Nadia Bellardi, Community Media Forum Europe (Switzerland)
11 May 2009
1. What are the objectives of Community Media?
Community media put the tools of communication into the hands of people in hundreds of communities, particularly women and marginalised groups, allowing them to create their own means of cultural expression, news, information and dialogue. Community media projects are run on a not-for-profit, democratic basis and are based on voluntary participation in program making and in management by members of civil society.
Community media contributes to peoples' empowerment to improve their social and economic conditions, fight against discrimination and racism, become more effectively involved in the democratic development of their community and country and provide an alternative to mainstream commercial content.
2. How would you assess the current participation of black and ethnic minorities in Swiss and European media?
The situation differs greatly from country to country and is closely related to the history of migration flows, relationships with former colonial territories and current approaches to 'integration' policies.
Despite several years of development of best practices to promote participation of minorities in the media in countries such as the UK, The Netherlands, Germany and France, minorities are still largely underrepresented in traditional European media. Switzerland has a more recent history of migration from non-European countries and many minority groups are refugees or asylum seekers living in extremely precarious conditions and without access to professional career paths. Some use the outlets of community radio to inform the diaspora communities in Switzerland (and also around the world through Internet broadcasting) about the political situation in their home countries (for example Somalia , Iran , Sri Lanka , Kurdistan , ...) and also about the challenges of settling in a new country.
In central and eastern Europe, the first and second sector media offer almost no access or targeted programming to minority groups, especially for the Roma population. Community media has the potential to fill this void but in most countries lacks the necessary enabling media environment.
3. What role can the media play in promoting diversity and social cohesion in Switzerland and in Europe ?
Media professionals no doubt play a key role as intercultural mediators, as privileged actors who bear responsibility and power. Cultural conflict is intrinsically linked to problems of communication, that is, the ability to send and understand cultural messages. The so-called 'clash of civilizations' often results from a lack of communication rather than from contradicting interests and values. A less ethnocentric and more intercultural approach in the creation, selection and distribution of media content could promote tolerance and peaceful cohabitation.
In particular, treatment of migration by the mass media has a direct impact both on social debate as on public opinion. Media professionals should offer an accurate picture of immigration, avoiding sensationalism, trivialisation or paternalism. Informing about the cultures of origin of the main migrant communities and about the normal aspects of the migration phenomenon in society can contribute to overcome refusal and diffidence.
On the specific issue of refugees, the Human Rights Reporting Handbook of the International Federation of Journalists comments:
"Refugees are often the most abused of minority communities, as they arrive in large numbers in a country, fleeing violence and repression. They are visible as a group, and have no natural protection. They are usually housed in poor areas where they may be vulnerable to resentment from people who have only a little more than they do. Journalists cannot heal divisions in society or undo the damage done to refugees. But, in writing about refugees and their neighbors, journalists can reflect the multiple perspectives involved and try to show that most families want the same things: to live in security, peace and decent conditions."
Building awareness of both the public and the media, increasing and improving professional training and ultimately, bringing intercultural mass communication on political agendas are some of the actions required.
4. Should the traditional media be encouraged to take up social responsibilities in an increasingly multicultural environment?
Yes. The responsibility of promoting intercultural relations does not just rest with community media. The diversity of society should also be represented and communicated by the mainstream media.
Journalists can play an important role in avoiding the spread of xenophobia by communicating universal values present across all cultures. However, until a stronger involvement of all minorities (ethnic, religious, cultural or other) in the media is achieved – as media professionals and as established sources of information – representation of diversity is bound to remain partial.
Diversity is best represented and communicated by those who embody it, so it needs to enter into newsrooms and even more in decision-making posts. Facilitating recruitment of media professionals of different backgrounds or of minority groups should be an objective of traditional media. Minority associations also need to be proactive, for examples by producing and updating lists of qualified professionals and free-lancers to be diffused through trade unions and universities.
It's interesting to look at the situation in the United States as far as participation of 'minorities' in the media profession is concerned.
In 1997, in "We the media – A citizens' guide to fighting for media democracy," by Don Hazen and Julie Winokur, it states: "Only 5% of reporters in the United States are black, making journalism one of the country's most segregated professions. The lack of black journalists is one of the key reasons why the media consistently over-reports the violence and weakness of the black community and under-reports black everyday life and its strengths."
The situation in the United States has partly improved since then but the entry barriers to the media world are still high.
5. What services can community media outlets offer ethnic minorities in Switzerland and in Europe ?
For many members of migrant communities, the lack of proper infrastructure, money and trained personnel signifies major drawbacks for them to broadcast information on their realities. Access to media and the real possibility of involvement in media production and consumption can empower specific disadvantaged social groups. By enabling this access and providing the necessary training, community media plays a crucial role in encouraging participation, promoting social inclusion and democratic rights of migrant or ethnic minority groups.
Community radio stations and televisions allow people to network, to take responsibility for the project they are part of, by becoming involved in its management and its organisation, and not just in content production. Community media are places to learn new skills, to meet new people, to experience intercultural dynamics, to connect with activists around the world and to provide support where it's needed.
6. What has been the contribution of ethnic minorities to the development of community media in Switzerland and in Europe over the past 25 years?
Community radio activists from around the world, especially Latin American, have been involved in European community media projects for many years, enriching these projects with experiences of activism from their countries of origin. Topics such as social justice, human rights and gender equality are high on the agenda of many minority groups and community media is the most natural and effective outlet to address these issues and network with global social movements.
Commitment and participation of local community media projects is a priority for many minority groups because these projects allow them to reach out to members of their communities, share relevant information and news and provide content in different languages.
7. What measures have been taken at the national or European level to encourage and develop community media in areas where ethnic minorities reside?
In several countries such as Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ireland, UK and Hungary, community media is recognised as a distinct third sector of broadcasting, complementary and additional to public service media and commercial media. Different frameworks are in place, ranging from the simple allocation of licenses to proper funding and support schemes for community media.
In many other European countries, however, the absence of legal recognition and of funding still hinders the development of community media. Organisations like CMFE and AMARC are committed to lobbying for laws and policies which guarantee the fair and equitable access to broadcast distribution platforms, including digital ones, for community media.
Two recent European declarations recognise the role of community media for social inclusion and intercultural dialogue:
The European Parliament 'Report on measures to support community media in Europe in order to guarantee a pluralistic media environment and cultural diversity,' adopted on 25 September 2008.
The 'Declaration on the role of community media (CM) in promoting social cohesion and intercultural dialogue,' adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 11 Februaryn 2009.
These two important documents will help in further advancing policy beneficial to community media in Europe and in those countries where sustainability issues still need to be addressed.
8. How can the Council of Europe's work with media partners, part of the 'Speak Out Against Discrimination,' campaign, contribute to the development of community media?
Participating in the Council of Europe's anti-discrimination campaign as media partners is an important opportunity for community media, as it re-confirms its role alongside public and commercial media in guaranteeing media pluralism and diversity. It is a recognition of the day-to-day work of thousands of community media volunteers who are committed to fighting exclusion and voicelessness through alternative reporting and unbiased news.
Community media can also contribute to giving visibility to the campaign and further raise awareness on measures to protect and defend the rights of victims of racism and discrimination.