth Report, 2013).
The question is whether it is possible that common Ukrainians, after spending their salaries mainly on groceries, are willing or able to give some money to support their own local community media. Surprisingly, the answer has been “yes” in some areas. For example, a group of professional journalists in November 2013 managed to gather more than 60,000 hryvnia (US$8,000) from more than 300 donors through a crowdfunding website to start a project called, simply, Public Radio. The station was created originally as a podcast-only project, with the hope to eventually become a full-time Web stream and, perhaps, even broadcast over airwaves. As they explained, it is expected to be the only truly independent “talk” radio outlet in Ukraine, as it will not be under control of the government, businessmen or politicians (Public Radio, 2013). The project’s mission statement includes this explanation: “Each of us at one time refused to turn a blind eye to censorship, unfair ‘editorial’ or non-transparent media ownership. Each of our listeners has already noticed that he receives low-quality, stale and even deliberately distorted picture of the day from many media. Now we are trying to break this shameful circle” (Slavinska, 2013, para. 3). And it turned out to be enough to attract enough donations to launch the project. Although the project is not a “local” community journalism project — it is seeking a national audience — it is an experiment with grassroots journalism that is uncommon in Ukraine.
In that context, the difference between the concepts of community journalism and public (or “citizen”) journalism is not immediately noticeable because in Ukraine both are often regarded as the same phenomenon. That can possibly be explained by considering Ukraine’s Soviet past, a legacy of totalitarianism across two continents that used to deny any regional or community autonomy, including journalism produced by and for distinct communities. Today, Ukrainians are inhabitants of a reborn state crowded with communities that have regained cultural distinctiveness through 22 years of independence. Community journalism and public journalism are evolving at the same time. A national imperative for a free, independent, and community-focused press is only now entering the national consciousness. The dominance of oligarchical media slows that process, given the significance of large, national media to influence how citizens conceptualize their national culture. That gets to Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities” and his explanation of imaginary roots of nations: “Members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson, 1991, p. 6). For seven decades, Ukrainians were compelled, partly via state-owned media, to imagine themselves as part of the U.S.S.R.; today, the first generation of Ukrainians born and raised in an independent, democratic nation are just entering adulthood. Ukrainians are still in the process of re-imagining “community” both through expanding personal acquaintances but also through derivative awareness via the efforts of community/public journalism efforts that reflect smaller Ukrainian communities that are tied together by geography, beliefs, or shared interests.
The Internet is giving a tremendous boost particularly to the rapid development of community, citizen, civic and other types of “connected” journalism. Ukrainians have a tradition of small-scale, un-official publishing — evidence of that can be seen in the dissident “samizdat” press collection of Ukrainian journalist Vakhtang Kipiani (Kipiani, 2007). But Internet-based communication has greatly enhanced the ability of disempowered Ukrainians to produce journalism both in print and online.
The worldwide digital network simplifies access to content for audiences, as well as access to low-cost production and publishing tools, especially compared to those needed for legacy print, radio and TV news outlets in Ukraine. Consider the case of Hromadske.tv, a project by Ukrainian journalists who produce public-journalism video reports that are distributed online (Chornokondratenko, 2013). Such an independent journalism project would not be possible without ubiquitous Internet access.
In 2013, half the adult population in Ukraine used the Internet (KIIS research, 2013a). The main differences in the spread of the Internet in Ukraine are based on age and type of settlement. Ukrainian researchers have noted a linear, inverse relationship between age and Internet use, with the elderly using it very little and younger Ukrainians using it extensively (KIIS research, 2013b). And although sociologists also have noted Internet-access disparities in settlements of various sizes has noticeably smoothed, the digital divide is still notable in the Ukrainian countryside where residents often refer to technical problems of connectivity in sparsely populated areas (KIIS research, 2013b). Meanwhile, the founder of the portal Watcher.com.ua, Maxim Savanevskyy, says that the dynamics of Internet development in Ukraine is rather high because every year the level of internet penetration in Ukraine increases by 20 to 25 percent:
Growth occurs primarily through small settlements. However, in Kyiv, for example, the penetration rate is almost unchanged for the last 1.5-2 years. Speaking of age dynamics of Internet users, the most active group is 50 years old or more, starting to take up the Internet after their children, or because the requirements at work. (Savanevskyy, 2013, para. 3).
In general, the development of the Internet in Ukraine can let us make predictions about the further expansion of Ukrainian community media, which will be decidedly online. That is indicated by the dynamics of Internet penetration in other parts of the world where Internet use corresponds with a steady growth of interest of the former audience to create its own content (Rosen, 2006). The number of blogs is growing in Ukraine; Ukrainian Wikipedia is among the top 20 Wikipedia channels in the world by number of articles; and social networks are becoming more and more popular among Ukrainians. According to Watcher, which has been analyzing the growth of Ukrainian audience on Facebook since April 2009, the number of Ukrainian Facebook users grew 48-fold in just four years, from 63,000 users in April 2009 to 3 million by October 2013 (Watcher research, 2013). Growth in 2013 was faster than in the previous year, increasing by a third from 1.6 million to 2.3 million users (Watcher research, 2013). The three most popular social networks in Ukraine – Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki and Facebook — are steadily in top-10 most popular domains in Ukraine (Minchenko, 2013).
Corresponding to the rapid growth of social media use is the rapid appearance of online-only journalism projects in Ukraine. One such new project is in Vinnytsia – a hyperlocal social network as a platform for decision-making. Supported by a United Nations e-governance project, the project aims to develop a culture of dialogue in the community, attract active users of social networks to discuss the state of local development there, and identify new community leaders to promote new local initiatives (UNDP, 2015).
Many of the emerging citizen-journalism efforts in Ukraine combine geographic considerations with specific causes or goals. For instance, the movement “Let us walk” has a shared goal to fight for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in Lviv where narrow streets are crowded with illegally parked cars. “Let us walk” has open groups on Facebook with more than 2,000 members (Let us walk, 2013). Members of the group use their mobile phones to report illegally parked cars and to cooperate with local police to cite the car owners. At the same time, the group has managed to gather enough money from community members, other inhabitants of the city, and local businesses to buy and install physical barriers to prevent drivers from parking cars on sidewalks. The group’s success has forced mainstream media to meet with activists of the group and to cover that persistent local problem (Zaxid.net, 2013; Lviv24.com, 2013). A similar approach has been taken by the “Save Old Kyiv” group, which tries to preserve old buildings and places of Kyiv from demolition or drastic alteration. A Google search in Ukraine using the terms “village site” or “village blog” returns countless results. Local activists use their do-it-yourself media to solve their community problems, to entertain neighbors, even to attract tourists.
Not all of those new community-focused media have proximate goals. For example, “Community against Lawlessness” is a social-network-based initiative dealing with cases of different injustice in the case of law and rights of Ukrainians violated by officials, police or judges (Community against Lawlessness, 2013). Those stories often are not covered by national and local mainstream media so activists report the stories in their own way using whatever resources are available to them.
That was certainly evident in late 2013 into 2014, during the Ukrainian pro-European revolution, when hundreds of thousands of people gathered several times in different parts of the capital city, Kyiv, to oppose the government’s decision to turn down European integration. Dozens of students, journalists (even foreign correspondents) and other people were roughly beaten by police during the protests. In general, mobilization of those protests took place via Twitter and Facebook. The community site EuroMaydan turned into a news aggregator. The hashtag “#Euromaydan” spread quickly and reached the top position in Ukrainian Twitter. Several separate-but-united online communities were organized in a short period of time to inform people about police activity in Kyiv and elsewhere; to help people from different regions of Ukraine get to the capital by public or private transport; to provide traveling protestors with gasoline, food, warm clothes, medical assistance in the streets of the city, and places to stay in Kyiv for days; to find people who went missing after police arrests; and many more missions. At the same time, Ukrainian journalists were demonstrating extreme consolidation as they became willing to unite and support one another. More journalists have become more open to collaboration with ordinary people – specially Hromadske.tv (Chornokondratenko, 2013).
It is this growing diversity in online communication that suggests that stronger, more professional forms of community journalism may evolve in Ukraine. While oligarchic and commercial media continue to focus only on mainstream news related to national politics, macroeconomics, major crimes, major sports, weather issues and international news, local activists are demonstrating the more focused informational needs and desires of distinct communities. Amateurs with strong community ties are becoming the masters of understanding local context, of recognizing the local impacts of global changes, and of providing in-depth coverage of the issues and aspirations of each community. The plurality of such communities drives the demand for a stronger community-journalism presence in Ukraine, and the new media instruments of the Internet can help anybody with skill and talent to become their own, community-level media magnate.
Zambia: Community radio struggles under government interference
Carole Phiri-Chibbonta, University of Zambia
Radio is the most significant source of community journalism for the diverse populations of Zambia. Community radio in Zambia began after the introduction of multi-party, democratic governance in the early 1990s. The subsequent liberalization of the airwaves in 1994 resulted in the emergence of community radio stations in many parts of the country. Over the years, the number of not-for-profit community radio stations has increased steadily; today, Zambia has at least 48 community radio stations broadcasting in a number of languages with content as diverse as the population itself. Although most of those stations serve both communities of interest and geographical communities, most of them serve communities defined by geographical locality (Muzyamba, 2005). However, political pressures and interference have prevented community radio from achieving its highest potential in the young democracy.
The rise of community radio in Zambia, as noted by Kasoma (2001), seems to have been acknowledged against the backdrop of shortcomings of national radio provided by the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), as well as shortcomings in commercial and Christian radio in the country. Compared to commercial or Christian radio, community radio would seem less restrictive in terms of content, as it lacks the aim of Christian radio which is to evangelize and it represents a more egalitarian media system for the people as its ethos is not primarily driven by profit and advertising (Kasoma, 2001). The signal of the national broadcaster, ZNBC, does not reach all people in the country, and ZNBC has failed to provide content to satisfy all the people in Zambia in terms of language groups and the specific problems and issues faced by communities in various parts of the country (Kasoma, 2001). Community radio aims to fill those gaps.
In addition, the entire media landscape in the country has probably contributed to the popularity of community media. Government owns and controls two of the country’s daily newspapers (Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia), while several privately owned newspapers, of which The Post has the widest circulation, provide opposition views and criticism of government but face frequent reprisals for their oppositional reporting. These three newspapers have for a long time dominated the newspaper industry in Zambia, which has occasionally seen weekly newspapers circulating but those have all folded in short order mainly due to sustainability problems. Previously, the government through the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) also produced six vernacular newspapers to cater for the information needs of the rural communities, but those, too, disappeared almost a decade ago. However, government has recently revived the production of those vernacular newspapers (Nyirenda, 2013) — time will tell if they succeed.
The media in Zambia is highly polarized, with the state media supporting the government of the day and the private media supporting the opposition. As such, most mainstream news media in Zambia are more reflective of the interests of their owners and supporters than of the people at large. Community radio has not only provided listeners with content about their own communities, but it also has offered people in those communities the opportunity to access diverse information as well as to express themselves to the public. Public involvement is conducted particularly through the use of mobile phones, and live radio phone-in programs provide alternative forms of information, especially in urban and peri-urban areas. Community radio stations seem to have become popular for broadcasting live phone-in programs in which the contributions of callers are not censored.
However, that appreciation of community radio has not come without its own limitations. Paramount among those are financial, regulatory, and political impediments as identified in the 2006 Needs Assessment Survey on Community Media (Muzyamba & Nyondo, 2006).
Since the time community radio appeared on the scene in Zambia, several stations have ceased to broadcast due to their inability to financially sustain their operations. The impact of rather exorbitant costs of obtaining a license as well as annual renewal fees has been harsh on some stations. In addition, there is still no clear policy and regulatory framework for community media in Zambia. Most notably, the 1996 Information and Media Policy is silent on the issue of community radio. Although it contains guidelines on how to apply for a radio broadcasting license, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a community radio station, no analysis of the context within which it can be carried on, let alone any attempt to distinguish between “community,” “commercial” and “public” broadcasting (MIBS, 1996).
Legally, issues of community media are represented by the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act of 2002, which mandated the creation of the IBA agency to license and regulate broadcast stations. However, to date, the IBA has not been fully operationalized, as the board was yet to be constituted 10 years later — at this writing, only an IBA director general has been appointed, and that was just in May 2013. Until (or unless) the IBA is fully implemented, all power to supervise, regulate and give licenses for radio stations, including community radio, is vested in the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, a political position that is prone to controversy (Adumu, 2013a).
The lack of a clear policy and regulatory framework for community radio could be enabling political interference in the form of arbitrary regulation and pronouncements by government officials. The interference comes by way of a number of approaches, both legal and extra-legal. For example, those in power may threaten to close down community media if they engage in “political broadcasts,” which they claim is contrary to license terms even though the regulations do not state any such restrictions (Muzyamba and Nyondo, 2006). Any content deemed to be critical of government by those authorities draws the same wrath and retaliation.
In fact, it has become common practice, in the recent years, for Zambian government officials to not only threaten to silence community media houses through closure but to try to influence the content and programming. For example, in November 2007, officials threatened to revoke the license of Radio Lyambai in western Zambia following allegations that the station intended to invite an opposition leader to discuss a controversial political issue. Officials banned the station from broadcasting live phone in radio shows. A few years later, the government shut down the radio station under allegations that it broadcast “seditious material” related to the Barotseland independence movement (Zambian Watchdog, 2011).
In a more recent case, the Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary Emmanuel Mwamba in 2013 threatened to revoke the broadcasting license of UNZA Radio, a teaching radio station operated by the University of Zambia in Lusaka (Adumu, 2013b). The official alleged that the station had broadcast a discussion about politics with an opposition party leader. Mwamba accused UNZA Radio of departing from its mandate of being a community radio station by offering a platform for partisan interests. That was neither the first nor the only the incident of political interference at UNZA Radio. Earlier, in September 2012, Mwamba’s predecessor, Amos Malupenga, had also threatened to suspend UNZA Radio’s license on allegations that the station was providing a platform for advancing partisan interests (Adumu, 2012). In 2014, the country’s Youth and Sport Minister, Chishimba Kambwili, went into the radio station to threaten student journalists for their coverage of a student protest on campus (Lusaka Times, 2014).
Similar incidents at other community radio stations resulted in government officials threatening to either close or dissolve boards of directors for such media. In February 2013, the district commissioner from the North-Western Province threatened to revoke the license for Kasempa FM community radio after he was quizzed about the shortage of mortuary attendants at a hospital under his jurisdiction (Zambian Watchdog, 2013). In the same month, Isoka Community radio station in Northern Zambia and Radio Pasme in Eastern Zambia also faced similar intimidation (MISA Zambia, 2013).
With the lack of implementation of the Independent Broadcasters Authority and the ad hoc and capricious manner in which political pronouncements relating to community media are unilaterally made by officials, it is clear that the government has apportioned itself regulatory power over community radio regardless of community interests. That level of restrictive regulation and arbitrary government control makes it impossible for community radio in Zambia to offer a diversity of opinions from those communities. A free and independent media cannot achieve its best goal — to empower communities and give voice to the voiceless — if the government keeps interfering.
All five of the countries discussed here have constitutional guarantees of “freedom of the press,” though of course the degree to which a particular government will honor such rights will vary from place to place and from time to time. Clearly, the human need for sharing news within communities is demonstrated by the myriad projects and efforts discussed above. Most turn to modern media formats — newspapers, radio, blogs — but the impetus is not really about “putting out a newspaper” or “getting the word out over the airwaves.” The impetus is to share, to bear witness, and to empower — how that goal is achieved is as diverse as the many cultures of the human civilization.
In his acclaimed book A History of News, Mitchell Stephens wrote about “the need for news” as a social impetus that is as old as human civilization itself: “It does not matter whether we are used to following news across an island or around the world; when the news flow is obstructed — depriving us of our customary view — a darkness falls. We grow anxious. Our hut, apartment, village or city becomes a ‘sorry’ place. However large our horizons were, they grow smaller” (Stephens, 2007, p. 12). Sometimes the obstruction comes from the gauche, heavy-handed tactics of tyrannical politicians; sometimes it comes from the financially motivated dominant media who are focused only on the disposable incomes of the middle- and upper classes. Sometimes, it comes from years of not knowing anything else. But, in the end, the obstructions cannot seem to stop the natural tendencies of communities to develop their own systems of gathering and disseminating news. The means of doing so, however, are as diverse as the cultures of the world itself.
Introduction and conclusion
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