Community media in many communities’ lives represent a trusted and valuable source of information, as it comes from us to us: produced by community members who live in and share the reality, the celebrations, the joys, and the challenges of the community, ‘our’ community.
Community media are a tool of communication for people in hundreds of communities which are run for the community, about the community, and by the community. They are recognized by European and International institutions and often referred to as the third media sector, as they serve as a distinct alternative to public national broadcasters and private commercial media.
Community media therefore lend themselves as potentially effective platforms for sensitive issues that can be hard to take in, that may be tabooed, or connected with stigma. Public Health is one such area, and Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE) has with Austrian COMMIT for the past two years worked to study, support, and promote public health programming in community radio stations in Europe with the E3J project .
A European Collaboration Project – Supporting Community Media
The European Excellence Exchange in Journalism (E3J) is a 2-year EU co-funded project, implemented to increase cross-border collaboration for better journalism and, as a result, a better-informed public. E3J consortium partners are RSF, Free Press Unlimited, COPEAM, COMMIT & CMFE.
Within the E3J consortium, Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE) and the Austrian community media training and research organization COMMIT collaborate in the implementation of the Community Media part of the E3J with a focus on Public Health, Media and Information Literacy (MIL) and Community Media.
Eight community radio stations won a grant with workshop and funding
Based on a grant application and selection process, eight community radio stations were identified to receive a production grant for a Public Health program production series. The stations are from Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Spain. Background studies in the four countries demonstrated the differences in the national community media realities, the Media and MIL practices, as well as in the tradition with the production of public health programs, and the degree of community involvement in community radio program production. This made the selection of these four countries relevant and interesting. (Report available here.)
The eight Grant Winning Stations were: .
• Campus & City Radio St. Pölten (CR 94.4), Austria
• Freirad, Freies Radio Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
• Radio Bazaar, Aarhus, Denmark
• Radio Ronde, Ronde, Denmark
• Claremorris Community Radio, Claremorris, Ireland
• Color Comunitaria, Malaga, Spain
• Radio Jobato, Coslada, Madrid, Spain
• Radiopolis/92.3 fm, Sevilla, Spain
Workshops were held in the four program countries in national languages and with national public health, MIL, and community media specialists, where the stations were learning from each other and from the experts and debating how to most effectively use their community media platforms to reach those most in need, with issues of what makes a good and healthy life?
The grant-winning stations selected an urgent public health need, as their series’ special theme
Working on the basis of the very broad WHO public health definition, each of the grant-winning stations chose to focus on how a community media program series could make the biggest and most important difference in their communities in terms of MIL and Public Health. This in stations in each of the four countries is meant to invite the community to become co-creators of programs of relevance to them. The challenge of digitization of the national health services was the focus of programs in an Austrian and a Danish station, whereas issues not regularly debated in the public sphere were illuminated in one Spanish station – looking at taboos and in an Austrian station shedding light on women’s health.
In Austria, Radio FREIRAD focused on neglect of the health system to focus on women’s health, and Campus and City Radio St. Pölten took up the challenges many community members meet with the increasing digitization of the health system. In Denmark Radio Bazar chose a related issue with the many immigrant nationalities of their audience: Cross-cultural medicine & immigrant health. The other Danish grantee, Radio Roende recognized through the workshop inputs that the most significant improvement they could offer, was to engage community members in doing programs about the situation they were in and wanted to improve.
In Ireland, Claremorris Community Radio focused, in a conversational and participatory style on “Healthy Conversations: Chats about better living”, tailored to specific health topics and needs of different audiences. And in Spain, Color Comunitaria, from Malaga wanted to show, that it is important to be attentive and to act when something ‘hurts’ and therefore chose an action-oriented: “how to…” focus on issues from mental over sexual health, loneliness, medication, and drug abuse. In Madrid, Radio Jabato invited the community into the studios saying “Everyone's Health, [is] Everyone's Commitment“, focusing every program on the public health challenges of different groups in the community. In Sevilla, Radiopolis, focused on mental health and youth, to engage with and disarm taboos. With a young psychologist as the central character through the programs, the principal youth audience was called to engage, get a voice, be informed, and be empowered.
Taking part in the process meant learning, reflection, and quality broadcasts
Having won a grant in a European competitive project and the process in itself was highlighted to be of importance for many of the grantees, carrying an international recognition of their proposals and commitment. All eight participating stations reported, other added value coming from the four workshops, which in the four countries were built over the same skeleton but with different emphasis, based on the national background and context. The workshops were by all found to add significant learning and value, and several grantees report that they decided to re-orient their original program ideas, based on the interaction and the expert inputs during the workshops. Campus & City Radio St. Pölten reports:
“A highlight for the participants was the two-day workshop in St.Pölten with the radio group from Freirad Innsbruck and the speaker Dr. Yvonne Prinzellner, organized by COMMIT. Both the group dynamics and the expertise of the speaker were praised by all participants from CR 94.4.”
The broadcasters taking part in the production process, be it youths, adult men, community members, or seasoned community media volunteers, report excitement at being part of such a focused process – along with the wish to excel, to really develop something new and long-term sustainable. From Claremorris community radio, Jamie Burke, a local ambulance driver and volunteer broadcaster at the station, is quoted saying:
“I really enjoy the interviews and I just hope they come across well. When interviewing a local woman who had been through horrific post-natal depression, I truly felt privileged – she was so open and honest.”
While producers and project managers are mindful that no substantial audience research exists anywhere in European community media – it is simply too expensive and the size of stations is too small to be included in national surveys – they all report community interest and that they have seen the interest growing.
Radiopolis from Sevilla reports that apart from the listeners in the flow program, 850-1150 online visits per program at the time of reporting (3-4 weeks after the broadcast and upload), which is very high. Anecdotal evidence references a new level of debate around the issues raised in the different communities, and more feedback and interest registered to take part in discussions than ordinarily generated. Onda Color from Malaga describes how their home community is a very disadvantaged neighborhood, Palma Palmilla. The station is there to engage and give a voice to the inhabitants and ensure their engagement, giving them a voice in matters regarding their community. The station reported:
We have 500 listeners per day in our neighborhood via FM, 80 listeners in our podcast, and more than 800 interactions on social media. The comments from social media users focus on their gratitude that we generate health content and the pride of the neighborhood that these topics are brought forward. This is important since it helps reduce the stigma of the neighborhood and generates new arguments for the self-esteem of the people who live here, given that Palma Palmilla proposes content that is positive for the neighborhood and the city of Malaga.
With few exceptions, the stations report that this process – supported and infused with information and good dynamics from the workshops – will continue. As the project manager from Radio Jabato / Madrid wrote:
For our station taking part in this project is a great experience and the most interesting thing is that it will be the start of many more programmes from now on.
The packaging: creation of unique identities for the series: graphics and jingles
Special program series identities were developed in most of the participating community radio stations, including graphics, a dedicated space in the program schedule and on the website, and a special musical jingle, highlighting the name and the thematics of the program series.
To the E3J program managers, the high-quality levels of the participating stations also over-did our wildest expectations.
In Ireland, the team bringing forward their public health program series chose to formulate a ‘Claremorris Community Radio Public Health Policy’, stating that:
“Claremorris Community Radio is committed to fostering the health and well-being of our community. We recognize the influential role we play in disseminating public health information and promoting positive health outcomes. This Public Health Policy outlines our commitment to responsible broadcasting and community involvement in the realm of public health.”
The policy included clearly defined (i) Objectives; (ii) Content Guidelines; (iii) Inclusivity and Accessibility: (iv) Collaboration; (v) Privacy and Consent – and in the end stating that they are committed and that the policy will be reviewed and updated periodically to ensure its continued alignment with the mission and community needs, and ‘Ratified by the Board of Directors of Claremorris Community Radio on 16th October 2023’.
The impact and role of the financial part of the grant received
Mindful of the special nature of community media, including the fact that the realities of community media in the four countries are very different, that the realities in every community media station are unique, and that the major part of the community media broadcasters - and often also the managers - carry out their community work on a volunteer basis with day-jobs ‘on the side’, it was, extraordinarily, agreed by the E3J consortium lead partner RSF that no budget, detailed accounts and documentation for the use of the €3.750 grants per station were needed. What was needed, was a presentation of what the role of the financial part of the grant was. This is shared here.
Campus & City Radio St. Pölten reports that:
“The grant is divided equally among the four radio producers at CR 94.4, after deducting a small portion for overhead costs, such as project management. All of them are also volunteers at the radio station. The grant motivated the radio producers to dedicate more time to radio productions and delve deeper into the subject matter than they might in their regular, unpaid broadcasts for CR 94.4.”
Furthermore, it made the weekend time needed for the workshop more agreeable.
Radio FREIRAD, Innsbruck, Austria shares:
“We used the grant at FREIRAD mainly to support the editorial team with their work on the production of the series. For every person participating in the creation of a show for the series “Anti-Körper: Frauen* im Gesundheitssystem,” we compensated their time and effort with 130,00.- €. Another big part of the grant went into the workshop for our (new) radio broadcasters, through which they were able to go on air and have all the necessary information to also start their broadcasting series at FREIRAD.
A smaller sum was used to buy merch to support the editorial team in the dissemination of the series and to buy the necessary office supplies for the project as well as necessary equipment and provisions for the editorial meetings.
All in all, we at FREIRAD were really happy to be able to support the editorial team through the grant of the E3J project and also be able to choose freely how to use the money of the grant. Through our use of the grant, we were able to win more radio broadcasters and develop a project that focuses on a topic that is relevant in our society.”
Radio Bazar, Denmark tells:
“The grant received from E3J has meant that we could focus on delivering the value that is of importance to us towards our ethnic communities. We have been able to cover studio time, additional staffing costs, publicity, broadcasting expenses, and administration.”
Radio Roende, Syddjurs, Denmark reports:
“We have been very pleased to be part of programme, mostly because of the inspiration that made us rethink our series of programs and turn up our ambitions. A fruitful learning process! We have used our E3J-grants for some necessary equipment; Four new microphones, with stands and a portable mixer enabling us to broadcast remotely - outside.
No participants in the programs have been compensated for their time spent on preparation and participation. A small amount was used for food, water, coffee, and cakes for participants when recording; and some on travel and transport for hosts and technicians.”
Claremorris Community Radio, Ireland reports:
“The grant received from E3J has significantly facilitated the implementation of this project, allowing us to focus on delivering social benefits to our community. It has enabled us to channel resources into critical aspects such as studio time, additional staffing costs, publicity, broadcasting expenses, and administration.”
Radio Jabato, Madrid, Spain presents their use of the E3J grant:
“From Radio Jabato we value very positively the contribution of the grant that has helped us to renew equipment that has improved the quality of the recordings and the possibility of a greater number of broadcasts. In addition to being able to make the broadcasts outdoors, we have also purchased a noise meter and a magnetic wave meter with the grant provided. Furthermore, the grant has helped us to be able to travel to different places to meet with groups. We have also used part of the grant to improve the website and pay for wifi and applications to improve the functionality and efficiency of the display.”
Color Comunitaria, Malaga, Spain reports:
“The grant helped us to be able to allocate more time to innovative sound editing and to disseminate the episodes with greater impact on social networks, not only on FM. We have strengthened relationships with other health actors in the area and this will give results later.”
Radiopolis, Sevilla, Spain underscores how the grant directly supports MIL and counters mis- and disinformation:
In the realm of community media, those closest to the population face the constant challenge of maintaining and developing radio spaces without economic backing. The reality is that the production and transmission of quality content demand resources, and in this context, grants play an essential role in ensuring the continuity of initiatives that offer valuable and relevant information. The creation and maintenance of a radio space without economic backing are indeed challenging.
Community media, being so close to communities, have the responsibility to provide accurate and useful information, countering the misinformation that abounds today. However, this noble task is limited by the lack of financial resources. That's why we consider obtaining grants to be of vital importance.
These grants not only represent direct financial support for the operation of the radio space but also constitute recognition of the relevance of community work in generating useful and enlightening content. Grants not only fund the production and transmission of programs but also support the mission of combating misinformation and promoting authentic community communication.
At a time when misinformation is a constant threat, community media plays a crucial role in providing accurate and contextualized local information. Grants become an invaluable resource to strengthen this work and ensure that radio spaces remain a beacon of reliable and useful information amid the information overload.
This is a very worthwhile conclusion of giving the voices to the community radio stations, highlighting all that the CMFE/COMMIT part of E3J is all about.
General assessment of the success of the E3J for community media in Europe
The community media component of the E3J has been very ambitious compared to the funds committed, and as the project managers from CMFE and COMMIT, we are overly satisfied with the results that have emerged: Public health and the core role of MIL in community radio work being high on the agenda of the participating stations, who are, themselves, impressed by the audience take-up and interest.
All required deliverables by the grantees have been received:
• At least two programs per station. Most have over-delivered and plan to continue the program series – Most with graphics identities and jingles;
• The final reports requested at the end of the process are of a very high caliber and quality – providing the basis for this report-back.
Now, an online learning resource will be developed based on all of what is presented – and the grantees, and international organizations (WHO, UNESCO, and EU) will convene in Vienna on January 19 for a grand finale – presenting the results and drafting future onward continuations, building on all that has been learned and shared.