By Delphine Criscenzo
Radio changed my life! Five years ago when a friend invited me to volunteer for community radio WFHB in Bloomington, IN I had no idea that I would ever consider pursuing a Master’s degree in multimedia journalism and starting a production company. Community radio has changed my life, and on this World Radio Day, I want to celebrate radio!
When the 36th General Conference of UNESCO approved the creation of World Radio Day in 2011, they had it in mind to recognize radio “as a low cost medium, specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in the public debate, irrespective of people’s educational level.” In other words, UNESCO by initiating this special celebration is acknowledging the importance of having a diversity of ideas shared and spread through the air waves.
Radio does make information accessible, but community radios play an even greater role in informing communities with relevant content because they train volunteers from the community on how to produce content. Non-community radio stations have professional journalists or broadcasters produce the content they air. These professionals are rarely connected to the community they report on or affected by the issues they investigate. But community radio stations strongly value the voices and opinions of all of their community members and acknowledge that these individuals are the community and that they live at the frontlines of the issues that directly affect them and their families. It is time to embrace these community journalists as experts and to understand the power of giving a forum to the voiceless and acknowledge the value of hearing the voices of all.
Journalists are part of an elite. Often, they are individuals who have a degree in journalism and/or work for a media outlet. In a best case scenario, they have learned investigative techniques and relevant ethics. However, the perspective they have is almost always that of an outsider and this can affect the way they tell or re-tell stories. Furthermore, statistics on the demographics of the journalistic profession show that women and minorities are under-represented, and this is the case for radio as well. UNESCO acknowledges that radio offers a forum to “the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor” therefore recognizing the importance of their contribution to the public sphere. Community radios have for a long time included the voices of all community members including the disabled, women, the poor and youth and have acknowledged their volunteers as experts of their personal stories no matter their background.Radio was originally used as a tool to spread government ideas to the people. Community radio, since its creation in the 1940s, has allowed for an alternative. According to the World Association of Community Broadcasters “community radio responds to the needs of the community it serves, contributing to its development within progressive perspectives in favor of social change.” In other words community radio is “radio in the community, for the community, about the community and by the community.” “By the community” is an essential aspect of community radio that needs to be emphasized because it truly sets community radio apart. Members of the community with no journalistic background get the opportunity to produce their own programs. The result is “a social process […] in which members of the community associate together to design programs and produce and air them, thus taking on the primary role of actors in their own destiny …” explains UNESCO in their Community Radio Handbook. Community radio has become an asset for the communities where it exists. Through participating in the creation of journalistic content aired on their community radio, members of the community become more engage in the civic process. They feel they have a voice. They feel they are informed. They feel there is a place for them to express their disagreement. They can have a forum to share and spread their ideas if they only show up at their community radio station and start to train!
To be sure, some will argue that community members trained by community radio stations are not journalists because they are unable to show objectivity when covering issues that affect them and their community directly. But journalism, as it is practiced and conceptualized today in the Unites States, is a western concept. It emerged out of a white, male dominated and privileged elite. In that sense, journalism, as a discipline and a profession, is the result of colonialism and the methodologies used to create journalistic content are highly influenced by a legacy of colonialism. It has been proven many times that as individuals we are unable to be objective. We can be fair and balanced in our reporting, but never objective. This notion has for a long time been used as a defining criterion in journalism, but it is a relic of an old, colonialist mindset that insured the perpetuation of the status quo. Indeed if a community member decides to report on the abuse of its local government on a community radio station, this individual might be accused of biased reporting. However, when a reporter working for a conservative news outlet decide to highlight the positive influence of Wall Street on our society, this journalist is named an “objective” reporter.
A new journalism is possible. One that is fair, balanced, and giving space and value to the voices of all, whether they are professional journalists or trained at a community radio station. On this World Radio Day tune in to the radio! Tune in to your local community radio station and listen to a variety of voices coming to you through the airwaves. And if you do not have a community radio station in your area, start one!