14 definitions of community radio

9 04 2007

Below is a selection of fourteen statements about community radio. Each of them puts a different emphasis on the characteristics described in the previous post What is community media?, and many introduce other characteristics.

Community radio is a social process or event in which members of the community associate together to design programmes and produce and air them, thus taking on the primary role of actors in their own destiny, whether this be for something as common as mending fences in the neighbourhood, or a community-wide campaign on how to use clean water and keep it clean, or agitation for the election of new local leaders.

The emphasis is on the ownership of democratic and development efforts by the members of the community themselves and the use of media, in this case radio, to achieve it. In every sense, this is participatory communication… It is above all a process, not a technology, not merely a means…

[It is] the community speaking to each other and acting together for common goals.

Carlos Arnaldo, quoted in Community Radio Handbook by Colin Fraser and Sonia Restrepo, UNESCO, Paris 2001

Community radio, rural radio, cooperative radio, participatory radio, free radio, alternative, popular, educational radio. If the radio stations, networks and production groups that make up the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters refer to themselves by a variety of names, then their practices and profiles are even more varied. Some are musical, some militant and some mix music and militancy. They are located in isolated rural villages and in the heart of the largest cities in the world. Their signals may reach only a kilometre, cover a whole country or be carried via shortwave to other parts of the world.

“Waves for Freedom”
Report on the Sixth World Conference of Community Radio Broadcasters
Dakar, Senegal, January 23-39, 1995

Its most distinguishing characteristic is its commitment to community participation at all levels. While listeners of commercial radio are able to participate in the programming in limited ways – via open line telephone shows or by requesting a favourite song, for example – community radio listeneners are the producers, managers, directors, evaluators and even the owners of the stations.

This radio is not filled with pop music and “easy listening” newscasts, nor with official communiqués or government-sanctioned cultural content. It is not so important that the programming be “slick,” but that it be based on a concept of participatory communication. The role of the radio is to respond to the priorities set by the community, to facilitate their discussion, to reinforce them, and to challenge them.

Bruce Girard
A Passion for Radio: Radio waves and community. 1992

Even though community radio should encourage access and participation by communities, it also has to address issues such as who is in control, whether it is democratically managed, and whether there is a mechanism whereby it is accountable to those it serves.

[C]ommunity radio is not about doing something for the community but about the community doing something for itself…

“What is Community Radio? A resource guide”
AMARC Africa and Panos Southern Africa. 1998

When radio fosters the participation of citizens and defends their interests; when it reflects the tastes of the majority and makes good humour and hope its main purpose; when it truly informs; when it helps resolve the thousand and one problems of daily life; when all ideas are debated in its programs and all opinions are respected; when cultural diversity is stimulated over commercial homogeneity; when women are main players in communication and not simply a pretty voice or a publicity gimmick; when no type of dictatorship is tolerated, not even the musical dictatorship of the big recording studios; when everyone’s words are carried without discrimination or censorship, that is community radio.

Radio stations that bear this name do not fit the logic of money or advertising. Their purpose is different, their best efforts are put at the disposal of civil society. Of course this service is highly political: it is a question of influencing public opinion, denying conformity, creating consensus, broadening democracy. The purpose – whence the name – is to build community life.

“Manual urgente para Radialistas Apasionados”
José Ignacio Lòpez Vigil. 1997

A community radio station is owned and controlled by a not-for-profit organization, the structure of which provides for membership, management, operation and programming primarily by members of the community at large. Programming should reflect the diversity of the market that the station is licensed to serve.

“The African Charter on Broadcasting” 2001

“Community broadcasting is broadcasting which is for, by and about the community, whose ownership and management is representative of the community, which pursues a social development agenda, and which is non-profit.”

Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, 2000 (CRTC – an independent regulatory agency)

In Latin America, there are approximately one thousand radio stations that can be considered community, educational, grassroots or civic radio stations. They are characterized by their political objectives of social change, their search for a fair system that takes into account human rights, and makes power accessible to the masses and open to their participation. They can also be recognized by the fact that they are non-profit…

“Gestión de la radio comunitaria y ciudadana”
Claudia Villamayor y Ernesto Lamas
AMARC y Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. 1998

Community radio means radio in the community, for the community, about the community and by the community. There is a wide participation from regular community members with respect to management and production of programs. This involvement of community members distinguishes it from the dominant commercial media in the Philippines that are operated for PPPP – profit, propaganda, power, politics, privilege, etc. Serving the big P (people or public) is a token gesture mainly to justify existence in the government bureaucratic licensing procedures.

[They are] stations collectively operated by the community. Stations dedicated to development, education and people empowerment. Stations which adhere to the principles of democracy and participation.

TAMBULI – Communication Project

[They are] free, independent, lay radio stations linked to human rights and the environment. They are many and pluralistic. They refuse commercial communication. They scrupulously respect the code of ethics of journalists and work to disseminate culture by giving artists broader expression within their listening audiences. They are membership based organisations that operate democratically and are financed in a manner consistent with non-profit organizations. They practice solidarity toward each other and constitute work communities that make it possible for each member to fulfill its mission to the utmost.

Charte de la Confédération Nationale des Radios Libres, CNRL

Firstly, community radio is characterised by the active participation of the community in the process of creating news, information, entertainment and culturally relevant material, with an emphasis on local issues and concerns. With training, local producers can create programmes using local voices. The community can also actively participate in the management of the station and have a say in the scheduling and content of the programmes.

Secondly, it is essentially a non-profit enterprise. In these days of highly commercialised broadcasting, the ethos of community radio remains independence and a responsibility to serve the community, not the advertiser. As the station is owned by the community, it also maintains some responsibility in the running of the station.

Thirdly, community radio programming is designed by the community, to improve social conditions and the quality of its cultural life. The community itself decides what its priorities and needs are in terms of information provision.


Over the years, community radio has become an essential tool for community development. People can recognize themselves and identify with community radio, in addition to communicating among themselves.

Community radio is an element of closeness, a bridge, a step toward the other, not to make the other like us, but to have him become what he is. It is not a question of having more, but of being, that is the real mission of community radio stations in Canada. Isn’t the most meaningful definition of culture the act of making people aware of the greatness they possess?

Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada, ARC

Community radio stations:

1. promote the right to communicate, assist the free flow of information and opinions, encourage creative expression and contribute to the democratic process and a pluralist society;
2. provide access to training, production and distribution facilities; encourage local creative
talent and foster local traditions; and provide programmes for the benefit, entertainment, education and development of their listeners;
3. seek to have their ownership representative of local geographically recognisable communities or of communities of common interest;
4. are editorially independent of government, commercial and religious institutions and political parties in determining their programme policy;
5. provide a right of access to minority and marginalised groups and promote and protect cultural and linguistic diversity;
6. seek to honestly inform their listeners on the basis of information drawn from a diversity of sources and provide a right of reply to any person or organisation subject to serious misrepresentation;
7. are established as organisations which are not run with a view to profit and ensure their independence by being financed from a variety of sources;
8. recognise and respect the contribution of volunteers, recognise the right of paid workers to join trade unions and provide satisfactory working conditions for both;
9. operate management, programming and employment practices which oppose discriminations and which are open and accountable to all supporters, staff and volunteers;
10. foster exchange between community radio broadcasters using communications to develop greater understanding in support of peace, tolerance, democracy and development

The Community Radio Charter for Europe, 1994

Community radio is a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting material that is popular to a local audience but is overlooked by more powerful broadcast groups. The term has somewhat different meanings in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia. In the UK, it originated in the many illegal pirate radio stations that came about from the influx of Afro-Caribbean migrants in cities such as London, Birmingham, Bristol, and Manchester in the 1970s. Therefore, “community radio” remains synonymous with “pirate radio” for many people there. In America, community radio is more commonly non-profit and non-commercial, often using licenced class D FM band transmitters, although pirate radio outlets have been operated in many places. Canadian and Australian community stations operate somewhat similarly to their American counterparts.

Wikipedia, July 2006 – view current entry



2 responses to “14 definitions of community radio”

3 05 2007
bg (20:30:16) :

This definition is from the the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland at http://www.bci.ie/policy.htm

A CR station is characterised by its ownership and programming and the community it is authorised to serve. It is owned and controlled by a not for profit organisation whose structure provides for membership. Management, operation and programming primarily by members of the community at large, its programming should be based on community access should reflect the special interests and needs of the listenership it is licensed to serve.

29 05 2007
bg (18:09:53) :

Section 1 of South Africa’s Broadcasting Act, No. 4 of 1999, defines a community broadcasting service as a service which:

(a) is fully controlled by a non-profit entity and carried on for non-profitable purposes;
(b) serves a particular community;
(c) encourages members of the community served by it or persons associated with or promoting the interests of such community to participate in the selection and provision of programmes to be broadcast in the course of such broadcasting service; and
(d) may be funded by donations, grants, sponsorships or advertising or membership fees, or by any combination of the aforementioned.

The Broadcasting Act provides for two types of community broadcasting services. These are broadcasting services catering for a geographic community and broadcasting services catering for a community of interest. The community served by a geographic broadcasting service is geographically founded. The service caters to persons or a community whose communality is determined principally by their residing in a particular geographic area.

The community served by a community of interest broadcasting service is one which has a specific ascertainable common interest. The distinctive feature of the broadcasting service is the common interests that make such a group of persons or sector of the public an identifiable community. Types of broadcasting services catering for a community of interest include services catering for institutional communities, religious communities, cultural communities, etc.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment