Community of Satellites or a Satellite of Communities? Emerging dynamics in the community media paradigm

TitleCommunity of Satellites or a Satellite of Communities? Emerging dynamics in the community media paradigm
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Ali, C., and D. Conrad
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Pennsylvania, US
Section or WGCommunity Communication Section
DateSat 29 June
Slot CodeCoCS3a
Slot Code (Keyword)CoCS3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleInvestigating Community – Engaging with Community
Submission ID5680

Recent years have borne witness to attempts by community television and radio organizations to reinvent their practice in an effort to remain relevant in the digital age. Efforts have included the incorporation of digital literacy training programs, multi-media mandates, and the re-imagination of broadcasters as hubs within a community mesh network (Breitbart et al. 2011). In addition to these initiatives, some community media advocates, and even commercial companies, have called for the introduction of community channels delivered by digital broadcast satellite (DBS) – a “community of communities” channel (CRTC 2010-622). Satellite distributors argue that this move would bring a tremendous public interest benefit, though some community media proponents are skeptical. The tension resides in discussions over the role that these new community channels will serve in local media production. Will they uphold the heavily theorized, traditional constructions of community media by privileging community specificity and grassroots participation? Or will they act more as curators by performing a gatekeeping role for community productions?In addition to these operational concerns, calls for satellite community channels house potentially transformative implications across platforms (television and radio), domestic media systems, and hemispheres. More specifically, arguments in favour of community programming via satellite have been heard in community television policy discourse in Canada, a fully operational community radio satellite service in Australia, and by faith-based and development organizations throughout East and Central Africa. Though these proposals (with the exception of Australia) 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 is worth attention and consideration.One aspect yet unconsidered, however, is whether the function of satellite delivery would in fact be detrimental to the ethos upon which community media is predicated. Scholars for several years have argued that community media, particularly community broadcasting, is more about the process and practice, rather than the product (Howley, 2010; Gumucio-Dagron, 2001; Rodriguez, 2001). Proposals of community satellite programming, however, would certainly value programming and product over process. It would, by definition, de-locate the two since community satellite systems allow a user to upload programming, and as such, possibly negate the importance of physicality and place-based production practices.The question then comes down to the very heart of what is community or citizens’ media,, is it more about the dissemination of non-profit and “alternative” citizen-produced content – the community of satellites proposition; or should it be about the processes, practices, and relationships within community media centers – the satellite of communities proposition?Through a discussion of illustrative and empirically-derived case studies (from Canada to East and Central Africa), this paper and presentation will argue for a more spirited discussion of the consequential and emerging dichotomy between maintaining the relevance of community broadcasting through the incorporation of current technological delivery systems, on one hand, and of protecting and fostering the foundational values of community broadcasting – the process of producing media – on the other.

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