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573970

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GMC0010.1177/1742766515573970Global Media and CommunicationAli and Conrad

Article

A community of communities?
Emerging dynamics in the
community media paradigm

Global Media and Communication


2015, Vol. 11(1) 323
The Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/1742766515573970
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Christopher Ali
University of Virginia, USA

David Conrad

University of Pennsylvania, USA

Abstract
Recent years have seen numerous attempts by community broadcasters around the
world to reinvent their practices in an effort to remain relevant and financially sustainable
in the digital age. One proposed initiative is to have community programming distributed
via satellite, either in the form of a single channel or as a subscription service for local
stations to find programming. Combining two case studies and multiple research methods,
this article investigates the potential impact of satellite distribution on community
broadcasting in Canada and East Africa. We observe that it is often not the community
media organizations themselves that are pushing for satellite delivery, but, rather, outside
actors such as media corporations and non-governmental organizations. As a result, we
argue that a more spirited discussion within the community media sector is warranted
to better understand the implications of this technological shift in delivery mechanisms.
Keywords
Community broadcasting, community radio, community television, comparative media,
participatory media, satellite distribution

Recent years have seen attempts by community broadcasters to reinvent their practices
in an effort to remain relevant and financially sustainable in the digital age. Efforts have

Corresponding author:
Christopher Ali, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia, Levering Hall, Hotel FPO Box 400866,
Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA.
Email: cali@virginia.edu

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Global Media and Communication 11(1)

included the adoption of digital literacy programmes, expanding community outreach,


incorporating multi-media mandates, and re-organizing radio and television stations into
community media centers (Breitbart et al., 2011). In addition to these initiatives, some
have also suggested that community media producers take advantage of new distribution
technologies and have their programmes delivered digitally by satellite a community
of communities channel for the digital age (see Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), 2010). Two potential options for satellite
delivery are a single dedicated channel programmed by the satellite distributor that features community programming or a stream of programmes made available for individual
community broadcasters to choose and air on their own channel. Satellite distributors
argue that either practice would elicit public interest benefit by expanding the geographical reach of community stations, thereby increasing the potential number of listeners and
viewers, and point to Australias Community Radio Network (CRN) a programming
stream delivered via satellite to participating stations as an indication of success
(Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA), n.d.). Others, however, are
unsure of these practices, curious as to actual benefits (e.g. Truglia, 2010).1 Many also
contend that the role of local participation in the making of community media is far more
important than the size of its audience or its ratings (Aufderheide, 2000; King and Mele,
1999). As a result, an unacknowledged tension has built up over the role that these suggested satellite channels could serve for community broadcasting. Will satellite distributors uphold the heavily theorized, traditional constructions of community media by
privileging community specificity and grass-roots participation? Or will they act more as
curators by performing a gatekeeping role for community productions?2
Calls for satellite community channels ranging from community television policy
discourses in Canada to faith-based and development organizations operating in East and
Central Africa suggest potentially transformative implications across platforms,
domestic media systems and hemispheres. Although they largely remain only suggestions, the interest they have received as a way for both satellite distributors and community media organizations to push community broadcasting into the digital 21st century
suggests the emergence of a trend that merits greater attention and consideration.
In addition to commenting on this emerging dynamic through the combination of case
study observations drawn from original research in Canada and East Africa, this article
also attempts to bring together two threads of scholarly discourse that have long been
treated separately in community media scholarship those that focus on community
broadcasters in the West and those that focus on community broadcasters in the Global
South. For instance, scholarship on community media in the United States, Canada and
the United Kingdom often focus on community medias alternative identity to that of
commercial media (see Ali, 2012), whereas scholarship on community media in the
Global South often focuses on their roles in development and social change (see Conrad,
2013). While it is important to consider the societal and historical differences in any
cross-cultural research project (Livingstone, 2003), by bridging these discourses, we
hope to focus attention on the significant commonalities that community broadcasters
experience around the world. In light of advancements in digital technology and sustainability struggles, we argue that one commonality is linked to geographic distribution and
expanding audiences. With the adoption of satellite technology comes the possibility of

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Ali and Conrad

obtaining larger audiences, which can increase potential donors in East Africa and ratings in the West, both of which generate much needed funding for community broadcasters. Our research suggests a community media movement toward larger (with regard to
geographically dispersed) audiences both because digital technology allows for it and
because that is where the money is located. There has been little theorization, however,
as to whether these options are predicated on the belief that a larger and more geographically diverse audience would positively contribute to the traditional goals of community
broadcasting, particularly that of engagement with the geographically local community.
This is an important distinction that we argue should be essential to future explorations
of community broadcasting in the digital age. Important differences need to be drawn
between notions of range (i.e. geographical distribution) and ratings (i.e. audience
measurement). Equally, we need to be thinking about the differences and similarities
between the practice of community media as a tool for community building and the distribution of community media as a tool for visibility. We argue that the emergence of
satellite distribution offers an important moment for community media organizations and
supporters to discuss the future of community broadcasting and the foundations upon
which it is predicated. More specifically, the roles of range and ratings need to be
addressed alongside the traditional goals of participation, access and local engagement.
Following this introduction, we discuss the theoretical markers of community media,
focusing specifically on the constructs of place, practice and development, and expand
our conceptualization of the relationship between satellite distribution and community
media. We then share our methodological approach and argument, followed by illustrative examples drawn from case studies on community radio in East Africa and community television in Canada. We conclude this article with a discussion of the implications
of satellite distribution for the concepts of participation, audiences and resources.

Places, practices, development and satellites: The many


challenges of community media
Numerous publications in recent years have offered ethnographically driven case studies
(Conrad, 2013; Howley, 2005; Huesca, 1995; King and Mele, 1999; Rodriguez, 2001),
theory building (Carpentier, 2008; Rennie, 2006) and policy analysis (Ali, 2012; Rennie,
2013) of community media practices around the world. Linking these studies, particularly those focusing on the Western conceptualizations of community media, is a shared
interest in the relationships between community media and geographically situated
notions of place and practice (Ali, 2012; Carpentier, 2008; Howley, 2010; King and
Mele, 1999; Rennie, 2007).
Nossek (2003) and Rennie (2006) have deemed participation and access as defining features of community media, arguing that both are predicated upon geographic
places and modes of production, rather than on the final product the television show,
radio program, newsletter or podcast. Ali (2012) has argued, [M]ore than giving voice
to the voiceless, community media organizations give place to the placeless, through an
emphasis on educational classes, media literacy, production, and the bringing of citizens
together in time and space (p.1134). Similarly, Howley (2005, 2010) notes that community media are inherently connected to the notion of place and that the bringing

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together of people in a specific physical place at a specific time in the creation of media
content foster[s] an awareness of ones own community apart from those people, institutions, and events one encounters on a daily basis (2005: 125).
To be sure, communities of interest and taste are also integral parts of the community
media paradigm. Clemencia Rodriguez (2001), for instance, has written about womens
video production in Columbia, while Chris Atton (2002) and John Downing (2001) have
explored the concepts of alternative and radical media, respectively. Carpentier (2008)
furthermore suggests that community medias relationship with the notions of community, locality and place (p.1) are far more ambiguous than how we have described them
in this article. Despite this apparent tension between geography and interest, however,
Hollander et al. (2002) observe that while the community in community media may
refer to communities of interest, these communities are typically not spread over a large
expanse of space, thus intimating the importance of geographic boundaries. Carpentier
(2008) too recognizes that geographically situated localities are seminal components of
community media. He argues that the theory of translocalism can help bridge the gaps
in knowledge engendered by community medias relationship to place. The European
division of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) also
recognizes the importance of geography, community, participation and access in its definition of a community radio station: a non-profit station, currently broadcasting,
which offers a service to the community in which it is located, or to which it broadcasts,
while promoting the participation of this community in the radio (quoted in Carpentier
et al., 2003: 53). We can thus conclude from this brief review that place still matters in
the production of community media (Howley, 2010). To neglect this seminal aspect,
Rennie (2007) implies, would reduce community media to what she calls the amateur
media (p.31) of YouTube and other such user-generated platforms.
Further bridging practice and place, King and Mele (1999) argue that scholars need to
pay more attention to the practice of community media in situ, rather than the final outcome of these cultural productions. For them, focusing too much on content discount[s]
critical possibilities inherent in the production of public access television (p.607).
Community media have never been about ratings (Aufderheide, 2000). To do so would
only serve to replicate existing hierarchies and exclusionary characteristics (King and
Mele, 1999: 607). In other words, to focus on the ratings of community media would
only serve to align it with commercial media, a connection that many scholars and practitioners oppose. Instead, many recommend focusing on the practice of community television and the modes of production. In sum, community media is said to foster
empowerment and inclusivity through their participatory ethos, rather than derive popularity from ratings (Aufderheide, 2000; Howley, 2005; King and Mele, 1999).

Development
Working a generation earlier, participatory media scholars have also written extensively on
the importance of the communicative process that is fostered by community media.
Emerging during the 1950s and 1960s, a time of fundamental change in development and
communication research, the participatory communication paradigm aimed to expand media
content and access studies to incorporate explorations on the process of communication. The

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Ali and Conrad

new paradigm marked a shift in focus away from the media type itself and toward the individual, which it regarded as the agent for change, rather than a passive recipient of information and development (Jacobson and Servaes, 1999; Schramm, 1963; White, 1994). As a
result, participatory media studies have become the frame by which community media practices in developing nations often tend to be assessed, theorized and constructed.
Proponents of the participatory model strongly stress a horizontal process of communication through which collective involvement in media making and community empowerment act as catalysts to any positive, desired change (Melkote and Steeves, 2001;
Morris, 2003; White, 1994). Inspired by the works of educators like Paulo Freire (1970),
proponents of participatory communication value the empowering role of dialogue and
posit that people should be treated as agents rather than objects; capable of analysing
their own situations and designing their own solutions (Cornwall and Jewkes, 1995:
1670). Waisbord (2008) says that participatory communication questions the view of
development as an externally-driven process and posits that communities should be the
main protagonists of processes of social change rather than passive beneficiaries of
decisions made by foreign experts (p.507). For these theorists, mainstream media (state
or commercial) was largely conceptualized as being top-down, or elite driven, precluding meaningful citizen participation in the communication process (Alfaro, 2005;
Gumucio Dagron, 2001; Kivikuru, 2006; Nassanga, 2009a).
With its theory-grown roots as a locally owned, operated and controlled media channel, community media has, not surprisingly, been adopted as the paradigms poster child
for participatory media (Morris, 2003; Singhal and Rogers, 2002). It is cited as being
capable of circumventing the power imbalances inherent in mass media outlets by providing a space for the traditionally voiceless and marginalized to participate in and own
the media (Mhlanga, 2009; Moyo, 2009; Tomaselli, 2002). As already alluded to, enough
studies and theories of community media have resulted from the participatory media
discourse (Atton, 2002; Downing, 2001; Rodriguez, 1994) that a host of new terminology has been created, including marginal, radical, participatory, citizens, development
and grass-roots media. Although each term serves a slightly different function, they are
all theorized as involving disadvantaged peoples in the making of media content in a
fashion that requires meaningful citizen participation and suits the interests, needs and
tastes of the local community. In other words, for participatory media theorists, as for
community media theorists, community media is about the process, rather than the product, of media production.

Satellites
Reflecting on this literature review, we can discern two distinct visions for the integration
of satellite distribution into the community media paradigm. The first is a technological
vision, one quite literally derived from a top-down approach to the distribution of community programming through digital broadcast satellites. Such an approach would combine the collective efforts of disparate community media producers and centralize the
distribution of content for a large, possibly national audience on a single audio or television channel. Australias CRN best exemplifies this perspective. The CRN is a program
distribution service available to subscribing community radio stations via satellite. It

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distributes a number of programmes, including community-made productions, along with


a news service and festival coverage. While the individual subscribing stations (now totalling over 150) pick and choose what elements of the CRN programming line-up they wish
to broadcast, the CRN remains a national distributor of programming (CBAA, n.d.).
The second interpretation is a theory-driven, bottom-up vision, one predicated upon
the ongoing existence of individual community media organizations and production
centers, working in tandem, but ultimately programming their own distinct channels.
Aspects of the CRN model are also visible here as it is a community-driven project
allowing stations to share content and access new programmes. It demonstrates that even
if stations are networked, community networks should be locally-based, locally-driven
communication and information system[s] designed to enhance community and enrich
lives (Hallman, quoted in Jankowski, 2003: 7). These are typically, but not exclusively,
at the local, neighbourhood level, accessible only to those in a geographically defined
area. Programming may come from various sources and may be shared among stations,
but the majority would be produced as the saying goes, of, by and for members of the
community (Jankowski, 2003: 8).
These competing visions for the relationship between satellite distribution and community programming also highlight the differences between practice and distribution
practice, as previously noted, being the community media groups themselves, and
distribution being the medium of delivery (satellite, broadcast, broadband, etc.). There
are import differences when thinking about distribution platforms for community
media: broadcasting, cablecasting, file transfer protocols, satellite services and signal
retransmission all contain different dynamics of power, control and agency. Again, we
can look to Australia for examples of this relationship. Community broadcasters are
licensed in Australia and, therefore, maintain significant autonomy over their programming schedules (Rennie, 2006, 2013). The CRN, moreover, represents an instance
where satellite distribution remains locally tailored as the system was established by
community media groups themselves and programming decisions rest with the local
community broadcaster.
Contrasting with this bottom-up model, Rennies (2013) work on indigenous media in
Australia demonstrates the political economic struggles of community broadcasting and
satellite distribution. The launch of indigenous television in Australia in the 1980s was
intimately tied to the introduction of satellite distribution and a corresponding push for
greater televisual diversity in rural communities. As the years proceeded, however, priorities shifted from funding stations to funding programming, with the latest satellite
policy initiative (the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment) passing without much input
from indigenous media groups and containing few provisions for indigenous television
channels or stations (Rennie, 2013). In order to maintain some semblance of sustainability, a compromise was reached between commercial interests and indigenous broadcasters. As a result of this policy neglect and economic uncertainty, satellite distribution of
indigenous programming is dependent upon the government-subsidised goodwill of a
commercial company (Rennie, 2013: 100). This has both benefits and drawbacks, most
notably the lack of a long-term plan for either the funding or distribution of indigenous
television. This experience is not dissimilar to our own case studies of Canada and East
Africa, whereby the boundaries between practice and distribution are blurred when

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distributors directly or indirectly finance stations, programmes or both. Our discussion of


satellite distribution of community programming as either top-down or bottom-up, therefore, reveals embedded and comparable tensions between the practice, distribution and
funding of community media in Canada and East Africa akin to the work done by Rennie
in Australia.
In sum, these interpretations of community satellites offer two distinct visions for the
future of these participatory media practices: one based around the distribution of content and one based around practice. To be sure, the CRN in Australia demonstrates that
these are not incompatible. Nevertheless, how to better understand and possibly unite
these two articulations of the future of community broadcasting is a conversation yet to
be had by many community media activists, advocates, practitioners, policymakers or
satellite distributors.

Method and argument


This article brings together two separate research projects on community media: one
focused on the policies of community television in Canada, the other on the practices
of community radio in East Africa. Linking them is a similar vision of community
media content delivered to a geographically dispersed audience by satellite. Methods
for these projects included critical discourse analysis of Canadian community media
policy documents (Van Dijk, 1993); in-depth interviews with regulators in Canada
(Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995); in-depth interviews with community media producers, station managers and community members in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania;
and ethnographies of community radio stations in these three African countries
(Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995).
In this article, we offer some preliminary thoughts on an emerging dynamic within the
community media paradigm: the push toward satellite distribution. Through original
research done on two continents, we come to the conclusion that a more spirited discussion within the community media sector is warranted to better understand the implications of this technological shift in delivery mechanisms. In particular, a serious
conversation is needed about the emergent dichotomy between maintaining the relevance
of community broadcasting by incorporating current technological delivery systems (satellite), on the one hand, and protecting the foundational values of community broadcasting participation and access on the other. Our position is based on the principal
finding that (unlike the CRN in Australia) it is often not the community media organizations themselves that are pushing for satellite distribution, but outside actors such as
commercial media corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In other
words, the push for satellite delivery has developed from outside, rather than from within
the community media community. We suggest a critical reading is necessary when interrogating the motives of these outside actors, particularly when it comes to profits (in the
Canadian case) and funding (in the African case). If not evaluated by all stakeholders, the
emancipatory discourse of satellite distribution can be easily mobilized by commercial
enterprises and other political economic actors, which may, in turn, jeopardize the participatory practices of community media.

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A note on comparison
Over a decade ago, Sonia Livingstone (2003) published an influential article on the
necessity of comparison in communication research. Comparative research adds richness and depth to an analysis, and increasingly, scholars must defend their decision not
to engage in comparative research. Livingstone identified four scenarios for crossnational comparison: nation as object of study, whereby nation-by-nation accounts are
given in chapters; nation as context of study, whereby generalized hypotheses are
tested across nations; nation as unit of analysis, whereby nations are compared using
predetermined categories; and finally, nations as component of a larger international or
transnational system, which compares nations insofar as they are (assumed to be) systematically interrelated due to some underlying process (e.g. capitalism) (Livingstone,
2003: 485).
Our article compares community media on the third level, comparing nation-states
using a predetermined category in our case, how three nation-states are engaging with
the complexities of community broadcasting and satellite distribution. We proceed first
by discussing examples from East Africa (Tanzania and Uganda) and next an example
from Canada. We do so, first, because our data will not permit more micro-level analysis
and, second, because our goal is to point out the similarities of a particular set of discourses and not to evaluate an overall community media ecosystem.
It is uncontestable to say that numerous differences exist between Canada and the
countries of East Africa politics, economics, commerce, social and cultural life and
technological availability itself. Indeed, one might ask whether there is anything to compare at all. While our comparative method may seem simplistic, the point is not to dissect
every facet of community media, but, rather, (1) to demonstrate that satellite distribution
is quickly becoming a question that community media organizations must address, (2) to
discuss how it has been addressed in three nation-states and (3) to explain how satellite
distribution opens up the door to a much needed discussion about the future of community broadcasting. A comparative assessment, therefore, makes it possible to notice
things we did not notice and therefore had not conceptualized, and it also forces us to
clarify the scope and applicability of the concepts we do employ (Hallin and Mancini,
2004: 2). Thus, it strengthens the individual studies by allowing us to make certain tentative generalizations about community broadcasting and satellite distribution.

East African community radio


In ways unimagined by earlier generations of community broadcasters, satellite and
Internet technologies are providing opportunities for radio stations in Africa to obtain
information from around the world and to dramatically expand their potential listening
audiences. Identifying every community across the continent that is adopting these new
technologies is beyond the scope of this article; instead, it suffices to say here that these
new approaches to community radio are emerging and that their implications on longheld understandings of community broadcasting merit further attention as a result. In
South Sudan, for instance, the US-based media development organization, Internews,
has set up six frequency modulation (FM) community radio stations in conflict-sensitive

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areas throughout the country. All six stations are equipped with V-Sats equipment and
satellite phones and can receive programming electronically from the Internews office in
Juba. Similarly, the South African Community Radio Information Network (SACRIN)
allows community stations all over South Africa to share programming through a satellite transmission and receiving system. The network allows radio stations across the
country to simultaneously download health- and development-related programming as
well as upload live call-in feedback from their respective audiences.
The traditional theory-driven understanding of a community radio station being community targeted, owned, funded and operated largely does not apply here and has been
determined by some scholars as inapplicable in East Africa (Conrad, 2013; Nassanga,
2009b). Instead, community radio stations there have long turned to donors for both
start-up funding and maintenance costs; community ownership takes on a different
meaning here and has largely been defined by scholars as a perceived experience that
results when community members take part in the production of local content, rather
than who owns the station itself (Manyozo, 2009). More recently, however, community
radio managers are looking toward new partnerships and solutions to funding struggles,
since relying solely on donors for financial support has proved unsustainable. While the
use of satellite technology is far from becoming the predominant distribution platform
for community broadcasting in East Africa, the demise of the community- and donordriven approaches to funding suggests that the industry is in need of a new model, and
two recent developments in the regions community broadcasting sector could reveal
how emerging technologies might be adopted.
The first development is a move toward expanded audiences as a way to appease
funders. Abandoning the small-scale focus of traditional understandings of community
radio, several stations have decided to favour large-scale audiences, which can marshal
considerable financial interest from advertisers and donors. In Terrat, Tanzania, for
instance, the once geographically specific community radio station, ORS FM, has
decided to become a voice of the Maasai living in Tanzania, rather than those solely living in their small village community. As a result, they have dramatically expanded the
range of their radio signal in order to target over a million people living in Western
Tanzania. Although they still call themselves a community radio station, they now
broadcast much further than the 100-km radius enforced by Tanzanias community radio
policy. The reason for the expansion was financially motivated with a larger audience
came considerably more financial support from a larger base of interested donors. The
station has received income through private advertisements and donors, including Farm
Africa, Johns Hopkins University and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Similarly, Mama FM was created by the Ugandan Media Womens Association
(UMWA) to address the needs of the underprivileged and minority women living in
Kampala, and to give them a voice and a stake in Ugandas changing society. Today,
the stations signal reaches across the entire country, and the target audience consists of
all Ugandan women. While staff admit that they do not focus on any specific geographic
community, their identification as a community radio station allows Mama FM to seek
funding as a non-profit, community-based organization, rather than having to be categorized with the countrys less-trusted and ubiquitous commercial stations. With over

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13million people in range of its signal, Mama FM staff pride themselves on being one of
the most widely accessible stations in the country. Margaret Sentamu Masagazi, the
executive director of UMWA, made it clear that her station does not intend to overlook
any of the millions of women within reach of its broadcasts. She said that the station is
meant to serve as a community space, where women have the right to be heard, but that
it isnt always easy to engage her listening audience:
Anyone can walk in and say something. People know they have a voice to their issues here. But,
I have to say, we are finding that having a large audience can be complicated, and can make it
difficult to connect with people A larger target audience means more people hear our
programs, but with a smaller audience we can know them better. At the end of the day we are
working toward behavior change, so the bigger the area, I think, the better. But we need to
know that you need to think small. (Margaret Sentamu Masagazi, Personal communication, 29
July 2010)

The we that Masagazi uses includes more than just Ugandan women. This idea of
we is also inclusive of their international donors the primary source of income for the
station. Mama FM is arguably advantaged because of its affiliation with their local
UMWA NGO, which is able to seek funding for projects that in turn utilize the radio
service. For instance, the station has funding from the Norwegian organizations, Fighting
Obstacles Knowing Ultimate Success (FOKUS) and North American Aerospace Defense
Command (NORAD), as well as Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (OXFAM), Radio
Robin Hood (Finland) and other groups that occasionally donate to project-specific
sponsored programmes. In order to attract more international funding and to keep their
current donors interested, Masagazi said that they are encouraged to target a larger audience, but that engaging community members directly in the daily operations of the station (outside of simply calling-in during certain programmes) has become more difficult
as a result. Masagazi said she has never seen a study of her listening audience and so she
doesnt know who is actually listening, making it difficult to know exactly who the stations community consists of, a dilemma to which current community media policy arguably contributes.
There is no consistent interpretation of community in East African community
media policy. In Tanzania, it is defined in geographic terms and a community broadcast
signal is accordingly restricted to a 100-km radius. In Kenyan and Ugandan policies,
community can be understood ideologically organized along lines of shared identity
or common interests (such as gender, university or religion) and so a station can broadcast to the entire country. As a result, Nyangori Ohenjo and Njuki Githethwa (2014)
argue that confusion over defining community radio in Kenya can be attributed to the
varying criteria of international, national and local institutions interested in the countrys
media sector causing some radio stations, which could be community in nature, to be
identified as commercial or vernacular, on the one hand, with a number of commercial
vernacular stations on the other, being identified as community radios (p.6). As for
defining community radio in Uganda, its media policy states that it is for, by and about
the community, whose ownership and management is representative of the community,
which pursues a social development agenda, and which is not-for-profit (Uganda
Broadcasting Council, 2004: 15). This interpretation is lifted directly from the African

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Charter on Broadcasting and is also employed in Kenya and Tanzania. In other words,
the theorized ideals of local participation and representation are also ascribed to community radio stations by local regulatory structures such ideals, however, are clearly
contested by emerging trends toward expanded audiences. As Conrad observed in his
fieldwork, as of May 2013, only four licensed community radio stations in Kenya
Radio Mangelete, Radio Sauti FM, Mugambo Jwetu FM and Mwanedu FM broadcast
to a listening audience of less than 1 million people.
The second development in the community radio sector in East Africa is the use of
Internet technology to network traditionally isolated community radio managers and stations. The East Africa Community Media Network (EACOMNET) emerged in 2012 as
an umbrella body of community radio stations in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and
Burundi. Community media networks are not a new phenomenon in the region, but this
international network is a first. It combines the national community media networks,
Kenya Community Media Network (KCOMNET), Community Media Network of
Tanzania (COMNETA), Community Media Network of Uganda (COMNETU) and others in the sub-region. The partnership is facilitated by UNESCO and was created in an
effort to network the community media initiatives in East Africa and to provide a collaborative environment of shared resources and expertise. This partnership is an effort to
support local media production and to provide additional opportunities for local participation for managers and content producers in the development of local community
media local meaning geographically specific. An email listserve connects the community radio managers across the region and encourages them to share resources such as
policy documents, recent studies, conference papers, radio programmes, training information and so on on a daily basis. It also makes it easier to organize regional meetings
and provides a way for radio managers to share their struggles with the broader network.
In other words, rather than looking toward expanded audiences as the future, this model
looks toward other community radio practitioners for solutions to the regions community broadcasting struggles.
What these two examples suggest is that the community radio sector in East Africa is
dramatically changing as a result of new technology and the abandonment of traditional
funding models. The first example illustrates how stations are seeking larger listening
audiences in order to seek wider interest among donors and other financiers, a process
that would only be made easier by the adoption of satellite communication. At the six
stations created by Internews in South Sudan, station managers are encouraged to air
pre-packaged programmes developed by the media development organization. In
Kampala, Mama FM doesnt even have to engage the community outside of its gates in
order to operate as a community radio station the staff simply have to maintain its
wide-reaching radio signal. This movement poses significant consequences to the foundations of participatory broadcasting, but may be the only proven way to make community radio financially viable in East Africa. The second example, on the other hand,
illustrates a recent concerted effort toward building a community of community radio
practitioners through online networks. The focus of these efforts is not for donors to take
over the media production process, but for the provision of additional opportunities for
collaboration among radio managers and staff. Within this example, the range of a broadcast signal is of lesser importance than the expanded engagement of community

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members in the media production process. While the financial struggles that have long
plagued community radio largely remain within this model, this new space for dialogue
may elicit alternative models for funding and sustaining small-scale community radio. In
other words, whether innovations in digital technology will be used to expand community radio audiences or to enhance the practices and participatory opportunities of community radio staff will hopefully be determined by the multi-stakeholder discussions we
call for.

Canadian community television


Canadian community television is equally challenged by the political economic contexts
of funders and the expectations of larger audiences. Departing from East African experiences of community radio, these expectations come not from NGOs, but from cable
companies the primary source of economic support for community television in
Canada. This section will focus on the efforts of Canadas two largest telecommunications companies Bell Canada and Shaw Communications to offer community programming via satellite.
While conversations about satellite distribution for Canadas 139 community television stations began with the very onset of satellite carriage in 1995, it reached an apex in
2009, when the CRTC began an overhaul of the policies governing community broadcasting. Heretofore, satellite companies (known in Canada as Direct-to-Home or DTH
services) were unable to carry community stations, both because of bandwidth concerns
and because of CRTC policies. Only cable companies and individually licensed communities could operate a community television station. The rationale behind this was
simple enough: to ensure the creation and exhibition of more locally-produced, locallyreflective community programming (CRTC, 2002: 4). Satellite distributors, in other
words, were not thought to be local providers.
Amidst what was quickly becoming an economic crisis in Canadian local broadcasting and in light of advancements in digital compression technology, the CRTC asked in
2009 whether DTH providers should be permitted to operate community channels or to
at least carry the signals of existing stations: Keeping in mind DTH capacity issues, are
there alternative models to delivering community programming (i.e. an omnibus or
community of communities channel) that the Commission should consider? (CRTC,
2009: para. 24). Capacity was clearly still a concern major and expense for DTH providers and the Commission, hence the proposal of an omnibus channel, rather than a proposal that DTH providers engage in community programming in the dozens of Canadian
communities they serve. In other words, the CRTC asked whether satellite distributors
should be allowed to operate a single channel for community programming that would
be nation-wide, rather than program individual channels for each and every community
as was required of cable companies.
In the public comments to the CRTCs call, five petitioners commented on this issue.
Shaw Communications, owner of both an extensive cable system and the satellite provider, ShawDirect, and Bell Aliant, a subsidiary of Bell Canada (which also owns and
operates the satellite provider, Bell TV) both argued in favour of a community of communities channel. Shaw (2010) relied on a rhetoric of national integration and diversity

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to argue in favour of a DTH community channel, all the while distancing itself from
having to provide more than one linear channel:
While such a service could not focus exclusively on one community, it would showcase key
local programming from a wide range of communities across Canada the importance of
which should not be underestimated as conventional broadcasters increasingly diminish their
provision of local fare. Moreover, the national presence of aggregated local, community
programming would expose Canadians to grassroots experiences of other Canadians across the
country, thus fulfilling the [Canadian Broadcasting] Acts objectives (p.12)

While Shaw saw itself as the great unifier of Canadian communities, Bell took a technological approach. The media giant argued that it should be allowed to offer community
programming not only through a linear omnibus channel (a best of channel) but also
by exploiting the potential of new technologies to offer video-on-demand (VOD) and
online community programming (Bell Aliant, 2010).
An omnibus channel, particularly one through VOD, rather than a linear service,
would certainly not be too financially onerous or resource intensive on DTH providers
and would no doubt curry significant public interest favour that they could rely on during
their efforts at corporate consolidation.3 Indeed, the Canadian media market is heavily
concentrated, and by 2010, both Shaw and Bell would end up owning the countrys two
largest broadcasters. Offering community programming would go a long way to bolster
their local credentials. It would also allow these companies to argue that broadcasters
were doing a poor job at local programming, which was an ongoing debate (Government
of Canada, 2009; Shaw, 2010).
Returning to the CRTCs 2009 community media policy call for comments, Rogers
Communications (2010), the countrys largest cable provider (but without any financial
stake in satellite distribution), opposed Shaw and Bells propositions. It contended that
such proposals would violate the CRTCs goal of fostering greater locally produced and
locally programmed material and would allow for the centralization of community programming. Rogers contention came down to an issue of fairness. It provided community
cable channels to 34 communities and argued that it would not be fair if DTH providers
got to program only one linear channel. If they were allowed to offer a community channel, Rogers contended, then they should have to offer local-into-local4 services for every
Canadian community.
The Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS),
the de facto English-language community television association, failed to weigh in on
this particular question and was agnostic about the carriage of a national community
channel. It was, however, vehemently against the operation of community channels by
any cable or satellite company. Instead, it suggested that DTH providers be forced to
provide funding for the channels, but that station operations be handled by a non-profit
organization (CACTUS, 2010).
The CRTC released its revised Community Television Policy in 2010 and ruled against
DTH provision of community channels. The Commission justified this decision by arguing that a national community channel went against the goals of fostering locally and
publicly produced programming (CRTC, 2010). The following year, however, the CRTC

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partially reversed this decision when it allowed Bell to carry the signals of seven independent low-power community television stations as part of its CAD$1.3billion bid to
take over the countrys largest private broadcaster, CTV (see CRTC, 2011a). Bell pledged
that it would begin carrying these channels once it finished upgrading its system. It also
pledged to carry dozens more local channels throughout the country. In March 2013, Bell
began offering these seven community television stations to its subscribers (CACTUS,
2013). At the time of writing, no Canadian company has attempted to launch a community media channel for the entire country.
While CACTUS (2013) viewed Bells commitment as a significant victory for
Canadian community television, a critical reading suggests that this was never one of
altruistic and democratic motivations of offering communities a chance to produce and
view local programming. A critical interpretation suggests that this represented a political economic attempt to curry favour with the Canadian public and regulator. This is
evidenced by Bell offering to carry select independent stations, but not cable operated
stations, as part of its public interest commitments in its billion-dollar bid to take over
CTV. To be sure, it is a victory for residents in Neepawa, MB, and Hay River, NWT, who
subscribe to Bells satellite service and who can now receive programming produced by
and within their own communities (CACTUS, 2013). Still, Canadian community television remains largely at the mercy of these conglomerates for distribution and funding.
For the time being, the CRTC has remained against the idea of allowing DTH providers
to program and operate their own community channels and against the idea that an omnibus community of communities channel would complement the spirit of community
television, which has always been one of local programming, reflection and production.

Implications
While discussions of satellite technology are further along in the policy circles of Canada
than they are in East Africa, the orientation toward mass distribution inherent in the technology provides an interesting point of departure for studying the potential implications
of new technologies on the foundations of community broadcasting and participatory
media production in both regions. Three primary implications can be drawn from this
comparison of proposals for satellite distribution of community programming in Canada
(television) and East Africa (radio). The fact that such a comparison can even be made
suggests that certain elements of the community media paradigm are not indigenous to
one country or media system, but, rather, possess potentially generalizable characteristics.
Keeping in mind Nosseks (2003) three key characteristics of community media (participation, access and self-management), the following section will discuss the implications
of this discourse for the concepts of participation, resources and audiences.

Participation
Perhaps the greatest impact of satellite distribution for community media is concerned with
the defining notion of participation on which community media is predicated. In the case of
Canadian community television, little mention was made of where programmes would originate (e.g. in studios, by individual citizens, in peoples homes, by professionals) or how
they would find their way to the proposed national channels (e.g. file transfer protocol,

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regional stations).5 The question of whether DTH providers should offer each community
they serve the chance to produce and program material is one that needs to be addressed.
Similarly, the example of Mama FMs expansion in Uganda suggests that local communities
may be less likely to participate in the production of community media if they are perceived
as being a mass audience. This is not to say that such delivery mechanisms are impossible,
only that in their haste to embrace new technologies, both DTH providers and community
media activists seem not to have considered these elementary but crucial questions.

Resources
One commonality among community media operations, be they in Canada or East Africa,
is the scarcity of funding and available resources (see Timescape Productions, 2009).
Compression technology and satellite capacity are terrifically expensive, which renders
the possibility of local-into-local channels distinctly unattractive for satellite providers.
This is the reason we have seen proposals for a single national channel a best of or
community of communities channel rather than separate channels dedicated to individual communities. While this makes economic sense, forcing community media on to
a national scale may dilute its localized value.
In the East African context, the delivery of community radio via satellite is solely
dependent upon donor finances and interest. Even the notion of expanding access to
community media is predicated on the belief that donor finances not community participation will be more easily secured if community radio managers can deliver larger
audiences. In crisis situations, satellite technology certainly has the ability to provide
essential services and information to those who need it the motive for the South Sudan
stations but it is difficult to conceptualize how an expanded distribution channel via
satellite will also enhance participatory communication processes among marginalized
communities.
In addition to capacity resources, a second political economic question comes in the
form of physical space. Even if satellite companies provide community channels, will
they provide places for community production? Recall AMARC-Europes definition of a
community radio station being one that promotes participation of [the] community
(quoted in Carpentier et al., 2003: 53). Community media centers have also become
increasingly vital as anchor institutions within local media ecosystems and are being
used for activities far beyond production, including media literacy, computer training,
meeting places, community centers, resume construction and even theatre production
(Ali, 2012; Breitbart et al., 2011). These places, however, do not come cheap, and satellite enthusiasts have paid scant attention to the value of these sites. A missing part of this
discussion has been about how these resources for participation and access will continue
to exist if programming and funding are to be centralized and curated by satellite providers in Toronto or Dar es Salaam and then uploaded to a national feed.

Audiences, range and ratings


To be sure, providing a dedicated national channel for community media could expand
the geographic range of certain programming. On the flip side, it may also limit access
to other programmes those that dont make the cut and, thus, would miss out on

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national or supranational exposure. Specifically, it could limit the opportunities for community members to directly engage with the media making process a central component of past models of community broadcasting. In Canada, there is also the risk of DTH
providers programming the channel, not with programming produced by community
members, but with professionally produced and commissioned programming. Internews
does this when it produces content for its South Sudan affiliate stations, thus further
distancing community members from the means of media production. These practices
would only further what community television advocate Cathy Edwards (Timescape
Productions, 2009) has called the corporate-run access model of community television
and would contribute to what Linje Manyozo (2009) calls the NGO-ification of community radio in Africa, in which communities are given control of the technological
aspects of broadcasting, but access to their own community is always mediated and
negotiated through donor funding (p.9).
Co-optation of the community channel by satellite distributors or donors also runs the
risk of the success of the channel being measured by ratings, geographic range and production output, rather than in the building of community solidarity, empowerment and
skill training. Our findings suggest that it is these economically motivated actors, rather
than the community media organizations themselves, that are petitioning for satellite
distribution. In Canada, some have even come out specifically against the practice of
amalgamating programming from several communities on a single channel. Such is the
case with St. Andrews Community Television (2010: para. 16), which has argued against
super-community channels (on cable) that would diminish local content.6 A focus on
ratings is anathema to some of the defining aspects of community media process, practice and participation. As Aufderheide (2000) reminds us,
the most useful measure is not, and should not be, numbers of viewers or positive poll
results, but the ability of access to make a difference in community life Access needs to be
a site for communication among members of the public as the public, about issues of public
importance. (p.129)

A discussion about the political economic implications of satellite distribution and


those involved in its advocacy needs to happen at multiple levels of engagement from
the community station through to the policy maker. Recalling the example of the CRN in
Australia, such discussions may reveal positive outcomes for community stations that
desire greater range, larger audiences and access to a greater breadth of programming. It
is therefore an opportune moment to reflect on the goals of community broadcasting
worldwide. Without these conversations, however, a substantial piece of the discourse is
absent.

Conclusion
Both Canadian and African community broadcasters have struggled with the participatory
component of their practices. While steps have been taken to correct this in recent years,
national and supranational distribution mechanisms through centralized satellite services
may challenge or at least complicate this fragile start. To the benefit of community media

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scholars and practitioners, however, this demonstrates the striking similarities between
community media practices in Canada and Africa, suggesting that scholarship on community media and opportunities for discussion and learning among practitioners do not have
to be parsed by nation, hemisphere or system.
For the immediate purposes of this article, discourse concerning the delivery of community media through satellite in Canada and East Africa has been employed to illuminate the notable similarity in the dichotomy engendered by competing emphases on
participation, ratings and range. In other words, we need to address the question of
whether community media organizations should strive toward depth within their immediate geographic community or breadth within their nation or region. The former suggests an emphasis on practice, participation and geographic communities, perhaps linked
together, but ultimately independent of one another. The latter suggests an emphasis on
reach, audiences, generalized content and communities of interest. Both are dependent
on financial sustainability, highlighting the crucial role that donors, commercial media
groups and distributors play in the future of community media. Our research suggests
that, at the moment, it is only commercial and private actors that have been pushing for
satellite distribution and not community media organizations themselves. While this article has identified this potentially disturbing trend, future research should investigate the
micro-dynamics of this discourse and inquire into the reasons why community media
organizations are not vocal about satellite distribution.
We might also inquire about the motivations behind these similar agendas for the
expansion of audiences beyond specific geographic communities. In East Africa, the
promise of larger and more diverse audiences allows community radio organizations to
make themselves more attractive to the NGO donors that are vital to their survival.
Similarly, in Canada, DTH providers potentially used the promise of national community
media channels to garner goodwill with the public and the regulator. Both intimate a
political economic motivation.
While it is too early to conclude whether such practices will hinder or benefit community media organizations, financial implications are clearly present. What we know with
greater certainty is that such proposals pose significant challenges to the foundations of
community media, in particular community participation. These debates also pose significant challenges for scholars of community broadcasting who are attempting to understand
the position of community radio and television in a globalized, neoliberal and digital age.
While there are no immediate or correct answers to these questions, what is evident is that
these conversations should be open to community media stakeholders the world over
since these challenges are clearly more universal than they are particular.
Acknowledgements
An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2013 International Association for Media and
Communication Research (IAMCR) Conference in Dublin, Ireland. The authors would like to
thank Dr Nick Rubin and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and critiques.

Funding
Alis research was funded by a doctoral award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council of Canada, grant 752-2011-0185

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Notes
1. Truglia (2010) eloquently articulates this concern:
Precisely because its new, the build it and they will come approach does not work for a
new-technologies broadcast. On-demand satellite distribution and Web casting are forms
of narrowcasting, not broadcasting, as they outreach specific rather than general audiences.
These specific audiences might indeed tune in but only if they know you exist, so just making
programming available via satellite does not mean a broadcaster will carry it. (p.363)
2. In this article, we use community media and community broadcasting interchangeably.
While we recognize that community media is considerably more expansive than broadcasting, we also acknowledge that broadcasters are continuing to expand their multi-media initiatives (Ali, 2012).
3. See Linder (1999) for a discussion of how American cable companies positioned themselves
as a socially responsible medium (p.9).
4. Local-into-local refers to the ability of satellite providers to pick up a feed from a local
television station and retransmit it back into the same local market from which it originated
(CRTC, 2011b).
5. Bell Aliant (2010) did note that it should be allowed to use programming produced by cablerun community channels to fill the schedule. Still, Canadian DTH providers were short on
details about how individual community members could become part of the production and
organizational process.
6. St Andrews was concerned about the establishment of super-community channels on cable
systems, not on satellite. Nonetheless, it illustrates a clear concern with centralized community channels.

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Author biographies
Christopher Ali is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of
Virginia. He holds a PhD from the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of
Pennsylvania. His research interests include Media and Communication Policy; Canadian, American
and British Media and Communication Policy; Localism; Local Media; Public and Community
Media; Comparative Media Systems; Critical Political Economy; and Normative Theory.
David Conrad is a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University
of Pennsylvania. He is interested in the changing landscape of foreign correspondence in US journalism, along with the information work of non-governmental organizations, foundations and the
(often self-proclaimed) journalistic organization.

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