Active Citizens: Communities and their Media in Central and Eastern Europe
The 43-year-old Student Radio of Ljubljana. The women-run Forum TV in Prijepolje. The partly audience-funded popular radio station in Budapest. The Milan-based Radio Popolare.
Although based in different parts of Europe, they share the common sphere of the ommunity media sector. They face stiff competition from public and private broadcasting channels. Their voices maybe small but they are a socially important part of the ever-changing media world.
Associative and community radios are all essential actors supporting human rights and promoting active citizenship. Communication rights, including access to information and freedom of expression, are at the heart of democratic societies. An essential component of this is the right to freely communicate via platforms that are independent from government or commercial pressures.
The above was taken from the final statement of the International Forum Public Policies and Media Pluralism: The Future of Community Radio in Central and East Europe, held in Budapest on 12-13 November. The public forum was an initiative of AMARC Europe (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters), in partnership with the Center for Media & Communication Studies of Central European University and the Hungarian Federation of Free Radios.
Community radio representatives, academics and regulators from 20 Western, Central and Eastern Europe countries stated that community media sectors operate unevenly across Europe: while there is significant activity in some countries, it barely exists in others. They stressed that technological innovation and digital media transformations do not themselves guarantee diversity or quality information, despite the hype occasionally created around them. “New media environments must not be organized in ways that generate new or reinforce existing exclusions and inequalities,” concluded the Forum.
Participants also expressed concern about the situation in Hungary, where the number of genuine community radio stations is decreasing at an alarming rate and new media laws place obligations on the sector that threaten its future. The Hungarian community radio sector has been a model for Central and Eastern Europe that should be supported.
Some community media outlets around Europe:
Radio Študent - A student-run radio founded in 1969 in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.
Forum – A TV station in a Serbian town, run by women who previously lost their journalism jobs in commercial media outlets.
Tilosz radio - Popular radio station founded in 1995 in Budapest, Hungary, partly funded by its listeners.
Radio Popolare - Radio station from Milan, Italy, known for its progressive political orientation.
Community media plays an important role in developing and fostering media literacy, an issue whose importance the European Union stressed in a number of documents and occasions in recent years.
In 2008, the European Parliament issued a resolution on community media in Europe stating that “community media are an effective means of strengthening cultural and linguistic diversity, social inclusion and local identity” and that they “promote intercultural dialogue by educating the general public, combating negative stereotypes and correcting the ideas put forward by the mass media regarding communities within society threatened with exclusion, such as refugees, migrants Roma and other ethnic and religious minorities.”
Forum participants highlighted that media literacy and community media complement each other – they both seek to empower citizens. Community media programs are often created by volunteers – in some of theradio stations participating at the Budapest event there were more than 100 people participating in program creation on avoluntary basis. These types of media outlets give a voice to the voiceless, minorities and disadvantaged segements of societies. This direct access to essential media literacy can be achieved in an innovative, playful and experimental way- through music, words, and unexpected combinations of forms and content.
Documentary about Slovenian Radio Student (with subtitles in English), made in 2009 on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.
In some countries, weak civil society is an obstacle in participation in creating media programs. Despite Poland’s rich history of activism, citizen involvement is currently almost non-existent, and there is a question of how to encourage people to a take a more active role in media production.
Despite being one of the leaders of anti-communist movement in the 1980s, with the trade union Solidarity becoming a role model for many social movements across Central and Eastern Europe, Poland is now facing the fact that the pace of its social capital development is much slower than its economic development, as Polish researcher of the community media sector Urszula Doliwa notes in her research.
She adds that there are mistakes made during the transformation process which interrupt the progress of civil society: the disregard of the problem of social cohesion, the lack of activity aimed at the development of civil culture and democracy, and an educational system focused on individual success and rather than cooperation for the common good. At the same time, community radio can be an effective tool to overcome these problems.
Among the conclusions of the Budapest Forum is that, regardless of the platform used for media creation and activism, the people’s right to be heard and to actively participate in creating and sustaining their community life should be promoted and safeguarded both by the states and its citizens.