Community media is defined in Wikipedia as:
Any form of media that is created and controlled by a community, either a geographic community or a community of identity or interest. Community media is separate from either private (commercial) media, State run media, or Public Broadcasters. Community media is increasingly recognized as a crucial element in a vibrant and democratic media system.1
Before the recent widespread adoption of personal computers and the Internet, it was relatively easy to define community media as being locally-generated content and programming distributed through the three main media:
- Print — community newspapers and limited-circulation magazines
- Radio — community-run stations broadcasting on an allocated frequency
- Television— community-generated programming on cable networks
But since Internet access has now become ubiquitous, we must now add it as a new form of community media:
- The Internet
- Email lists from list servers
- Web sites of NGOs and on local issues
- Internet video on-demand and streaming
- Blogs personal and community-oriented
- Social media of all kinds
Nicholas Jankowski, an academic who has extensively studied community media, defines the salient characteristics that distinguish it from its commercial counterparts:2
- Objectives: to provide news and information relevant to the needs of community members; to engage these members in public communication via the community medium; and to empower the politically disenfranchised
- Ownership and control: often shared by community residents, local governments, and community-based organisations
- Content: locally-oriented and produced
- Media production: involving non-professionals and volunteers
- Distribution: over-the-air, by cable television infrastructure, or other electronic networks
- Audience: predominantly located within a relatively small, clearly defined geographic region, although some community networks attract large and physically dispersed audiences
- Financing: essentially non-commercial, although the overall budget may involve corporate sponsorship, advertising, and government subsidies.2
These characteristics distinguish community media from profit-oriented commercial and corporate media and give it its distinctively grassroots flavour. They also suggest an inherently anti-establishment stance through its focus on local control, its empowerment of non-professionals by elevating their media skills, and by giving voice to the socially marginalised.
The degree to which community media is activist, progressive, and anti-establishment depends on the state of the society. In egalitarian societies, community media can act as a non-controversial public space around which local news and community gossip can be exchanged. In inegalitarian societies, especially where iniquity prevails and needs are not being met, community media can become the vanguard of social and political change.
The failure of governments to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases, the relentlessness of the neo-conservative financial agenda, and the ongoing colonial wars in third world countries, have lately combined to push community media towards a more activist response to the corporate media agenda.
However, this is happening at a time when ownership of Canada’s major media is being rapidly consolidated into the hands of the country’s few and massive telecommunications conglomerations. These same few interests also market and control the overwhelming majority of Canadian Internet access, giving them a degree of control that does not auger well for a free and democratic media.