The community radio movement has grown worldwide over the last 30 years establishing a new tier of broadcasting that is challenging the traditional public and commercial sectors.
But just as community radio in the UK is starting to finally get a foothold, intense lobbying from the commercial sector to restrict community radio could limit its growth and even possibly kill it at birth.
pensioners making community radio - Radio Z - published by Imedana
Baby DJ - Radio Z/Imedana “Wem der Sinn nach Umsturz steht”
Community radio is characterised by public access to and public participation in radio production - the management of a community radio station is in the hands of its listeners and users.
Community radio's emphasis on participation allows listeners to become involved in their station to a degree not possible with local public or commercial stations. Community radio breaks down the traditional divide between broadcaster and listener. With community radio, the listener can become the broadcaster and get engaged in the production of media and in the process of communication.
Community radio can also bridge the communications divide in other ways. Radio is a cheap, established and effective communications medium and is able to reach the poorest communities in the most remote of localities - poor communities in the North as well as the South, from marginalised populations on the fringes of urban environments to small rural communities in remote locations.
In Europe, community radio has largely grown out of the pirate radio movement and many former pirate stations are now completely legal. In Germany Radio Z is one of the oldest free radio stations being founded in 1984 and starting broadcasting in 1987, and now community radio stations are sharing their programmes in an internet archive for non-commercial use.
Whilst the media law in Germany principally supports community radio with the demand for "diversity of opinions", and "programs have to contribute to literacy, education, culture and entertainment" and "that significant political, social and philosophical groups are to be given a say, too", the main difficulties for community radios lies in insufficient funding.
Some like Radio Patapoe in Amsterdam and Contrabanda FM in Barcelona remain unlicensed in continued opposition to legal restrictions. In the UK, Radio4@ recently celebrated five years of broadcasting no-budget community pirate radio in Brighton despite several attempts by the DTI to take them off the air over the years.
In North America community radio has developed as a licensed service in the main, though a few community stations are deemed illegal due to the restrictive regulatory framework and a lack of available frequencies - see Free Radio Berkeley and San Francisco Liberation Radio. The Microradio and Low Power FM projects have also played a part in developing community radio in the US.
[More links to community radio stations worldwide.]
In Latin America, the community media sector has grown in the last fifty years to become thousands of radio stations. In the 1980's, there were only a handful of independent radio stations in Africa - now hundreds of community broadcasters are on air. Asia is now starting to open up - Nepal has been a shining example in South Asia where there are now seven community radio stations on air and fifteen more that are about to start. Countries in South-East Asia, the Philippines in particular, have had a strong tradition of community broadcasting that continues to grow. Community media is all over the world in every continent but not yet in every country.
In the UK, community radio is under attack just as it is getting established. The UK Government's Access Radio pilot scheme has seen 15 community radio stations broadcasting - including Resonance FM in London - successfully for over two years now. Recently the creation of a £500,000 Community Media Fund has been announced to help finance the community sector. However, the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA), a powerful industry-sponsored lobbying agency, is seeking to stifle the growth of community radio by arguing for a regulatory framework that would bar certain areas in the UK from having the right to set up a Community Radio station. In other areas, Community Radio stations would not be able to carry advertising and sponsorship at all - thus depriving them of much-needed income.
More information on the campaign to promote community radio in the UK and oppose the commercial lobby can be found here.