This weekend I was at the Community Media Association conference in Luton. The annual get-together of people who run and support community media across the United Kingdom.
The conference is organised by the Community Media Association to bring together volunteers and activists who run community radio stations, community art projects, community newspapers, and so on. I always enjoy being with people who volunteer in community media, they have a passion and commitment to transforming people’s lives through participation by making media for themselves.
We all have stories of how transformational this process can be, and what a difference it makes to the people who volunteer for community media. Changing lives and a sense of expectation about what can be achieved is a powerful selling-point for community media.We were addressed by Chris Burns from the Radio Academy. What was interesting was the extent to which she was concerned to address common standards of training between the radio sector, ‘the industry’ as she kept calling it, and the community media sector.
I’m sceptical about linking to closely with the major broadcasters and following their agenda for skills and training. People who support community media have plenty of experience working with non-traditional learners who would struggle in an industrial environment. This suggested to me that there is a gulf of understanding about what community media is about, what it tries to do, and how it tries to do it.
I’m sure that there is a lot of well-meaning and good intentions from people who want to see a vibrant community media sector, I’m just not convinced that community media can thrive if it is only viewed as a poor-relation to the ‘grown-ups’ in the national media businesses.
Community media has to fashion an independent identify that is different from professional media. An identity that is focussed on social and personal transformation, and which is clearly marked as different from the game that is played by the BBC or the Radio Academy.