Author: Andrea Medrado
This post, published in two parts, reports on a panel session which took place at the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) annual conference, among four initiatives involved with community media responses to COVID-19. Members of the four initiatives, based in India, Brazil, Mexico and Spain, have discussed the role of community media in crisis response, arriving at common themes that this post illustrates.
“Conversa puxa conversa” (Chatting starts a conversation, Brazilian proverb)
In Portuguese, the word “conversa” refers to both “chatting” as in “jogar conversa fora” (small talk) and having a serious conversation. At first thought, the proverb seems obvious. However, it demonstrates the extent to which establishing a meaningful conversation depends on a willingness to do so as well as on skills to initiate an initial unpretentious chat. As it can be implied in the English words “chat” and “conversation”, there are different levels and styles of conversation. However, what matters the most is that we need conversation more than ever in the current context of health, social, and political crises in many parts of the world.
This post is about a conversation between countries and people in the Global South— India, Brazil, Mexico, and Spain. In these different contexts, three key characteristics are displayed by community media in times of crisis: agility, adaptability, and resilience. As part of one online session for this year’s online IAMCR Conference, we asked four groups to tell us about how they deal with crisis situations, including the COVID-19 pandemic. We also asked them to talk to each other about it. Names of the four organisations, their main activities and panel participants are listed as an appendix to this post.
Dealing with Crises, Community Communication and Alternative Media: Experiences from the Global South
Our goal was to share experiences, echo voices and reflect views from Global South(s) perspective(s). Here, the “South” is not a simple geographic location. One can probably infer this from our inclusion of (the European) Spain as one of the countries addressed in the discussion. Rather, the “South” features as a metaphor for human suffering under capitalism. And what a time to talk about suffering. COVID-19 is taking its toll on the world, causing deaths, illnesses, and economic dispossession. Brazil, India, and Mexico are respectively the second, third, and sixth countries in the world with the highest number of confirmed cases as of the time of writing. Spain was also among the countries most impacted by COVID-19, reaching close to 10,000 new cases in a single day at the outbreak’s peak.
The four experiences from different Global Souths echo what we already know: ‘community media’ derive from a focus on the ‘communal’. This is a point worth stressing, particularly in times of loss, despair, and uncertainty. Community media not only know well the community they address but they also allow this community to speak for itself. All speakers – Ramakrishnan and Venu; Gizele; Renán; Alejandro and Isabel – reveal the multiple ways in which community media are better equipped (than mainstream media, for instance) to address their audience’s needs because of the shared relevance that community issues, given that they are all part of the same community. However, something else is special about community media: its resilience. Ramakrishnan Nagarajan was the first panelist to speak about community resilience in relation to natural disasters. Throughout the following three presentations, the theme of resilience emerged again and again and again. Community media are hyperlocal, language-specific, reliable. All these traits acquire added importance in times of crisis. And perhaps here we should include another important characteristic.
Community media are resilient media.
(examples provided by Ramakrishnan, Gizele, Renán, and Alejandro)
The 2015 earthquake in Nepal reduced large proportions of the country’s rural areas to rubble. The destruction was significant with few structures left standing. Community radios were among the most affected as the damage to their infrastructure buildings was almost total in some places. Yet, it was community radio, not the telecom infrastructure that managed to come back on air first, using small field-based tents and studios, setting up whatever little infrastructure they had. Community radios often work in already resource poor settings and, yet, they were able to get back into action almost immediately to start broadcasting. In Nepal, these community radios were the first to gather stories from survivors almost immediately and to coordinate rescue and relief efforts.
In Brazil, favela residents find themselves in a critical situation, which is, of course, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to a combination of overcrowded spaces and poverty, social distancing becomes almost impossible, and going out to work represents an extreme necessity for many. Yet, the Governments (City, State, Federal) have provided little support for the economically vulnerable populations. In this context, favela communities have demonstrated a high level of resilience and self-organisation, taking matters into their own hands to contain the pandemic. Frente de Mobilização da Maré, based in a large network of favelas in the North Zone of Rio, illustrates this. Many of the members are community media practitioners. They have used their communication skills to devise campaigns and to gather volunteers to assist the most impoverished families. Their work includes creating a local database that people can sign up to and receive food and medicine donations. These volunteers are risking their own lives, going out to streets to help their neighbours, and doing a job that should be done by the authorities.
In Mexico, community radio practitioners have demonstrated resilience in terms of not giving up when their communication strategies do not seem to work. Renán speaks about how they started to lose their audiences during the pandemic because their model of programming became overly formal in its mission to inform people. People were emotionally exhausted, so they wanted to hear more personal experiences. In order to cater for these feelings, they decided to change the style of programming, adopting a more horizontal communication flow.
Finally, resilience is also a key element in the work that is done by ReMC in Spain. As it happens in other Global South contexts, they face major obstacles, such as little money and a lot of red tape. Yet, community radios in different regions of Spain are managing to work together, each from their own homes and “micro-spaces” to produce a weekly programmed called “The Other Coronavirus”. Indeed, community media resiliently show us that violence, inequality and marginalisation are among the many “other” pandemics that we must fight.
- Ideosync Media Combine, India
- A capacity-building advocacy organisation;
- Worked on media development and communication for social change across India and South Asia over the last two decades;
- Research with and on community radio as well as training and capacity building for the sector;
- Presentation focused on the role of community radio in disaster risk reduction in India and South Asia;
- Presenters: Ramakrishnan Nagarajan and Venu Arora
- Website: http://www.ideosyncmedia.org
- E-mail: info [@] ideosynmedia.org
Frente de Mobilização da Maré, Brazil
- Started by a group of favela residents, activists, and community media practitioners;
- Gathered financial donations and supplies from citizens and companies;
- Organised teams of volunteers to sign up residents who needed to receive assistance during the pandemic, such as food baskets and cleaning products;
- Devised a communication plan using different types of media, such as street banners, loudspeakers on cars, WhatsApp groups, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to inform and offer assistance to favela residents.
- Presenter: Gizele Martins;
- Website: https://www.frentemare.com
- E-mail: frentemare [@] gmail.com
Manos a la Obra Comunicación Comunitaria Antiviral, Mexico
- Driven by the need to produce content based on detecting communication needs in the communities;
- Started with a programme that aimed to create a citizen’s agenda through interviews with community leaders, doctors, teachers;
- Created a “broadcasting corridor”, connecting community radios in different areas strengthened these ties when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted;
- Presenter: Renán Martínez Casas
- Facebook: @PerioSismos
- E-mail: renanaquiles [@] hotmail.com
ReMC (Red de Medios Comunitarios), Spain
- A union of associations (a legal entity) that brings together community media from different regions of Spain;
- Despite its location in (Southern) Europe, Spain differs from other European countries in terms of communication policies. There is no independent regulatory body for the audiovisual sector and there are no public policies for the promotion of community media;
- Were able to coordinate efforts and produce a joint weekly radio programme called “El Otro Coronavirus” (The Other Coronavirus).
- Presenters: Alejandro Blanco and Isabel Lema Blanco
- Website: https://medioscomunitarios.net
- E-mail: coordinacion [@] medioscomunitarios.net
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About the author:
Andrea Medrado is a Tenured Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Communication and at the Postgraduate Programme in Media and Everyday life of Federal Fluminense University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She worked as the Co-Investigator for the eVoices Network, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC UK), analysing different uses of digital technologies and art-ivism (art + activism) to fight marginalisation in countries of the Global South. Recently, she was elected Vice President of IAMCR, and she also acted as the Co-Chair of the Community Communication and Alternative Media Section (CAM) for four years (2016-2020). She earned a Ph.D. from the University the Westminster and worked as a Posdoctoral Researcher at Royal Holloway University of London. Her research interests include mediactivism; community and alternative media; South-to-South communication flows; media and favelas; ethnographic approaches; and social media, visibility, and human rights.