CMFE Emphasizes Need for Diversity

CMFE members Larry Fergeson (left), Stefan Tenner and Anna Frenyo (right) discuss funding opportunities at the Brno CMFE Conference.
BRNO, Czech Republic — The Community Media Forum Europe conducted the European community media conference, “Media Diversity for Democracy,” Oct. 4–6.

The CMFE event attracted more than 100 delegates from Europe and around the world. The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, Europe organized various sessions at the event, under the heading “Networking for Community Radio in Central and Eastern Europe.”

AN ALTERNATIVE
Running over three days, the event included a diverse range of sessions covering regulation, operational practices and technologies. Although there were some formal business meetings along the way, the main focus was very much on discussions and presentations concerning the development of policy and practice aimed at improving the position of community media throughout Europe.

Sessions covered political lobbying (at both EU and national levels), regulation, technology and various elements of broadcast management. A key point of debate for the conference as a whole was how best to use community radio and other community media to improve people’s lives by offering an alternative to mainstream public service and commercial broadcasting outputs.

Professor Vinod Pavarala speaks about community media’s role in an international context.
Keynote speaker, Vinod Pavarala, UNESCO Chair for Community Media at Hyderabad University in India, told delegates at the opening plenary that “Community Media is not only about content delivery, but also about local participation and citizen interaction. Governments need to recognize community media as a distinct media sector and provide funding and equal access to the different distribution platforms.”

Reflecting the diversity and plurality of society is, he said, a key role for community media, but one that is typically less-well-provided-for in Eastern Europe as compared to elsewhere on the continent. “Hazy and restrictive regulatory environments” were often a key problem to overcome, he suggested.

At a practical level, he also mentioned that the so-called “digital dividend” should provide proper opportunities for community radio broadcasters and that FM radio broadcasting spectrum should be protected and continue to be available for use by such operators.

FAIR ACCESS
In many parts of Europe, particularly Western Europe, community radio and other forms of community media are firmly established, recognized for their valuable ability to reflect the pluralism and social diversity of modern-day Europe. However, such recognition is by no means universal and many European states have yet to meet the recommendations and resolutions of European and international institutions on community broadcasting.

The Current CMFE Board in Brno.
In particular, fair access to all available broadcasting platforms often remains problematic. In this context, it is not surprising that community radio broadcasters and activists are currently very much focused on ensuring that the shift from analog to digital technologies becomes an opportunity for enhanced media pluralism rather than for further media concentration.

Highlighting a key difficultly for the sector, Sally Galiana, the president of AMARC Europe, noted the degree to which many European politicians still need educating about the continuing importance of radio broadcasting as a cost-effective mass delivery medium.

Recent developments in digital audio broadcasting were discussed with delegates hearing about the latest low-power DAB experiments carried out by Ofcom in the United Kingdom and the degree to which open source software can now provide cost effective approaches to DAB delivery. At the boundary between technology and regulation, delegates also discussed multi-platform delivery and the content regulatory confusion that might result when broadcast and non-broadcast services are delivered through a single listening device.

OTHER ISSUES
The conference also considered issues in and around Internet and new media platforms. Special guest speaker, Bissera Zankova, member of the Bureau of the Council of Europe Steering Committee on Media and Information Society noted that whatever the platform used, community media has the advantage of being closer to its audience than other media, with greater freedom “to work for cohesion tolerance and trust.”

Emphasizing the increasing importance of community media in democratic societies she highlighted the way in which such services “fill the gap left by public service and private media.”

During the event, delegates were presented with the results of the CMFE’s worldwide Community Media Mapping and Rating Project. According to the results of the survey, a total of 2,237 community radio stations together with 521 community television stations are currently active across Europe.
CMFE Logo
The CMFE survey also rated 29 European countries according to the relative level of development of community media in each jurisdiction.

Correlations between democratic structures and the status of community media can be seen in this first attempt to count community radio and television stations, not only in Europe but also around the world. Delegates also heard how the CMFE plans to expand on this research over the coming months.

Ten years ago when the CMFE was formed, community media was much less established and organised than it is today. Now, with so many community broadcasting organizations working throughout Europe, it is perhaps not surprising that events such as this attract increasing interest, not just from practitioners, but from regulators and academics as well. There is little doubt that the international work carried out by AMARC Europe and the CMFE continues to be of benefit to the sector across the continent.
 
Lawrie Hallett, a senior lecturer in Broadcast Radio at the University of Bedfordshire, reports on the industry for Radio World from Norwich, England.


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