Harnessing community media is vital for civil society…

I like millennials redefining the word “influencer” because it gives authority and respect to those with the power to influence. It converts influence into monetary value, which is especially important these days, when a liter of petrol threatens to reach R30.

Before this word was redefined, community radio was one of the leaders of the pack, not only reaching audiences in a language they understood, but also influencing their audience response. As such, community radio is an important ally in the work of civil society organizations.

I worked as a media liaison for Corruption Watch (CW) for five years and community media was a crucial part of our media and marketing strategy.

Thanks to our successful collaborations with partners in this field, we have been able to advance the vision and mission of the organization.

Voice of the community

Community engagements are an integral part of our work as a civil society organization (CSO). Such engagements are an important vehicle for community mobilization, empowerment and education of communities on various issues related to corruption. They also provide communities with a platform to voice their concerns. In this way, CW serves as an authentic voice of people in different spaces, influencing how the organization advocates for change, addresses parliamentary submissions, or positions arguments in different conversations.

Like many CSOs, the pandemic has pushed us to find other ways to achieve organizational goals, including community engagement.

These have taken the form of in-person gatherings like town hall meetings or community forums – but the pandemic has limited our access to these constituencies. Because this was not something we could lose as an organization, we adopted an integrated communications strategy with intense community media and online marketing engagement.

Thanks to this strategy, Corruption Watch was able, in 2020, to record the second highest number of corruption reports received in a calendar year since its creation in 2012, with a total of 4,780 reported corruption incidents. We also saw spikes in corruption reports in provinces where we held engagements with community media.

Invest in community media

Community media is invested in the growth and development of the communities in which it operates, since the same challenges that affect the community also affect community media platforms.

And as civil society organizations, we have a special responsibility to invest in community media, because they engage and defend the very people we claim to fight for through our various projects. Investment can come in the form of valuable content (inform, educate and engage) and funding (advertising and marketing).

Many of these platforms barely survive, for various reasons. On the one hand, communication professionals tend to overlook them and when they consider working with them, they don’t see the point of paying a fair price for the work.

These platforms need to start to flourish, and while civil society can and does play a development role, several things need to change.

The community media sector desperately needs to be professionalized.

I’ve personally worked with marketing and sales staff who couldn’t write an invoice, while others lacked a sense of urgency in their work. We’ve also worked with broadcasters who didn’t do their own research or read the interview questions beforehand – as a result, those interviews fell flat. The worst part was when slots that were already paid for took longer than expected for interviews to take place.

However, these are only minor issues. The real reasons why communication professionals avoid this sector are:

  • Community media is difficult to monitor and many monitoring companies do not monitor it;
  • Many cannot provide their precise and current range;
  • The current schedule of power outages is a heavy burden on many stations, which are at the mercy of the electricity supply and cannot afford alternative power sources – this means they cannot broadcast when the electricity is off; and
  • If you are out of their area, it is difficult to listen to the content as online streaming is not always available.

These serious issues require urgent attention. Civil society can play a role here too, by sharing expertise and providing training.

Community inclusiveness is crucial

Community audiences are by no means passive; on the contrary, they are very engaged and influenced by the familiar voices of the radio. Moreover, reaching an audience in their native or preferred language is a factor that should not be underestimated.

It is important to recognize that civil society operating in South Africa cannot be led by English speakers alone. We have nine official languages ​​and it is perfectly acceptable for a South African not to understand English.

Although civil society in general presents itself as a sector working for “the people”, many cannot communicate in vernacular languages ​​and therefore do not even appear on the radar of community media.

This is a missed opportunity to engage with communities on corruption, climate change, government resource allocation and much more. These topics concern us all and should not be reserved for a superior audience of LSM.

By engaging communities on issues that particularly concern them, as well as democracy-related issues of national concern, we can bring them into the loop and ensure that measures that support democracy and combat corruption are implemented. down to the community level.

We must do better! We need to do more to engage communities in the conversation. Cooperation between all actors – community media, civil society organizations, communication professionals and communities themselves – will pay off greatly for all parties involved. DM

About Ricardo Schulte

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